Applying Hick's Law to Improve Strava Fitness Application
Role: Usability Researcher
Timeline: July 2023 - August 2023
Tags: Research Heuristic Laws Usability and Utility Hick's Law
Tools: Safari Figma Google Drive
Detail: Utility and Usability course, Master's degree in User Experience Design at Maryland Institute College of Art. Applying heuristics and Hick's law to improve Strava application's usability.
Links: View on Medium
My name is Nima Shahab Shahmir, and I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree in User Experience Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. With a background in creating user experience prototypes, graphic design, and photography, I’ve developed a keen eye for recognizing and addressing design challenges.
In 2020, as I embarked on a personal journey to run more, I discovered the Strava mobile application, and it quickly became my go-to fitness tool. Despite enjoying the app’s functionality, I noticed certain usability issues that persisted even as I grew more familiar with the platform. This prompted me to choose Strava for this article, where I hope to explore and propose solutions to these problems through the lens of design principles.
By analyzing Strava, I aim to enhance the user experience not only for myself but for the broader community of athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
The scenario I present here is not just an academic exercise but a real-world application of design thinking to a platform I use and value.
Strava is a social-fitness application tailored for runners, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts. It goes beyond mere tracking and recording of various physical activities by fostering community engagement. Strava’s distinct features include Social Connectivity, which unites millions of users worldwide, allowing them to share experiences and follow one another’s progress.
The unique Athlete Posts Feature enables users to publish posts related to workouts, thus sharing personal insights and stories.
Personalized Progress Tracking for subscribed users leverages Strava’s mobile fitness chart, providing invaluable insights into overall improvement and an individual’s training cycle.
By seamlessly combining fitness tracking with social networking and offering these innovative features, Strava sets itself apart from other fitness apps, creating an enriching environment for athletes of all skill levels.
Left to right — Home Screen showing friends fitness activities, Opening a specific fitness activity, Choose a type of activity
Viewing your position on map before starting an activity.
Screenshots credit: https://ixd.prattsi.org/2023/01/design-critique-strava-for-iphone/
Understanding Hick's Law
Hick’s Law, also known as the Hick-Hyman Law, has broad implications in user experience design, particularly in the area of decision-making (Soegaard). This psychological principle explains that the time taken for decision-making increases with the number and complexity of choices available.
In product and application design, this law emphasizes minimizing options to reduce cognitive load — the mental effort required in decision-making — and enhance user experience (Babich).
Application of Hick’s Law can be seen in categorizing options, highlighting recommended choices, and breaking complex tasks into simpler steps (Babich).
By understanding and utilizing it in the design of applications like Strava, designers can create more intuitive interfaces, ultimately leading to quicker decision-making and improved usability. In the context of fitness apps, it supports principles like obscuring complexity and simplifying navigation (Soegaard). By incorporating this design principle, Strava can further optimize its design to enhance user interaction and satisfaction.
Analysis & Improvement: Activity Selection
The activity selection process in Strava presents an opportunity for enhancement through the implementation of a search feature. Currently, the method to choose an activity requires users to navigate through a list of options, which can be both time-consuming and overwhelming, especially for newcomers like myself in early 2020.
My mock-up designs, left to right — A search box has been added to the “Choose a Sport” menu, Tapping on the search box allows users to type the name of activity, Searching for “Bike” results in only showing biking activities.
Hick’s Law highlights the importance of reducing complexity in decision-making, emphasizing that the number of choices should be minimized to facilitate a smoother user experience (Babich).
The current absence of a search bar in Strava’s activity selection aligns with the observations I made as both a new user in 2020 and as an experienced user through the lens of design principles. It represents a deviation from the principle of simplifying choices and underscores the need for a more intuitive design.
By introducing a search feature, Strava can align its activity selection process with Hick’s Law, helping users to quickly find the desired activity without the need to scroll through an extensive list.
This search bar implementation would reduce cognitive load, allowing users to pinpoint activities using specific keywords or phrases, thus saving time and enhancing usability.
Moreover, the addition of a search bar would resonate with Strava’s existing emphasis on personalized progress tracking and social connectivity, providing a consistent and user-centric experience. Drawing on the principles outlined by Dural and Kohls in their study on fitness app design, this feature could be further refined by providing clear and simple instructions, without complex terminology, to guide users efficiently through the process (Dural and Kohls).
