The Importance Of Usability Heuristics For User Interface Design

The Importance Of Usability Heuristics For User Interface Design

Usability heuristic is an inspection technique developed especially for addressing user interface design problems. It will involve the experts examining the UI and determining if it complies with the standard usability principles. These evaluation techniques are increasingly replacing other types of UI testing, providing a more cost-effective and time-saving alternative.


Why is the need for performing usability heuristics? Conducting usability heuristics before user testing will help in reducing the number and complexity of design errors that could be discovered by users themselves. The primary goal behind these tests is to address any issues related to the design of user interfaces. However, it is considered as an “informal” set of methods for usability inspection. Usually, all the detected problems are segmented on a numeric scale. The scale is created based on the estimate of effect on the user performance. Many times the evaluation is based in a specific user case context. This helps developers get valuable feedback about the level of which the UI is going to be compatible with the needs/preferences of the targeted audience.

Benefits during the Initial Stages

Usability heuristics have proven to be extremely beneficial during the initial stages of UI design. This is especially because of its simplicity. It eliminates the need for user testing during the early stage. User testing costs in terms of time, resources, and even money in certain cases. Here, because only a single expert is required, the evaluation reduces the time and complexity involved in testing.

In fact, it takes only a few days for completing heuristic evaluations, with the duration varying based on the following factors:

  • Size of the UI design
  • Objective behind the evaluation
  • Complexity of the design
  • Nature of the usability problems
  • Competence of the evaluators

Principles of Usability Heuristics

Usability heuristics was developed by Jakob Nielsen, an academician in usability engineering. The evaluation techniques are guided by the 10 principles created by him. Adherence to these principles is a sign for the UI design ranking high on the usability scale.

Visibility of system status – Users must always know what is going on, using suitable feedback within the time span.

Connecting system & real world – The system must use the language used by its users. It must follow real-world rules, providing information in an organic and rational way.

User control &flexibility – Users are likely to select functions by mistake. They must be provided “emergency exits” for leaving those functions. The system must support undo/redo.

Consistency – Users should not be left second guessing if different situations, actions and words mean differently or not.

Preventing Errors – Error messages are part of the design for preventing any issues. Ask users for confirmation before they follow through an action or eliminate conditions that can cause errors.

The other usability heuristics principles include focus on recognition (not recall), flexibility, minimalist design, helping users recognizing and recovering from errors, and help and documentation. The most usable designs are meant to comply with all these principles.

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