Let’s begin with understanding what usability heuristics means.
The term ‘heuristic’ means enabling someone to discover or learn something for themselves. In UI/UX parlance, it means the ability of a user to find something and use it better. For example, a feature on the app screen.
Every app developer must do a heuristic evaluation of their apps to ensure that the user experience is seamless and devoid of any blind spots that could prevent the user from making the best use of the app. That mandates that every app developer must know the 10 usability heuristics that are equated as the ten commandments of good UI/UX design.
These heuristics were described by Jakob Nielsen almost 25 years ago. However, even today, despite the development of new design languages, they remain relevant and essential.
Why are these 10 heuristics essential? User experience is a subjective thing. It is not possible t draw a single metric based on which experiences of diverse individuals can be based upon. However, with the help of these heuristics, it is possible to create a common standard of fundamentals that every UI/UX design must have.
Without further ado, let’s start exploring each of these design heuristics and what they mean.
For quick reference, here are the 10 design heuristics every designer must be well aware of.
- Visibility of System Status
- Match between system and the real world
- User Control And Freedom
- Consistency And Standards
- Error Prevention
- Recognition rather than recall
- Flexibility and Efficiency of use
- Aesthetic and minimalist design
- Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
- Help and Documentation
1. Visibility of System Status
The very first design heuristic lays down that the user must have clear visibility of system status. By system status, we refer to the ongoing activity, like input received, information being processed, feedback on the screen, etc.
For example, the swoosh sound when a tweet is posted, the tick symbol once a file is successfully uploaded to Google Drive.
These symbols help the user gain assurance that the intended activity has been successfully completed.
2. Match between system and the real world
In today’s internet era, we interact with virtual environments and screens more than we do with the real world. However, to make the virtual experience on the web, an app, or anywhere else as real as it could be, it is necessary to create a match between the system and the real world.
This is usually done with the help of icons, symbols, and even the language used on the interface. These tiny cues go a long way in making the user feel that he/she is not separated from the real world but is part of a virtual environment that feels like the real world. This is also an essential UX requirement.
3. User Control and Freedom
There is a reason why every app is aiming to be intuitive and self-explanatory. An app that allows users to use on their own, control easily, and can choose how to be used is a testament to UI/UX success.
This heuristic lays down that the user must have the control and the freedom to call their shots. However, the app can double-check with the user for completing the action before enacting it.
For example, Google Drive asking ‘Are you sure you want to delete this file?” or “Facebook confirming the discard post’ action and so on.
4. Consistency and Standards
One of the things that good design should do is it should be straightforward and should not confuse users. The user must get a clear direction as to what would happen if they click on a button, a CTA, or an icon.
Also, these controls must remain consistent and standard across the application to ensure that the user has to spend minimal cognitive resources to use it.
Facebook Likes, Instagram Hearts, Share buttons, CTAs like ‘Submit’, ‘Learn more’, ‘Take a trial’ fall under these categories.
5. Error Prevention
The most easily relatable example for this design heuristic would be Gmail’s reminder to attach a file when users accidentally miss to attach it when they have mentioned in the email body about an attachment.
You must have stumbled across several of these error prevention design heuristics elsewhere as well. Google’s auto-correct of search queries, password validation as strong or weak, are classic examples of the error prevention heuristic.
6. Recognition rather than recall
The whole internet works as a huge information repository. Users want to find information as quickly as possible and with minimal effort. Search engines and applications have developed design capabilities to support the same.
The recognition rather than recall heuristic aims at making it easy for the user to recognize what they are trying to find instead of recalling their search item or phrase.
Google’s auto-suggest, Facebook’s search suggestions, Quora’s suggested questions are all examples of this heuristic.
7. Flexibility and Efficiency of use
One of the dilemmas every UI/UX designer faces is whether to design the app for a novice or an expert user. An extremely simple interface might defeat the purpose for an expert user. A sophisticated interface will throw the novice user out of balance.
Good UI/UX design must strike a balance between both. It should be flexible and must provide for efficiency of use. Since it is not always possible to strike a middle ground, a good option would be to offer multiple variants like beginner, expert, or custom controls which will make it easier for the user to make an appropriate choice.
8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
There is no denying the fact that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. A simple and minimalist design can help users accomplish more than a complicated design that is cluttered with too many controls. Almost every popular app and service boasts of a minimalist design that is aesthetic and functional too. Google being the most relatable example.
9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Broken links, wrong inputs, deprecated features — these are all common errors that a user will stumble upon from time to time. While it might seem tempting to explain the programming logic or the technical issue behind it, the ideal approach would be something else.
Good UI/UX design will convey in a simple and understandable language what happened and direct the user towards a remedy.
10. Help and documentation
Every successful application aims to be self-explanatory. However, UI/UX heuristics mandate that it is necessary to have a help and documentation section so that users can refer to them as and when needed. Also, third-party developers might need access to the documentation when they are building integrations and complementing services for the application.
The 10 design heuristics as recommended by Jakob has stood the test of time since 1994. They act as a beacon or a guiding path for UI/UX designers who might stumble into dilemmas or get carried away with their imagination that could compromise user design.
If you are into UI/UX designing, these usability heuristics are must-haves and cannot be compromised at any cost.