April 29, 2013
Heuristic evaluation is a form of usability inspection where usability specialists review each element of a user interface and compare it against accepted heuristics (usability principles). It is a discount usability engineering method for quick, cheap, and easy evaluation of a user interface design. The main goal of heuristic evaluations is to identify any problems associated with the design of user interfaces.
In general, heuristic evaluation involves multiple evaluators because one person will never be able to find all the usability problems in an interface. Usually 2-5 analysts evaluate the system, noting down their observations and often ranking them in order of severity.
An example of heuristic evaluation process
- Decide aspects of a product and tasks to be reviewed.
- Decide which heuristics will be used.
- Select a team of evaluators and give them some basic training on the principles.
- Create a list of representative tasks for evaluating.
- Ask each evaluator to perform the representative tasks individually.
- Compile the individual evaluations and ratings of seriousness.
- Report the findings.
The most-used usability heuristics for user interface design is Nielsenfs. Rolf Molich and Jakob Nielsen developed a set of heuristics in 1990 and Nielsen refined the list after evaluating several sets of heuristics.
- Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.