‘Top lists’ as heuristics for simple usability evaluations

Heuristic usability evaluations are a discount usability engineering method for quick, cheap and easy evaluation of interfaces; but if you can't or don't dare to apply usual heuristics, here's an alternative: 'top lists'.

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’.

Which lists?

With ‘top lists’ I am referring to lists similar to these by Jakob Nielsen:Web mistakes (by Jacob Nielsen) 

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:

  1. Include a One-Sentence Tagline
  2. Write a Window Title with Good Visibility in Search Engines and Bookmarks Lists
  3. Group all Corporate Information in One Distinct Area
  4. Emphasize the Site’s Top High-Priority Tasks
  5. Include a Search Input Box
  6. Show Examples of Real Site Content
  7. Begin Link Names with the Most Important Keyword
  8. Offer Easy Access to Recent Homepage Features
  9. Don’t Over-Format Critical Content, Such as Navigation Areas
  10. 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:

  1. Non-Standard GUI Controls
  2. Inconsistency
  3. No Perceived Affordance
  4. No Feedback
  5. Bad Error Messages
  6. Asking for the Same Info Twice
  7. No Default Values
  8. Dumping Users into the App
  9. Not Indicating How Info Will Be Used
  10. 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.

One thought on “‘Top lists’ as heuristics for simple usability evaluations

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