Hick’s Law Designing Long Menu Lists

Would you believe it if I told you that a menu with 20, 30, even 50 options could be just as fast or even faster than a menu with only 10 categories? It’s pretty unexpected. Traditionally, we think of menus as being most efficient if there’s fewer options to pick from. And don’t get me wrong in many cases. That’s absolutely correct. But there are some rare cases where it’s actually acceptable to have a long list in a menu now in order to reach that elite status of being a menu that’s appropriate for many, many items, you have to satisfy two criteria. The first is that it has to be in order.

So typically alphabetical order works pretty well. The second criteria, and here’s where it gets more important, is that the list contained items that are known to the user. So it’s a list of words and terms that the users know that exact meaning. They know that exact term. So think of, for example, a long list of brands or companies or TV shows or U.S. states. If we were to picture that long list of U.S. states and say we’re looking for Pennsylvania, wherever the users eye lands first, the user can adjust their gaze accordingly and they can adjust their gaze because they know it’s an ordered list and they know the name of the item that they’re looking for. Pennsylvania will not be called by anything but Pennsylvania, so they can quickly skip over all of the other content, all of the other letters that aren’t necessary. That’s not what they’re looking for. And that makes navigating a long list of 50 items really quite efficient. The reason we know this to be true is because of the hyc himan law. Hick’s law refers to the process of making a selection from a list, and the law says that the more items in a list, the longer it’s going to take to make a selection. Not too surprising, but this very unique set of lists where there’s an ordered list and all of the items in the list are known to the user, those two attributes combined to make for really efficient scanning. And therefore, even if you have a very long list, users can be very efficient with it.

So you can use Hick’s law. And this understanding, if you’re ever faced with the decision of whether or not to include a really long list of menu items. And you might find that if it in fact satisfies those two criteria, it’s actually OK and your users will be quite efficient with it. So consider Hecks law if it applies to you.

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