Heuristic evaluation is one of the most popular usability techniques; it basically consists of reviewing an interface and check if it fulfills some well-known guidelines and principles (the “heuristics”).
Once you overcome the fear of performing a task with such a fancy name, the following step is obvious: choosing the heuristics (guidelines) to use. There are some popular heuristics lists, but there are some risks when using them for a usability evaluation:
- If the heuristics are too generic, they don’t help you to identify real issues.
- Otherwise, if the heuristics include detailed checkpoints, you may concentrate on small or very specific issues while overlooking the important ones.
Consequently I suggest using alternative heuristics: the ‘top lists’.
With ‘top lists’ I am referring to lists similar to these by Jakob Nielsen:
- The ten very worst design mistakes of all time
- Most violated homepage guidelines
- Top homepage usability guidelines
- Good deeds in Web design
- Web design mistakes (2005)
- Web design mistakes (2003)
- Web design mistakes (2002)
- Web design mistakes (1999)
- Web design mistakes (1996)
- Application design mistakes
- Information Architecture (IA) mistakes
I think this kind of guidelines might be used (or the mistakes avoided) in small projects, or even in big projects as a preliminar evaluation, or in other situations.
For example, the home page is a special page in any web site, so we can use ‘Top homepage usability guidelines‘ as heuristics for that single page:
- Include a One-Sentence Tagline
- Write a Window Title with Good Visibility in Search Engines and Bookmarks Lists
- Group all Corporate Information in One Distinct Area
- Emphasize the Site’s Top High-Priority Tasks
- Include a Search Input Box
- Show Examples of Real Site Content
- Begin Link Names with the Most Important Keyword
- Offer Easy Access to Recent Homepage Features
- Don’t Over-Format Critical Content, Such as Navigation Areas
- 10. Use Meaningful Graphics
Another example: most of the heuristics are referred to web applications; so if you’re evaluating a desktop application, you can use the ‘Application design mistakes‘ as heuristics:
- Non-Standard GUI Controls
- No Perceived Affordance
- No Feedback
- Bad Error Messages
- Asking for the Same Info Twice
- No Default Values
- Dumping Users into the App
- Not Indicating How Info Will Be Used
- System-Centric Features
If you are designing/evaluating an application, take a look at the top common mistakes before asserting you have already considered them…
In conclusion: if you’re in a project with no budget or experience or time for usual complete heuristic evaluations, at least you can apply this single heuristic:
- Avoid common (“top ten”) mistakes.