Usability heuristics were devised in 1994 by Jakob Nielsen a well-known Danish web consultant who had observed and analysed the problems associated with user interfaces (UI) in his teaching and consulting work. Heuristics are a set of general principles used in interactive design to ensure usability and provide a relatively simple and quick testing regime to identify problems and possible solutions.
Major heuristics for usability
- System status visibility
- Real world compatibility
- User control
- Error elimination
- Visibility of user elements
- Flexibility and efficiency
- Minimalist approach
- Error comprehension and recovery
- Help text
So what does this mean for usability?
What this is all about is making websites easy and instinctive for users. The principles are designed to indicate the important issues for usability and ways to gauge how you are doing. To take a few examples from the list above;
- Status visibility – users need to understand what is happening and be given the information and means to make decisions
- Compatibility – the use of language and terms that the user can understand from their everyday experience
- Consistency – use of the same words and terms for the same items throughout the site
- Eliminating errors – a good design that prevents errors from occurring, explains in plain language when they do and helps users exit from mistakes quickly and easily
- Visibility of elements – making actions, options, location continuously visible so the user knows where they are and what choices they have
- Help – should be easy to find and broken down into simple, understandable steps
- Minimal design – irrelevant or unnecessary material should be excluded so the purpose is clear and simple.
The main idea of heuristics is to provide a straightforward and quick way of assessing website usability and identifying and correcting defects. The process usually takes a relatively small amount of time so it is quick and accessible for developers and clients and can be very useful in eliminating obvious obstacles to usability in the early design stages. It is essentially a technical review so can be conducted by one expert who will trial the site through specific tasks or processes to determine the user-friendliness, clarity and functionality against the needs and capabilities of the average user.
The technique also allows for rating of the severity of problems on usability of the interface, so the site owner or developer can determine which are critical issues and which are less crucial, and allocate resources proportionate to the importance.
Heuristics can be very useful in preventing development of a site getting too advanced with major usability flaws thereby requiring expensive redesign and reconstruction. They are a very useful procedure for getting websites on the right track and keeping them there.
If you are interested in this or any of the other tools that are available to make sure that your website offers the best experience and service possible, why not get in touch with our experts. We will be happy to give you an assessment of what you need to consider.