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Heuristic Evaluation in UX: A Comprehensive Guide
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Heuristic Evaluation in UX: A Comprehensive Guide

Heuristic Evaluation in UX: A Comprehensive Guide

Saviour Egbe
31 October, 2023

Heuristic evaluation in UX is like a health inspection test your product needs to pass, to confirm if it’s easy to use. An expert ‘inspector’ refers to a checklist of principles, and evaluates your app/website on its usability.

Read on to know how exactly heuristic evaluation in UX works, heuristic evaluation best practices, and how you can conduct your own heuristic evaluation.

What is Heuristic Evaluation in UX Design?

Heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection method that can help identify and fix usability problems in your designs.

In simple terms, it’s a systematic way of assessing whether your design is fit for use, by referring to a set of usability principles. These principles are called heuristics, and are based on best practices for user interface(UI) design. 

For example, a heuristic from Jakob Nielsen’s ‘10 Usability Heuristics’ states that systems should communicate in a way that mirrors the user’s real-world experiences and connections. This simply means that while designing interfaces, avoid jargon. Instead, use visual and language cues that users are familiar with. If you need an icon for the Search feature, for example, use something people associate with Search. Like a magnifying glass.

You see this heuristic in practice with how the Delete option is accompanied by a trash can, or the Email icon is a mail envelope. Using standardized, real-world references like these can make users more comfortable, and the experience more intuitive.

There are many sets of heuristic evaluation principles that are used by usability experts everywhere, but the basic tenets remain the same. We will quickly explore these later in the article, no spoilers for now!

To conduct a heuristic evaluation in UX, you need to evaluate your design against the set of heuristics. 

The checklist often includes a list of heuristics, each with a brief explanation and a set of questions that the evaluator can use to assess the UI against that heuristic. For instance, a heuristic evaluation checklist section on system status visibility would look like this.

Heuristic: Visibility of system status
Explanation: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable time.
Does the UI provide timely feedback to users about their actions?
Does the UI provide feedback to users about the system's status?
Is the feedback clear and understandable?

Scroll on till the end of the article to access Looppanel’s heuristic checklist template, all spruced up and ready to share with evaluators.

Pros and Cons of Using Heuristic Evaluation in UX Design

Pros of Using Heuristic Evaluation in UX Design

  • Heuristic evaluation is an inexpensive and efficient way to identify usability problems.
  • It can be conducted early in the design process before users are involved.
  • It can be used to evaluate a wide range of UIs, from websites and apps to physical products.

Cons of Using Heuristic Evaluation in UX Design

  • Heuristic evaluation can only identify if your product is usable, not if it’s useful for your users..
  • It is important to have experienced evaluators, as the results of the evaluation can be subjective.
  • Heuristic evaluation isn’t a substitute for user testing.

When to Use Heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluation is a good method to use when:

  • You need to identify usability problems with an existing prototype of an app.
  • You have limited resources.
  • You need to evaluate a wide range of UIs.
  • You want to get feedback on the usability of a prototype before you launch it to the public.

Heuristic Evaluation Principles

Heuristic evaluation principles are general rules of thumb that are based on best practices for user interface design. These principles are used to evaluate user interfaces for usability problems.

There are many different sets of heuristic evaluation principles, but some of the most popular ones include:

  1. Nielsen and Molich's 10 Usability Heuristics
    These heuristics are a set of 10 principles that can be used to evaluate the usability of user interfaces. They cover a wide range of topics, such as visibility of system status, match between system and the real world, and user control and freedom. Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich developed these heuristics which were first published in 1994 and have since then been updated several times. You can read up on the 10 usability heuristics from the Nielsen Norman Group’s website.

  2. Shneiderman's 8 Golden Rules of Interface Design
    These rules were first published in 1983 and are a set of eight principles that can be used to design user interfaces that are both usable and efficient. Shneiderman's 8 golden rules cover topics such as consistency, user control and freedom, and feedback. As the brilliant Masood Nasser, Vice President of Advanced UX at HFI, once wisely put it, 'Ben Shneiderman's set of rules is an excellent starting point on your journey to be a better designer.”

  3. Bastien and Scapin's 7 Principles of User Experience Design
    Bastien and Scapin's principles were developed in the mid-1990s and have been influential in the field of user experience design ever since. They focus on designing user experiences that are both useful and enjoyable. They cover topics such as usefulness, usability, and desirability. Bastien & Scapin’s principles are a good alternative to Nielsen’s usability heuristics. 

How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation

Let's imagine you're a UX designer working on a new e-commerce website for youth that sells locally-made leather shoes. You have created a prototype of the website and you want to get feedback on the usability of the UI before you launch the site to the public. 

One way to do this is to conduct a heuristic evaluation. This is how one’ll go about it.

