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What is a heuristic?
Don't let the word heuristic fool you: it means nothing more than a rule or a guideline. So heuristics are nothing more than rules, guidelines of how a software system should behave in order to create the best user experience.
The list below can be used as a checklist to benchmark the user interface of a software system.
Jakob Nielsen’s 10 principles
- Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on. Through appropriate feedback and within a 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. 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.
- Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place.
- Recognition rather than recall
Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another.
- Flexibility and efficiency of use
Allow users to tailor frequent actions. Use ‘accelerators’ to make the system easy to use for experienced and inexperienced users.
- Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed.
- Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language, 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.
Source: Nielsen, J. (1994, April 24). 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. Retrieved November 7, 2019 from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics.
Complete list of heuristics
A. Visibility of system status
- Is status feedback provided continuously?
- Are warning messages displayed for long enough?
- Is there provision for some form of feedback?
B. Match between the system and the real world
- Are the words, phrases and concepts used familiar to the user?
- Does the task sequence parallel the user's work processes?
- Is information presented in a simple, natural and logical order?
- Is the use of metaphors easily understandable by the user?
- Does the system cater for users with no prior experience of electronic devices?
- Does the system make the user's work easier and quicker than without the system?
- Does the system fit in with the environment in which the user's tasks are carried out?
- Can the system realistically reflect real world situations and appear to respond to the user?
- Are important controls represented on the screen and is there an obvious mapping between them and the real controls?
C. User control and freedom
- Are facilities provided to "undo" (or "cancel") and "redo" actions?
- Are there clearly marked exits (for when the user finds themselves somewhere unexpected)?
- Are facilities provided to return to the top level at any stage (eg links back to homepage)?
D. Consistency and standards
- Is the use of terminology, controls, graphics and menus consistent throughout the system?
- Is there consistency between data entry and data display?
- Is the interface consistent with any platform conventions?
- Have ambiguous phrases/actions been avoided?
- Is the interface consistent with standard PC conventions?
- Have colour and style conventions been followed for links (and no other text)?
E. Error prevention
- Is a selection method provided (eg from a list) as an alternative to direct entry of information?
- Is user confirmation required before carrying out a potentially 'dangerous' action (eg deleting something)?
- Does the system ensure work is not lost either by user or system error?
- Does the system prevent calls being accidentally made?
- Are the options given in dialog boxes obvious?
- Does the system provide foolproof synchronization with a PC?
- Has the possibility of the user making errors been removed?
- Is the system robust and safe enough for its surroundings?
F. Recognition rather than recall
- Are help and instructions visible or easily accessible when needed?
- Is the relationship between controls and their actions obvious?
- Is it possible to search for information (eg a phone number) rather than entering the information directly?
- Is the functionality of the buttons on the device obvious from their labels?
- Are input formats (eg dates or lengths of names) and units of values indicated?
- Is the functionality of novel device controls (eg thumbwheels) obvious?
G. Flexibility and efficiency of use
- Does the system allow for a range of user expertise?
- Does the system guide novice users sufficiently?
- Is it possible for expert users to use shortcuts and to tailor frequent actions?
- Is it possible to access and re-use a recent history of instructions (eg recently called numbers)?
- Does the system allow for a range of user goals and interaction styles?
- Does the system allow all functionality to be accessed either using function buttons or using the stylus?
- Is it possible to replace and restore default settings easily?
- Have unnecessary registrations been avoided?
H. Aesthetic and minimalist design
- Is the design simple, intuitive, easy to learn and pleasing?
- Is the system free from irrelevant, unnecessary and distracting information?
- Are icons clear and buttons labelled and is the use of graphic controls obvious?
- Is the information displayed at any one time kept to a minimum?
- Is the number of applications provided appropriate (and has 'featuritis' been avoided)?
- Has the need to scroll been minimized and where necessary, are navigation facilities repeated at the bottom of the screen?
- Is the system easy to remember how to use?
- Have excessive scripts, applets, movies, graphics and images been avoided?
I. Help users recover from errors
- Do error messages describe problems sufficiently, assist in their diagnosis and suggest ways of recovery in a constructive way?
- Are error messages written in a non-derisory tone and refrain from attributing blame to the user?
- Is it clear how the user can recover from errors?
J. Help and documentation
- Is help clear and direct and simply expressed in plain English, free from jargon and buzzwords?
- Is help provided in a series of steps that can be easily followed?
- Is it easy for the user to search, understand and apply help text?
- Is navigational feedback provided (eg showing a user's current and initial states, where they've been and what options they have for where to go)?
- Are any navigational aids provided (eg find facilities)?
- Does the system track where the user was in the last session (and any progress made)?
- Has opening unecessary new browser windows been avoided?
L. Use of modes
- Does the system use different modes appropriately and effectively?
- Is it easy to exit from each mode of use?
M. Structure of information
- Is there a hierarchical organization of information from general to specific?
- Are related pieces of information clustered together?
- Is the length of a piece of text appropriate to the display size and interaction device?
- Has the number of screens required per task been minimized?
- Does each screen comprise 1 document on 1 topic with the most important information appearing at the top?
- Has hypertext been used appropriately to structure content and are links intuitive and descriptive?
- Have pages been structured to facilitate scanning by the reader?
- Are the URLs, page titles and headlines straightforward, short and descriptive?
- Has excessive use of whitespace been avoided?
- Has textual content been kept to a maximum of two columns?
- Is the system fun to use?
O. Physical constraints
- Are function buttons large enough to be usable?
- Is the screen visible at a range of distances and in various types of lighting?
- Does the touch-screen cater for users touching the screen quickly and slowly?
- Is the distance between targets (eg icons) and the size of the targets appropriate (size should be proportional to distance)?
- Has the use of text in images and large or irregular imagemaps been avoided?
P. Extraordinary users
- Is the use of colour restricted appropriately (and suitable for colour-blind users)?
- Do the buttons allow for use by older, less agile fingers or people wearing gloves?
- Do buttons give tactile feedback when selected?
- Is the touch-screen usable by people of all heights and those in wheelchairs?
- Are equivalent alternatives provided for visual and auditory content?
- Have accessibility and internationalization guidelines been applied if appropriate?
Source: ID-book (n.d.). Full set of heuristics. Retrieved November 7, 2019 from http://www.id-book.com/secondedition/catherb/Complete_heurs.php.