Heuristic Analysis

Heuristics is synonymous to rules or methods. Heuristic means ‘to discover’. It helps think through problems to reach a solution by process of elimination, trial and error, and other such means. Heuristic Analysis is conducted by experts based on the rules of heuristics, popularly used in user experience and user interface design to evaluate a website, portal or an app for their confirmation to heuristic principles.

Quick details: Heuristic Analysis

Structure: Structured

Preparation: Subject for heuristic evaluation

Deliverables: Report, Recommendations

Popular Heuristic Principles

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
  • Bruce Tognazzini’s First principles of interaction design
  • Alan Cooper’s About face 2.0: The essentials of interaction design.


Jakob Nielsen’s Heuristics

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.


How to conduct Heuristic Analysis

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 arriving at a holistic analysis of usability.


Advantages of Heuristic analysis

1. Online heuristics

With online tools to conduct heuristics, a large amount of data can be collected from a large sample size.

2. 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

1. Correct choice of Heuristics

Without a correct choice of heuristics, the analysis obtained would not be accurate or relevant to the study

2. Time consuming

 Heuristic analysis done by a large number of users can be time consuming.

3. Cost increases with the number of users

With more number of expert category users getting recruited, the cost for recruitment for such users is also high

Think Design's 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 and user interface design. Use Heuristic Analysis when we need objectivity 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.

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