Analysis & Improvement: Messaging Feature
The absence of a direct messaging feature in Strava has led users to resort to other platforms like Facebook Messenger to communicate directly with one another. This added complexity to user decisions violates the principles of Hick’s Law (Babich).
Implementing a direct messaging feature within Strava can be a strategic move to simplify user choices and enhance the user experience.
The proposed design, aligned with Hick-Hyman principle, aims to minimize cognitive load through intuitive categorization and simplification of choices.
My mock-up designs, left to right — Messaging icon on top right indicates messages received, Tapping the Messages icon reveals the main menu for Messaging on Strava.
Jonathan D. Hill, an ultra marathon runner who relies on Strava daily for his dynamic workout routines, provided invaluable insights during our conversation. He highlighted the inconvenience of having to switch to external platforms like Facebook Messenger to connect with fellow athletes. This not only disrupts the flow of interaction but also adds unnecessary steps to what should be a straightforward communication process within the app. His firsthand experience, backed by abundant feedback from Strava’s support forum, emphasizes the critical need for a direct messaging feature. Integrating this feature, while adhering to Hick’s Law’s principles, would streamline the communication process, reducing the steps required to connect with peers and consequently, ensuring a smoother, more intuitive user experience.
The final design highlights how applying the aforementioned principle can enhance user engagement without causing confusion or cognitive overload.
The implementation of this feature, while challenging, would transform the user experience and foster community engagement within Strava itself, instead of diverting users to external platforms. The mock-up designs provide a tangible roadmap for incorporating Hick’s Law into Strava’s functionality, ensuring an intuitive and effective enhancement to the overall user experience (Dural and Kohls; Veckyte).
In the exploration of enhancing the user experience of the Strava app, key findings and proposals have emerged that align with both practical design principles and the underlying psychological framework, such as Hick’s Law.
The analysis began with identifying the current limitations within Strava, specifically in the activity selection and absence of a direct messaging feature. These areas were scrutinized through the lens of this design law, emphasizing the importance of minimizing cognitive load to create a more intuitive and user-friendly environment (Babich).
The proposed improvements, including the implementation of a search bar in activity selection and the addition of direct messaging, are grounded in the user-centric approach.
The search feature is designed to align with Strava’s existing emphasis on personalized progress and would be further refined to guide users efficiently, drawing on best practices in fitness app design (Dural and Kohls).
The direct messaging feature addresses a real-world need, fostering greater community connection, and fills a current gap that requires users to use alternative messaging platforms.
Through a thoughtful and methodical approach, including the utilization of mock-ups and aligning proposals with established design principles, this analysis showcases a vision for Strava’s evolution. It underscores the importance of continuously examining user needs and incorporating feedback, such as the insights obtained from the interview with Jonathan, to iterate and innovate. Emphasizing user-driven innovation, a method like the User Experience Concept Exploration by Fronemann and Peissner suggests that by focusing on fulfilling basic human needs, a positive user experience can be created (Fronemann and Peissner).
By reflecting on these topics, this article serves as a roadmap to transform Strava into a more cohesive and engaging platform, elevating the user experience to new heights.
Soegaard, Mads. “Hick’s Law: Making the choice easier for users.” Interaction Design Foundation, 11 August 2020, https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/hick-s-law-making-the-choice-easier-for-users.
Dural, Meryem, and Christian Kohls. “The design of fitness apps.” Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Computer-Human Interaction Research, 23 Oct. 2017, https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.5555/3290281.3290289.
Babich, Nick. “Using Hick’s Law in Product Design.” Babich.biz, 9 Nov. 2022, https://babich.biz/using-hicks-law-in-product-design/.
Fronemann, Nora, and Matthias Peissner. “User Experience Concept Exploration: User Needs as a Source for Innovation” Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Computer-Human Interaction Research, 26 Oct. 2014, https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/2639189.2641203.
Veckyte, Jovita. “Improving Strava app with Daily UI challenge.” Medium, 26 Nov. 2019, https://noirdiva.medium.com/improving-strava-app-with-daily-ui-challenge-1f1f39ebeb70.