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Think of websites in the early 2000s—chunky boxes, loads of text, inaccessible colors, no animation, and no sense of usability. When developers started reimagining the web, user-friendliness or usability wasn’t on top of the priority list. The look and feel were given more importance. Designers erupted on the scene a lot later, and this was when usability started trumping aesthetics.

Heuristics are all about usability. This post looks at how one can conduct a successful heuristic analysis for web interfaces. All the heuristic rookies in the house—we’ve got you covered!

What is Heuristic Evaluation, and Why Use It?

A UX heuristic evaluation, or just heuristic evaluation, is a process of establishing a criteria-based checklist based on which an interface is analyzed to highlight possible user experience errors.

It is a very well-known fact that design will not presumably succeed in the first attempt. Hence, following heuristic principles and conducting an evaluation helps tackle any deficiencies that one may otherwise overlook. There are limitations to what algorithms can fix. They lack factoring in a crucial element of user experience—the emotional aspect.

Even though design teams and companies frequently gauge interfaces against their heuristic standards, Nielsen’s 10 Heuristics are a growing industry standard. They are as follows:

  • Visibility of system status
  • Match between system and real world
  • User control and freedom
  • Consistency and standards
  • Error prevention
  • Recognition rather than recall
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • Aesthetic and minimalist designs
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
  • Help and documentation

The best way to learn the application of these heuristic principles would be to look at leading companies that employ them. Amazon, for example, gives a row of breadcrumbs on every product page so the user can navigate back and forth. Apple gives you tips on all their systems so that you never feel lost or run out of help. Slack has a wonderful repository of documented guides with straightforward steps to solve issues.

Newbie Mistakes to Avoid

Heuristic evaluations are a tad bit tricky – only knowing the heuristics isn’t going to enable you to judge an interface and find out issues. Here are some of the most common mistakes designers make while conducting heuristic analysis for the first time:

  • Although heuristic evaluation is majorly a measure of usability, it is not a substitute for usability testing. The terms may be combined to call the technique heuristic usability testing, but involving users is a better practice than troubleshooting the product as a designer.
  • Heuristic analysis is not the same as a UX audit, either. A UX audit is a wider assessment of a product, of which heuristic evaluation is but a part of usability testing, research, interviews, etc.
  • Another common mistake junior designers tend to make is in analyzing the interface against an inappropriate set of design heuristics. The best way to avoid this mistake is to use Nielsen’s 10 heuristics discussed here or any other industry standard like Shneiderman’s eight golden rules of UI design or Gerhardt-Powals’ cognitive engineering principles.
  • The least effective way to conduct a heuristic analysis is to do it as a sole designer. The problem with being a loner in this assessment technique is that you may not be able to keep track of all decided heuristics, which leads to impaired judgment. A team is always able to find issues better than just one designer. If the sample size of users on whose needs the evaluation is based, you may not be able to keep track of all their needs.
  • It would be worse for the team that designed the product to conduct the evaluation. One must always look for an impartial, detached pair of eyes to understand the errors with the UI and possible avenues of improvement.
  • If there is no way out, for example, in a startup, and you have to conduct the evaluation alone, then it must be done with deep care to avoid any biases. This is important because we tend to get attached to our own designs quite strongly, which leads to unfairness in assessment.
  • Particularly about existing lists of heuristics, designers tend to ignore the fact that there are websites/apps like theirs apart from their own that users spend time on. Not comparing and seeing what works on other websites/apps and how design heuristics are being evaluated is a rookie mistake made by many junior designers.

Conducting a Successful Heuristic Evaluation

To increase one’s chances of success with analysis, here are some simple steps to take:

  1. Clearly define the goal of the analysis and select appropriate heuristics. Select a few evaluating parameters, preferably 3-5, and brief the evaluating team on the goals.
  2. Keep user personas in mind while conducting the heuristic evaluation so that we do not stop empathizing with the users and have an unbiased mind towards the interface or product.
  3. If possible, take multiple walkthroughs. The first walkthrough could be a simple use-and-see session where the evaluators get their hands engaged with the product. The second walkthrough could be where they inspect the interface against the heuristics, giving them deeper insights than before.

Conclusion

Not all UX designers are adept at conducting heuristic evaluations. At a large company, there are chances that a team can conduct the entire assessment. But as part of a smaller company or as a solo designer in a startup, it would be wise to pay experts to do it.

Every product or website should go through a few rounds of heuristic analysis from time to time. The best thing one can do for the success of one’s design is to assess issues, reiterate, and keep delivering better experiences.

At Pepper Square, we realize the importance of delivering extraordinary experiences for our clients. Connect with us for a detailed heuristic analysis of your website or mobile app.

Are you looking for an experience-driven digital solution for your product or service?
Author Alka Jha
Alka is the Design Director at Pepper Square and she has defined the user experience for some of the finest global brands over the last seven years.

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