Heuristic Evaluation User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

Heuristic Evaluation: Concept Definition

Heuristic evaluation is a usability engineering method for finding usability problems in a user interface design, so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process. It involves a small set of expert evaluators that examine the interface and assess its compliance with “heuristics”, or recognised usability principles.

Typical usability evaluations of interfaces can be long, difficult, expensive, and time consuming processes that often intimidate developers. They are hence often ignored, at the cost of delivering software that suffers from usability issues, and result in frustration and errors during use. To partially overcome the issue, Jakob Nielsen (pioneer of web usability) has advocated for “discount usability engineering methods”, i.e. methods that developers can adopt which are cheap, fast and easy to use. Heuristic evaluation is one of these methods.

In a heuristic evaluation, a set of evaluators assess a designed interface for compliance against an agreed set of principles, each evaluator working alone and going over the interface multiple times. Evaluators produce reports which are then discussed, the end result being a list of usability problems (and their causes) to be addressed. In heuristic evaluation, evaluators can supplement sets of general design principles with additional heuristics specific to the product category or characteristics, as necessary. The number of evaluators for each project may vary, but it is generally recommended to use about five evaluators, as this number has been shown to be able to discover approximately 75% of all usability issues. Because evaluators are inspecting the interface and not actually using it, heuristic evaluation is suited to early use in the development life cycle, where the interface may consist of nothing more than paper-only designs.

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