What is Heuristic Evaluation? Heuristic evaluation UX is a process where experts use rules of thumb to measure the usability of user interfaces or in other words the usability of a digital product. This evaluation is carried out by a set of usability experts who review the digital product against a set of thumb rules derived by the Norman group. The reason they are called heuristics is because they are broad rules of thumb and not specific usability guidelines.
Evaluators use established heuristics and reveal insights that help design teams enhance product usability from the early development process.
The Ten Principles of Heuristic Evaluation
A heuristic is a fast and practical way to solve problems or make decisions. In user experience design or UX design, professional evaluators use heuristic evaluation or heuristic analysis to systematically and logically determine a design or product’s usability. This checklist of criteria helps evaluators find any flaws that the design team might have overlooked.
The Nielsen heuristics state that a system should:
- Keep users informed about its status appropriately and promptly.
The design should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable amount of time. This is important because predictable interactions create trust in the product as well as the brand.
- Show information in ways users understand from how the real world operates, and in the users’ language.
The design should use language that is similar to what the users speak in the real world. Words, phrases and concepts should be the ones that are familiar to your users and not internal jargon or technical lingo. This makes it easier for users to learn and remember how the interface works. This helps build an experience that feels intuitive.
Use user research to find out what is familiar lingo for your users and know their understanding of words and concepts.
- Offer users control and let them undo errors easily.
Users may often perform some actions by mistake. Make sure that it’s easy for your users to undo their mistakes to leave the unwanted action without having to go through an extended process. Making it easy for users to back out of a process or undoing an action, fosters a sense of confidence and gives them more control.
- Be consistent so users aren’t confused over what different words, icons, etc. mean.
Users also use digital products other than yours.Their experience with these products set their expectations. If you do not use language that is consistent with what they are used to, it might increase their cognitive load by forcing them to learn something new. This might create a bad user expectation.
- Prevent errors – A system should either avoid conditions where errors arise or warn users before they take risky actions (e.g., “Are you sure you want to do this?” messages).
It’s important to write good error messages – letting users know an error has occurred, but it is also important to prevent errors from occurring in the first place by eliminating error – prone conditions.
- Have visible information, instructions, etc. to let users recognise options, actions, etc., instead of forcing them to rely on memory.
- Be flexible so experienced users find faster ways to attain goals.
Shortcuts — hidden from novice users — may speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the design can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
- Have no clutter, containing only relevant information for current tasks.
- Provide plain-language help regarding errors and solutions.
- List concise steps in lean, searchable documentation for overcoming problems.
How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation
- Define what to test, whether its the entire product or just one procedure and the objective of what you hope to achieve from the UX evaluation.
- Know your users and clearly define your target audience’s goals, context etc. User personas can help evaluators see things from the user’s perspective.
- Select 3-5 evaluators based on their expertise in usability and in the relevant industry.
- Define on the heuristics you will be asking the evaluators to judge the product design on based on the nature of the system/product/design.
- Brief evaluators on what to cover in a selection of tasks, suggesting a scale of severity codes (e.g., critical) to flag issues
- 1st Walkthrough – Have evaluators use the product freely so they can identify elements to analyze.
- 2nd Walkthrough – Evaluators scrutinize individual elements according to the heuristics. They also examine how these fit into the overall design, clearly recording all issues encountered.
- Debrief evaluators in a session so they can collate results for analysis and suggest fixes.
Heuristic evaluation is an important skill to have. It is a useful inspection method, however it also has its own cons. Sometimes evaluators may report false alarms, rather than any genuine problem elements within the design. To limit the effect that misreporting of findings from a heuristic ux audit can have on the development process, use a number of different evaluators, collate their problems and carry out a debriefing session to root out false alarms at various stages in the design process.