Creating Flow on the Web with Hick’s Law.

Research varies into the exact amount of time a website has to capture a visitor’s attention. Whether it’s 10 seconds or just a few seconds, one thing is for sure; it certainly isn’t long.

It’s our job to ensure that visitors to our clients’ websites can find the content they want as quickly as possible. One method we use when designing user experience is Hick’s Law.

Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia

“Hick’s Law describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time.”

This blog post explains a bit more about our web design process and how we produce websites that help our clients engage with and provide an exceptional experience to their visitors.

If a visitor to a website can’t find the information they want or can’t quickly work out whether they’ve come to the right place, they’ll leave and try somewhere else. Possibly never to return.

Given the very short space of time available, it’s critical to value the time that a visitor does spend on a website and use it in the most effective way possible.

So how can user’s decision making be aided?

The problem with navigation

Navigation is, of course, the primary means that users have for getting from A to B on a website. The structure and design of menus have a huge bearing on how difficult it is for a person to find what they are looking for.

A few years ago (and there’s still plenty of examples around now) the trend was for websites to have huge multi-layered menus. Drop-downs inside of drop-downs. This really isn’t good user-experience. There’s way too much choice and far too many distractions.

Do visitors really need a link to every single page in a website available at all times?

The answer will nearly always be no.

A phased approach to navigation

A far more effective design would be a phased process. One in which users are filtered through a small set of simple decisions, rather than having to make one complex decision.

It’s far better for a user make a simple decision from a set of three options followed by an additional set of three options, than all possible options (in this case 12) to be available to them immediately.

From experience, many clients will think that it’s important to have all options available at all times. It’s the role of a web designer to demonstrate the value of a stripped back, phased approach.

The advantage of minimal web design

If you’re familiar with our work at TAC Design or if you’ve spent even a small amount of time reading our blog and following us on social media, you’ll know that we’re huge advocates of minimalism in design.

Minimal design is not just about looking good; it serves a purpose and serves it well.

What does this mean?

My favourite line of copy on this website (thanks to our talented copywriter) is:

“Nothing is added that isn’t needed, just as everything included serves a purpose.”

Eliminating the clutter means that the important things stand out. Key elements on a web page have a chance to breathe.

It’s also possible, just as with navigation, that some elements on a page aren’t required all of the time and can be hidden until the user needs them.

For example, hiding elements like newsletter sign-up fields and menus, but making them easily accessible, eliminates a whole series of distractions that could take a visitor away from performing an important action on a page.

Taking less important elements that require decision time from the user out of the picture gives more focus to the content that really matters.

Search and filtering

But what if there are a lot of important choices? How can a web designer apply Hick’s Law without compromising the functionality of a website? Say, for example, a clothing website that carries a large number of brands selling a wide range of styles in a range of sizes.

Effective use of filtering can be the deal breaker here.

How many times have you been on an e-commerce website and, because of the lack of useful filtering, you haven’t been able to quickly find what you want?

Using the example of an online clothing store again; you want to buy a pair of jeans, you know your size and you know the brand you want to buy. A good e-commerce website should be able to show you all the products that match your criteria within a couple of clicks.

Many won’t be able to. Having to trawl through individual products to check if your size is available isn’t great user experience.

In many cases this will result in frustration for visitors and will lead to them leaving the website and going elsewhere. A lost sale and a potentially a lost customer.

Applying Hick’s Law

A person will rarely visit a website with absolutely no expectations of the content on it. Chances are a visitor to a website will have a fair idea of what they’re looking for.

Good web and user-experience design, therefore, should be concerned with getting visitors to the relevant content in the easiest, most efficient way possible. Applying Hick’s Law can limit the number of distracting decisions that the user has to make.

If you have a web design project and you’d like a creative digital studio to bring it to life, why not get in touch and arrange to come in for a chat?

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