What Is a Heuristic Usability Evaluation?

Before we define what a heuristic usability evaluation is all about, perhaps we should get familiarized with what heuristics are all about. Simply put, any kind of strategy (technique) to analytical thinking or self-discovery that applies a practical method that is not bound to be efficient, perfect, or rational, but is sufficient for achieving an urgent, short-term objective is referred to as a heuristic strategy. Heuristic approaches are designed to be flexible and may be used in coming to rapid conclusions, especially when finding an ideal answer is either impossible or impractical, or when dealing with complicated data. However, having minimal data to deal with in this type of approach can sometimes lead to poor decision-making, which is a disadvantage, but the speed of the process nearly always compensates for this disadvantage.

Since the process of developing an application and designing it usually involves an iterative process, a heuristic usability evaluation will have to be performed. A heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection approach in which one or more usability specialists evaluate the user interface of a product based on a set of established principles known as heuristics. User interface issues discovered during this review will have the potential to be rectified or addressed. This form of evaluation is normally done by a group of people rather than a single person, because it is extremely improbable that one person can notice any user interface flaw in an application, no matter how little it may be. Furthermore, having a team dedicated to this evaluation will aid in the discovery of other issues that can be addressed more quickly and efficiently.

What Are the Different Usability Heuristics?

Listed and discussed below are the different usability heuristics that are used for user interface design, according to a Danish web usability consultant named Jakob Nielsen; Keep in mind that they are identified as heuristics since they are not meant to be strict guidelines, instead, they are to be treated as simple rules of thumb.

Visibility of System Status. This is the first usability heuristic that is mentioned by Dr. Nielsen. When following this usability heuristic, the software’s user interface must always keep the user updated about what’s going on by providing suitable feedback in a fair length of time. A visible system state is critical in a user interface because users learn the consequence of their previous interactions and choose the next steps when they know the current system status. Predictable encounters help to build confidence in both the product and the brand. To keep a system’s status accessible to everybody who needs it, always make sure that users understand what the system’s status is. No actions with possible repercussions should be made without telling the users.Match between system and reality. The second usability heuristic would be this one. When creating the user interface for software, bare in mind that the design must speak the language of the users. This signifies that the user is familiar with the terms, phrases, and concepts used here. The design of the interface is heavily influenced by the unique users. This is because phrases, concepts, symbols, and visuals that appear completely apparent to the developer and his/her coworkers may be unfamiliar or incomprehensible to end-users.User Control and Freedom. Because users frequently make mistakes, user control and flexibility are also important in the user interface design process. Having adequate user control and freedom in an application generates a sense of independence and confidence when individuals can easily back out of a procedure or undo an activity. Users may utilize exits to stay in control of the system and avoid being stranded and annoyed.Consistency and Standards. People increasingly spend the majority of their time using various sorts of digital products, thus even if the product is of the same type, they may have different expectations. This is why, while creating a digital product’s user interface, consistency and standards are essential. Inability to uphold consistency between similar sorts of digital products may raise the cognitive burden of customers by requiring them to learn new things.Recognition Over Recall. It is critical to limit the user’s memory burden when developing a software’s user interface utilizing this heuristic by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should never have to recall data from one portion of the interface to the next. Additionally, in this heuristic, the information that is essential to utilize the design, such as field labels, should also be displayed or easily accessible when needed.Error Prevention. Another type of usability heuristic mentioned by Dr. Nielsen would be this one. User interfaces that are designed with error avoidance in mind may be able to prevent issues from developing in the first place. While having a suitable error message in the program architecture is clear, error avoidance is always the superior alternative. When dealing with problems in an application, it’s crucial to prioritize the most essential concerns above those that have relatively minor implications.Efficiency in Use. The ease of use of a user interface should be considered while creating one for a given application. Shortcuts are one approach to make things much simpler for the end-user, since they may substantially speed up the application’s interaction. An accelerator is a type of shortcut that includes shortcut keys and touch gestures. Allow for customization to make things easy for consumers. This will allow them to choose how they would like the product to function for them.Aesthetic and Minimalist Design. A user interface of a program should not hold information that is useless or infrequently used in this sort of heuristic. Every auxiliary unit of data in an interface conflicts with the essential units of data, lowering their relative visibility. This sort of heuristic does not imply that flat design must be employed all of the time. It’s all about ensuring that the content and visual design are focused on the basics and that the interface’s aesthetic aspects complement the user’s core goals.Error Recognition, Diagnosis, and Recovery. The error messages in an application must be stated in clear English (no error codes), accurately explain the problem, and constructively offer a remedy in this form of usability heuristic. When an error message appears while using the program, it should be provided with graphic treatments that make it easier for users to detect and recognize it. To put it another way, employ typical error message images and explain to consumers what caused the problem in plain language.Help and Documentation. The last type of usability heuristic in an application’s user interface design is concerned with help and documentation. If the system does not require any more explanation, it may be required to give documentation to aid users to understand how to fulfill their responsibilities in some applications. The content of help and documentation should be easy to find and centered on the user’s task. Keep it short and sweet, and provide a list of specific actions to take. When creating the appropriate documentation for an application, make sure the help documentation is easy to find and that it is presented in context just when the user needs it.

