Usability Heuristics

Posted by on Apr 4, 2015 in Blog
Usability Heuristics

 “usability is a means of directed product evaluation, not scientific inquiry” [Goodman et al. 2012].

With science, there is a process of rigid hypothesis testing and investigation. This doesn’t apply to usability testing so much because you don’t want to interrogate your participant, you want to view them as a collaborator with valid insights.


paper prototype usability test

Alternatively, “directed product evaluation” implies a more open ended interpretation of the participants actions, thoughts, and feelings, in response to guided tasks.

Goodman and team present a concise statement that expresses an important distinction in how usability testing should be viewed. I agree with the authors because of their established expertise in the field. Viewed in context of the rest of their work, the authors present a sound understanding of the importance of usability testing and the good techniques that support them.


paper prototype usability test

Making design decisions that are not in agreement with heuristic evaluations.

Based on Nielson’s Heuristics, design decisions may not want to support the “User Freedom and Control” heuristic when involving online security protocols. For example, when working with credit card and bank information, allowing the user to leave a page too easily might result in security risks.

In the early 1990’s years ago, Jakob Nielson created ten general rules for interaction design. A foundation for guiding software development and interaction design. I’m curious how these compare to what heuristics will we follow as technology becomes more intangible and ubiquitous?

Nielson’s 10 Heuristics (1995)
1. Visibility of System Status
2. Match between System and the Real World
3. User Control and Freedom (emergency exit)
4. Consistency & Standards
5. Error Prevention
6. Recognition rather than Recall
7. Flexibility and Efficiency of Use – allow users to tailor frequent actions.
8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design
9. Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors
10. Help and documentation

Similarly, interaction design figure Don Norman developed his own Principles of Usability:

Don Norman’s Principles of Usability
1. Consistency
2. Visibility
3. Affordance
4. Mapping
5. Feedback (activational & behavioral)
6. Constraints

There are overlaps and discrepancies between these two lists, but they’re mostly similar. Norman takes a broader design perspective while Nielson is more specific in his reference to software. Norman’s background included aviation cockpit design and consequently his schema more readily applies to and is reflective of hardware.

As it related to our assignment of assessing websites of our choosing and conducting a heuristic analysis, I was at first torn struggling to apply concepts which for the most part are standardized. The browser itself takes care of several heuristics and renders them inherent.

While these heuristics are excellent guidelines for developing in-house software, many platforms and software development kits seem to take care of them. I’m most interested in how these heuristics apply to wearable technology and ubiquitous computing. When there is no interface, which heuristics become irrelevant and what heuristics need to be added?

Should there be a requirement for spatio-temporal awareness within technology interactions of the future? Should the interaction know you’re at home, not at work or the gym? Do we need help and documentation still? We don’t seem to need it with Siri; we’d rather learn from doing .

Goodman et al. 2012. Observing the User Experience (Second edition).

Nielson, Jakob. “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.” Jan. 1, 1995. <;