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Hick's Law

Vishwadeep Khatri

Message added by Mayank Gupta,

Hick's Law or the Hick-Hyman Law states that the time taken for decision making increases logarithmically with increase in the number of choices.


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Johanan Collins on 29th Oct 2021.


Applause for all the respondents - Mohamed Asif, Kiran Kumar R, Mohit Kumar, Amit Kumar, Johanan Collins.


Q 414. Explain Hick's Law and how can this help a project manager prevent falling for the trap of 'spoilt for choices' on time critical projects?


Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.

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Hick’s Law was named after Britisher, William Edmund Hick, and American Ray Hyman. Their background in psychology helped in framing this law.


The law looks very logical in that it states that the more choices a person has, the longer the person will take to reach a decision. The beauty of the law is the mathematical equation that goes with it. That is the time a person takes to reach a decision is a logarithmic function of the number of choices. Since it is a logarithmic function of the number of choices, the increase in time diminishes as the number of choices increase.


A picture that comes to mind is a child selecting an ice cream before a Baskin Robbins Ice-cream shop. Considering the implications of the law, it becomes more relevant when designing a short list and loses its significance as the length of the list increases. Hence Hick’s Law can be used in the design of User Experience (UX). Examples of short list are ‘Action Buttons’ or ‘Navigation Menus’ in an App or website. At times the designer thinks it is wise to include more functionality into his website or app, however, he should use Hick’s law to assess the number of functionalities that he should put into his design. A user of the app/website when encountering too many options is likely to get saturated with the choices available and leave the website quickly. This can be measured through various matrices such as the bounce rate, conversion rate, user engagement, time on site, page views, etc., using various analytics software such as Google Analytics.


Hick’s Law helps in various design decisions, either in the design of physical products, such as the number of buttons on a TV remote, the number of controls in a washing machine, or in software products as the number of links in the header tab of a website. Hick’s law can be applied to the Tree Structure of a menu, to determine both the horizontal width and vertical depth of the menu.


In order to apply Hick’s law, designers should put the choices in categories there by reducing the choices available. Designers can also obscure complexity by breaking down the process into manageable steps with fewer options in each stage.


The formula is

RT = a + b log2 (n)

RT – Reaction Time

n – Number of Stimuli

a and b – constants that depend on the task/condition



Applicability of Hick’s law to Project Management.

Hick’s law applies to choices that have an equal probability of selection. This means that the user has no previous knowledge of the choices and is making a choice based on what is presented in front of him. If a user is specifically/intentionally looking for a specific choice or has a certain bias, Hick’s law will not be applicable to him. In this case, the time taken to act is likely to be less than the logarithmic function as calculated by Hick’s Law. In such cases, other decision-making tools such as Pugh Matrix or Analytic Hierarchy Process may be used.





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Simply to put forward,

Hick’s law states that, it takes more time to make decision,

when there are multiple options to choose from.


Key metrics associated with this law is time, choices, and complexity




Let me start with a classical example of Zomato

As the hunger strikes, we get into the app to order food.

nevertheless, more time is spent on exploring the options available by scrolling top down, rather than ordering quickly. This can be very well referred to the expression, “Spoilt for Choices




Besides, as there are multiple platforms and multiple options available within those platforms. It takes considerable amount of time to finalize a close a deal. Especially, in food industry, multiple choices are essential in order to keep the consumers engaged.


Below is the reference from Amazon for buying a mask




However, on time critical projects, situation can make us “frozen” and make us unable to select one option in the heat of the moment.


To overcome this situation, when the options are limited, the response time to make decision can be quicker.

Critics often discuss on the effectiveness of this approach as limiting the option, still this could be a lifesaver, when we will have to make wise and rapid decision.  


Example from IT service industry, in case of tool evaluation, when there are multiple options, it could be more challenging in arriving at the best tool with regards to cost, ROI, robustness, scalability, flexibility to change and adapt. As the assessment could sometime be misleading and can run through months.





Rather Categorizing Choice can help out, selecting the category out of star performers, aspirants, contenders and leaders. We can quickly get into the target group and make quicker decision. Picking the Vital Few and Selecting the best option. 





From a B2C scenario, to have better connect and engagement with the consumers, wide choices are obligatory to influence and keep them involved.


Lesson learned from hick’s law:
Despite the fact, there is no double, consumers love to make choices, but then again, having too many options can confuse in arriving at a conclusion.
“More is not better! Except sometimes”
So, for time critical project, please KISS (Keep It Simple and Straightforward)

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Hick’s law talks about the logical sequencing of choices, making it more efficient for an user to reach a decision. An example of Hick’s law application will be the alphabetical arrangement of menu items and keeping mostly the menu items which are known to the user, thereby enabling them to navigate to the desired choice efficiently. The Hick’s law therefore concludes that the time and effort required to make a decision increases by the number of options available.


The Hick’s law or the Hicks- Hyman law will have its extensive application and use in UI/UX design of an user interface. The user interface to be made simple with only required fields, reducing the unnecessary time spent by the user navigating though the available options. We can see wide use of this law in most of the Ecommerce websites, where the grouping & subgrouping of product is done based on its category, helping the user to navigate with ease.


To fully understand the law, lets understand some basic terms like “Reaction time “and “Movement time”. The “Reaction time” denotes the time spent between the onset of a stimulus and the actual start of the response. The “Reaction time” could be based on a single or a multiple stimulus, here the multiple stimulus will make it difficult for the user, as there are more choices to consider. There are many factors like age, gender, intensity of the stimulus and the degree of alertness will have an impact on the reaction time. “Movement time” is the time taken to complete the onset of a movement.


Drawing a correlation between Reaction time and the processing speed to make a choice, we get the below equation, where “N” represents the number of choices.


Reaction time  =  Movement time + log2 (N)/Processing speed


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Hick's law subdivide the total collection of choices into categories, eliminating about half of the remaining choices at each step, rather than considering each and every choice one-by-one.

It empowers project managers to subdivide the total collection of choices into categories while evaluating reaction time rather than considering each and every choice one-by-one.

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Hick's law was named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman. In the year 1952, this pair had examined the relationship between the number of choices present and an individual’s reaction time for those given choices.


Hick's Law states that the more choices users face, the longer it will take for them to come up a decision. This Law can help to reduce the complexity in any design or process to simplifying the decision-making process forgiven set of users. increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time also. This law is often being used in user experience design also. For example, one experiment showed that customers more likely to purchase jars of pickles when there were 6 flavors displayed rather than when there are 10 flavors shown. 


Benefits of Hicks Law:

  • It reduces choices when resolution times are critical to increase the overall decision time.
  • It generally uses progressive onboarding to minimize cognitive load for new users.
  • It avoids overwhelming users by highlighting the adequate recommended options as well.  
  • It breaks complex tasks into smaller tasks to decrease cognitive load.
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