Steps in Conducting a Heuristic Usability Evaluation

Now that the heuristic usability evaluation and the corresponding usability heuristics have been discussed, it’s now time to have a look at all the necessary steps that are followed whenever a team decides to conduct a Heuristic Usability Evaluation:

1. Planning Phase

This is the first important step in the entire evaluation process. A clear aim of what is desired to be achieved with the heuristic usability evaluation must be included throughout the planning process. In other words, suitable goals must be established before any inspections are made of the application’s user interface. In addition, during the planning phase, determine what precisely needs to be reviewed and ensure that all specialists engaged are properly educated. The collection of heuristics to be employed and the number of evaluators to be involved are also determined during this step.

2. Selection of Evaluators

After the planning phase, in which the set of heuristics to be used and the number of evaluators are determined, it’s time to proceed to this step, in which the evaluators involved are going to be identified. Make sure to properly pick the evaluators who will be part of the heuristic analysis. Take into account that the evaluators should never be the application’s end-users. Instead, they should be usability specialists with relevant experience in the business type in which the product is used. An evaluator tasked to investigate a point-of-sale system for the restaurant business, for example, should have at least a basic familiarity with restaurant operations.

3. Briefing Phase

After selecting the number of evaluators and who will the evaluators be in the previous steps, it’s time to brief them on what’s going to happen next. Heuristic analysis evaluators should attend briefing sessions since they will learn exactly what they will be doing and covering during their evaluation. The briefing procedure should be regulated to guarantee that all evaluators get the same directives; or else, the evaluators’ evaluations may be biased. Evaluators may be asked to focus on a certain set of activities as part of this brief, but they may also declare which ones they will address depending on their experience and knowledge.

4. Execution Phase

After the briefing phase of the evaluators, this step of the heuristic usability evaluation will follow next. The evaluators will individually go through the target product’s flows and associated interfaces during the execution stage of the heuristic usability evaluation. They will evaluate these factors in light of the established principles, and they will keep track of any issues or areas for improvement. The issue discovered should be noted together with pertinent facts such as the job undertaken, where they met the problem, why it is a problem and potential suggestions for how to remedy it.

5. Reviewing Phase

After the execution stage of the heuristic usability evaluation, this phase will then follow suit. Following the completion of the evaluations, the assigned evaluators should consolidate their results to minimize duplication and develop a list of usability concerns that need to be solved. These problems should be prioritized according to their severity. The findings are frequently done in the form of a report, which includes a description of the assessment process as well as conclusions and recommendations for resolving the issues discovered. The team should devote time to digesting the report, comprehending it (that is, attempting to discover the causes of the concerns identified by the evaluators), and devising a strategy to tackle the findings.

6. Debriefing

After a review of the findings has been completed, a debriefing will then follow, which will also serve as the last step of the heuristic usability evaluation process. The heuristic usability evaluation debriefing session requires collaboration amongst the multiple evaluators to aggregate their results and create a comprehensive list of issues. They should be encouraged to provide potential solutions for all of these concerns as the cooperation progresses, depending on the heuristics they’ve chosen.


What is the difference between heuristic evaluation and usability testing?

While both usability testing and heuristic evaluation can be useful in identifying usability issues that may arise in an interface early in the design phase, there is one significant distinction between the two: in heuristic evaluations, the evaluators are not the target users. Additionally, because heuristic evaluators base their assessments on a list of usability best practices, their findings may differ from those of actual users.

Do heuristic usability evaluations have their shortcomings?

Yes, they do. One downside of a heuristic usability evaluation is that it necessitates training because it relies on the knowledge and skill of the evaluators. Furthermore, educating the evaluators or recruiting external evaluators may add to the time and cost of the review. A heuristic usability evaluation also relies on assumptions about what constitutes excellent usability. This is frequently accurate since heuristics are based on research. However, assessments are no substitute for real-world testing. These are suggestions rather than hard and fast regulations, as the name implies.

What is an example of heuristics?

The anchoring and adjustment method is an example of a heuristic technique. Anchoring and adjustment involve starting with a specified goal number or value, known as the anchor, and gradually adjusting that number until it reaches an acceptable value over time. The main issue with this strategy is that if the initial anchor value is not the genuine value, all future modifications will be slanted toward the anchor and far from the actual value.

When software is in its early stages of the development phase, a heuristic usability evaluation can be performed on it in order to make sure that the design teams have the chance to improve how stable it is even if it’s still in its early stages. It comes with its own sets of pros and cons, though depending on the evaluators, they might find that the pros outweigh the cons. In this article, should you require further understanding, there are plenty of sample templates available here for you to have a look at.