Heuristics is synonymous with rules or methods. Heuristic means ‘to discover’. It helps to think through problems to reach a solution by the process of elimination, trial and error, and other such means.
Below are a few examples of popular heuristics that act as guiding principles for designers across the world
- Jakob Nielsen’s Heuristics for User Interface Design
- Ben Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design
- Jill Gerhardt-Powals’ 10 Cognitive Engineering Principles
- Christian Bastien and Dominique Scapin 18 Ergonomic criteria for the evaluation of human-computer interfaces
- Bruce Tognazzini’s First principles of interaction design
- William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler’s Universal principles of design
- Alan Cooper’s About face 2.0: The essentials of interaction design.
Of the above, the 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design by Jakob Nielson is the most widely accepted and used within the design community. They are called “heuristics” because they are broad rules of thumb and not specific usability guidelines.
The heuristics are as under –
1. Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
2. Match between system and the real world
The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
3. User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
4. Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
5. Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design, which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
6. Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
7. Flexibility and efficiency of use
Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
10. Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.
Depending on which school of thought the designer subscribes to, the compliance to heuristics can be determined and analyzed.
The first step to conduct heuristic analysis is to list heuristics that results need to be measured against. Once this is done, the researcher can recruit either domain experts or some other user types (depending on the nature of heuristics) to measure the performance of a system, an idea, a concept, or a prototype.
The same heuristics should be measured by different users to collect a wider spectrum of issues that may not be entirely clear to just one user. As Heuristic Analysis is mostly conducted to detect usability issues, users of different skill sets will help to arrive at a holistic analysis of usability.
Advantages of Heuristic Analysis
01 Online heuristics
With online tools to conduct heuristics, a large amount of data can be collected from a large sample size.
02 Detailed Analysis
When heuristic results are collected from a large number of users who have identified different issues relevant to their usability, the analysis is a lot more detailed covering different aspects that would have been neglected by fewer users.
Disadvantages of Heuristic Analysis
01 Correct choice of heuristics
Without a correct choice of heuristics, the analysis obtained would not be accurate or relevant to the study
Heuristic analysis done by a large number of users can be time-consuming.
03 Cost increases with the number of users
With more number of expert category users getting recruited, the cost of recruitment for such users is also high.
Think Design recommendation
Heuristic Analysis is a handy method that helps in analyzing a website/ application through a structured and widely accepted framework. Heuristic Analysis doesn't provide all the answers, especially when we are seeking user experience insights. Also, complying with heuristics doesn’t necessarily ensure a better experience. It is important to understand that heuristics are a set of measures that speak about a website/ application’s usability to an extent.
Use Heuristic Analysis where the subject is global and the intention is to analyze a product’s usability through metrics that are less subjective and more widely acceptable. If your intention is to assess local, cultural or experience related context, Heuristic Analysis is not your go-to method.