User experience is central to the success or failure of any application. UX designers use a number of techniques to ensure that the best design practices are implemented. Need-based assessment, rapid prototyping, goal analysis, user interface principles are some of these practices. Along with these, designers also use the method of Heuristic Evaluation to ensure that they develop the best possible digital product where they compare the application’s user interface against usability principles. This analysis provides the designers with the list of potential usability issues that the end customer might face upon using the application.
What is Heuristic Evaluation?
Heuristic Evaluation is a great way to generate quick feedback for designers and is also inexpensive in nature. It can be exercised early in the design process and provides a comprehensive assessment of the system. While it seems quite similar to usability testing as Heuristic Evaluation also assesses the usability of a product, the main difference between the two is that in Heuristic evaluation the product is evaluated by usability experts. Heuristic Evaluation is based on a defined set of qualitative guidelines called ‘heuristics’ against which a design can be evaluated by experts, UX professionals who are experts in usability engineering that comes from practice and vast practical experience.
Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich, in the early 1990’s, came up with the idea of Heuristic Evaluation. In this evaluation, a checklist of the heuristics is used to assess the usability and understand if the UI complies with the set guidelines. If two or more people inspect a UI based on the checklist created by Nielson, they could all come up with an individual set of problems, each different from the other.
How is Heuristic Evaluation conducted?
Since different people find different usability problems, a Heuristic Evaluation is done using multiple evaluators. The key objective here is to understand how different personas would like to interact with the solution.
The evaluators note the consistency issues, document issues in the design elements, functions, and flows that do not conform to the heuristic set. They evaluate the interface singularly based on the guidelines that are agreed upon. The evaluators usually analyze the product multiple times to grade things like the information architecture, navigation, visual design, functionality, content, interaction design, etc. The findings of the experts are listed on the basis of their impact on the UX. Upon completion, these assessments are then compiled and summarized to eliminate duplicate problems and then sent off to the engineering team to resolve.
The team of experts performing Heuristic Evaluation has to:
Uniquely identify each issue and provide a recommendation for the same
Prioritize or rank each of these issues individually according to the severity
Relate the issue and the recommended solution to screenshots of the UI for ease of identification and evaluation
The experts can also use a screen by screen analysis or a goal-task-action-model for heuristic evaluation. Alternately, they may even follow user journeys as a method of evaluation.
One can do Heuristic Evaluation at any stage in the design process. However, for Heuristic Evaluation to deliver the results that it promises, the evaluation has to be done by ‘experts’, and experienced people with both practical experience and domain expertise can be expensive and hard to come by.
Can Heuristic Evaluation replace Usability Testing?
Heuristic Evaluation is a great way to identify usability issues within a short span of time. Since it can be conducted early in the design process, it becomes a good starting point for usability testing to understand issues in detail since the obvious errors get caught. It can, however, seem that if we are uncovering usability defects using Heuristic Evaluation we could do away with usability testing. What we cannot overlook here is that UX testing is all about getting feedback from the ‘actual’ users. Unless the actual users are leveraged and only Heuristics is used then the issues identified will primarily emerge from educated guesswork and experience. A set of evaluators cannot bring in enough perspective as the results from the same would simply be a collection of data points.
Usability testing assesses how the users interact with the product prototype and evaluate user behaviors such as task completion success and failure rates, errors, ease of use etc. and reveals the features and functionalities of the product which need improvement or removal. After all, users can be unpredictable and usability tests often reveal things that we never expected.
At InfoBeans, our team of UI/UX experts follows a structured and methodical approach to UI/UX design by following Heuristic Evaluation and other such well-known techniques. If you are looking to overhaul your web application or planning to design a new one, talk to our experts first!