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When reviewing an interface without the benefit of usabilties testing results, is there a standard way to do heuristic evalutions of an interface?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The guidelines posted below from Aaron Mciver about Jacob et al are loose guidelines and change depending on what you are reviewing; websites use slightly different heuristics including homepage/search etc, which are pretty specific.

What really helps me is having a rigid framework to check if my heuristics pass/fail/don't know. I'll also include comments beside each one.


Once you've gone through your spreadsheet you should go back to the points you've commented and grab screens (if you haven't done so already) of the offending sections. This will give you a bunch of comments plus screens with which you can put your report together with.

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Great, great resources... thanks for sharing! –  Daniel Newman Nov 30 '11 at 15:48
I believe I found the XLS file you were referring to, so I edited your comment to add it. (Found it via Googling for "site:userfocus.co.uk *.xls") –  Daniel Newman Nov 30 '11 at 15:56
Thanks Dan! Its real handy isn't it! –  colmcq Nov 30 '11 at 16:34
The reservation I'd have with these detailed lists is that its hard to see the Wood for the Trees. What you need to be looking out for is the problem which isn't on the checklist... –  PhillipW Dec 1 '11 at 21:34
there are a couple of things that crop up which are not in the list, usually with IA or navigation. I just create a new heuristic! –  colmcq Dec 2 '11 at 9:18

The top ten from Jakob Nielsen should be your starting point.

  • 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.
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On top of Nielsen's top 10, there's also Ben Shneiderman's Eight Golden Rules from 'Designing the User Interface':

1 Strive for consistency. Consistent sequences of actions should be required in similar situations; identical terminology should be used in prompts, menus, and help screens; and consistent commands should be employed throughout.

2 Enable frequent users to use shortcuts. As the frequency of use increases, so do the user's desires to reduce the number of interactions and to increase the pace of interaction. Abbreviations, function keys, hidden commands, and macro facilities are very helpful to an expert user.

3 Offer informative feedback. For every operator action, there should be some system feedback. For frequent and minor actions, the response can be modest, while for infrequent and major actions, the response should be more substantial.

4 Design dialog to yield closure. Sequences of actions should be organized into groups with a beginning, middle, and end. The informative feedback at the completion of a group of actions gives the operators the satisfaction of accomplishment, a sense of relief, the signal to drop contingency plans and options from their minds, and an indication that the way is clear to prepare for the next group of actions.

5 Offer simple error handling. As much as possible, design the system so the user cannot make a serious error. If an error is made, the system should be able to detect the error and offer simple, comprehensible mechanisms for handling the error.

6 Permit easy reversal of actions. This feature relieves anxiety, since the user knows that errors can be undone; it thus encourages exploration of unfamiliar options. The units of reversibility may be a single action, a data entry, or a complete group of actions.

7 Support internal locus of control. Experienced operators strongly desire the sense that they are in charge of the system and that the system responds to their actions. Design the system to make users the initiators of actions rather than the responders.

8 Reduce short-term memory load. The limitation of human information processing in short-term memory requires that displays be kept simple, multiple page displays be consolidated, window-motion frequency be reduced, and sufficient training time be allotted for codes, mnemonics, and sequences of actions.

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Could you please provide a link/ reference, thanks. –  Kris Dec 1 '11 at 11:50
@Kris From the book Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction by Ben Shneiderman. –  jensgram Dec 1 '11 at 12:51
@AlanHo: Thanks so much. You can edit your answer to include the reference so it can benefit everyone. Also, if you have any online references, you can provide links. –  Kris Dec 1 '11 at 12:56
@Kris: Included a hyperlink to the book. Cheers. –  Alan Ho Dec 1 '11 at 13:16

A checklist from the book "GUI Bloopers (2)" by Jeff Johnson:

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This is quite a neat little list –  colmcq Dec 1 '11 at 15:50
Yup :) I haven't read second but first edition is a pretty useful book full of sound advice derived from Johnson's comprehensive practical experience. –  agib Dec 2 '11 at 7:46

This is quite a useful checklist from Bruce Tognazzini

During his 14 years at Apple Computer, he founded the Apple Human Interface Group and acted as Apple's Human Interface Evangelist...

Here's the link:

First Principles

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+1 @PhillipW: Agree, really like it a lot. –  blunders Dec 1 '11 at 21:58

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