What is a Heuristic Evaluation?
In a heuristic evaluation, a usability expert will review a website and compare it against accepted usability principles. This analysis will result in a list of potential usability issues.
A heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection method and there are many other terms in use such as a usability review, consistency inspection, expert review, user interface assessment, etc. They all tend to follow the same kind of process.
There are lots of different usability guidelines but the two most widely known include:
- Guidelines for designing user interface software is one of the earliest sets of guidelines and was created by Sidney Smith and Jane Mosier. It was developed in 1986 for the US Air force and had 944 guidelines. It's a fantastic resource that I recommend you check out.
- 10 general principles for interaction design. is perhaps the most well known set of guidelines and was created in 1990 by Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich.
It's important to use more than one evaluator as multiple reviewers will give you the appropriate coverage of usability problems. It is difficult for a single individual to do because one person will never be able to find all the usability problems in an interface. A general recommendation is normally to use three to five evaluators.
How to conduct a Heuristic Evaluation
Typically you will need:
- 3-5 usability experts
- A set of usability guidelines
- A way to record your observations
- Write up your report
When you are conducting an evaluation of a UI, you would normally choose one set of usability guidelines and go through a checklist exercise. You would note down any usability issues that you find and collate the issues together.
You can create your own guidelines based on usability research but if you're just starting out and want quick feedback, The 10 general principles for interaction design guidelines are a good place to start.
I normally note my observations in a spreadsheet and then write up my findings into a report.
Can a Heuristic Evaluation replace user testing?
Observing users using the UI can not be replaced by a heuristic evaluation as observing a user could bring about issues that an evaluation might not catch.
A heuristic evaluation can provide quick and relatively inexpensive feedback to designers and developers and used together with other usability testing methodologies will allow you to further examine potential issues.