Step 1: Select a set of heuristics to use

Just like we have discussed earlier, there are many different sets of heuristics available. Let’s assume that you select Nielsen and Molich's ‘10 Usability Heuristics’ that you find most relevant to this project. You can even decide to create your own set based on your specific needs.

Step 2: Assemble a team of evaluators

It is best to have a team of at least three evaluators. The evaluators should be experienced in usability evaluation and understand the target users well.

A good team of evaluators include:

  • A UX designer
  • A software engineer
  • A marketing manager
  • A user researcher
  • A subject matter expert
  • A representative of your target audience (End User)

It is important to select evaluators who have experience with heuristic evaluation. If your evaluators do not have experience with heuristic evaluation, you should provide them with training on the process.

In this case, you assemble a team of three evaluators: a UX designer, a software engineer, and a marketing manager.

Step 3: Familiarize evaluators with the UI

Before the evaluators begin evaluating the UI, it is important to familiarize them with the UI. This can be done by giving them a tour of the prototype and explaining how to use it.

You should also provide the evaluators with a set of tasks to complete. This will help to ensure that they are evaluating the UI from a user's perspective. Let’s say that you create the following to-do list for them:

  1. Find a pair of shoes that you are interested in.
  2. Add the shoes to your cart.
  3. Checkout and complete the purchase of the shoes.

Step 4: Have evaluators evaluate the UI against the heuristics

Each evaluator should independently evaluate the UI against the set of heuristics. The evaluators should identify any usability problems and make recommendations for improvement.

They can also use a heuristic evaluation checklist, as we discussed above.

In this scenario, each evaluator independently evaluates the UI against Nielsen and Molich's 10 Usability Heuristics.

Step 5: Compile and prioritize findings

Once the evaluators have completed their evaluations, compile their findings and prioritize them based on their severity and impact on the user experience.

Step 6: Provide feedback to the design team

Share the findings of the heuristic evaluation with the design team. The design team should then review the findings and make changes to the UI/UX as needed.

Heuristic Evaluation: Common Issues and Best Practices

Now that you know the basics of heuristic evaluation, let's talk about some of the most common issues that evaluators find, and how to fix them. We'll also cover some best practices for conducting heuristic evaluations, so you can get the most out of this valuable tool.

Common Heuristic Evaluation Issues

Here are a few of the most common issues that evaluators find:

  • Lack of visibility: Important information is not visible to users.
  • Inconsistent design: The interface is not consistent in its design and functionality.
  • Difficult navigation: Users have difficulty navigating through the interface.
  • Confusing error messages: Error messages are confusing or not helpful.
  • Lack of feedback: The interface does not provide feedback to users when they interact with it.

These issues can make it difficult for users to use the interface effectively and efficiently. Thus, it can lead to frustration and abandonment.

How to Fix Heuristic Evaluation Issues

The good news is that there are simple fixes for most heuristic evaluation issues. For example, to fix a lack of visibility, you can make important information more visible by placing it prominently in the interface and using high-contrast colours and fonts. To fix inconsistent design, you can make the interface more consistent by using the same design elements and conventions throughout.

Here are specific tips for fixing common heuristic evaluation issues:

Lack of visibility:

  • Place important information prominently in the interface.
  • Use high-contrast colours and fonts.
  • Use visual cues to draw attention to important information.

Inconsistent design:

  • Use the same design elements and conventions throughout the interface.
  • Follow standard usability guidelines.
  • Create a style guide to ensure consistency.

Difficult navigation:

  • Provide clear and concise labels and instructions.
  • Use a consistent navigation structure.
  • Provide breadcrumbs and other wayfinding cues.

Confusing error messages:

  • Rewrite error messages to make them clear and helpful.
  • Explain what went wrong and how to fix it.
  • Use positive language and avoid blaming the user.

Lack of feedback:

  • Provide visual feedback when the user interacts with the interface.
  • Use audio feedback when appropriate.
  • Use text messages to provide feedback and status updates.

By following these tips, you can fix common heuristic evaluation issues and improve the usability of your interface.

Best Practices for Heuristic Evaluation

Next time you run a heuristic evaluation, follow these tips to make things go smoothly:

  • Use a team of evaluators: A team of at least three evaluators can help to reduce bias and ensure that a wider range of perspectives are considered.
  • Use a heuristic evaluation checklist: A heuristic evaluation checklist can help evaluators stay on track and ensure that they cover all of the relevant heuristics.
  • Prioritize findings: Once the evaluation is complete, prioritize the findings based on their severity and impact on the user experience.

Heuristic Evaluation Template

Before we bid adieu, here’s one last tip - just use Looppanel’s detailed evaluation checklist for your next heuristic evaluation!

Our checklist uses Jakob Nielsen's 10 Usability Heuristics, using a number of questions to evaluate the project’s score on each heuristic on a scale of 0 to 4.

Download Looppanel's heuristic evaluation checklist here!
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