Heuristic Review: A Little Known — and Powerful — User Experience Tool

Posted by Andres Zapata | July 6, 2017 | 11:24am

User experience is that intercept where sociology, anthropology, communication, psychology, technology, art, design, writing, and marketing come together.  Experts in the field often use different methods–such as usability testing, treejacking, ethnographies, surveys (oy!), etc–to test or evaluate the UX of apps and websites, but a technique that is often overlooked is the Heuristic Review. I am not sure why this is the case as it’s one of the most comprehensive and actionable assessments UX experts can perform.

Well, maybe I do know why. Or at least, I have a hunch: Data. Specifically, quantitative data. We like quant. We believe in quant. It’s hard to argue against it. But data is often an incomplete view of what’s really going on.

We’ve found that with a Heuristic Review, we can assess a website’s overall usability and user experience and provide qualitative feedback from UX experts, not just numbers. Like anything else, it alone is an incomplete way to do a comprehensive assessment–but it alone can get you more than half of the way there.”

Here are the dimensions of a Heuristic Review, the idfive-way:

  1. Communicate function
    • Provide visual feedback to explain what a feature is and what it’s doing.
    • Provide text feedback and other confirmation messages.
  2. Use plain (not dumb) language
    • Speak the language of your users, both novice and experienced.
    • Simplify messaging by reducing copy and using universal terms when possible.
  3. Appropriately reveal content
    • Avoid cramming all links into a menu or displaying too much of an article preview.
    • Show just enough to allow choosing a path.
    • Lean on “load more” (e.g.) to communicate deeper archives.
  4. Support common tasks AND exploration
    • Identify user-critical tasks and goals and support those in functionality and content.
    • Reduce content that hinders task completion.
    • Balance surgical tasks against the ability to “play” in large datasets with filters or other mining tools.
  5. Maintain consistency
    • Use a consistent design language to both unite the site and to clearly differentiate sections or function.
    • Lean on common iconography and interactions understood by your users, adhering to best practices and established trends.
    • Use consistent written language in feature labels, brand voice, and industry terminology.
  6. Maintain sense of place
    • Most users arrive at child pages via search engines and not through the home page; make it clear where in the web site’s navigation a specific page is.
    • Allow browsing up and down a menu tree, but also across—e.g., from one event article to the next within an events section (reduce “pogo-sticking”).
  7. Anticipate and resolve errors
    • Prevent errors where possible, handling edge cases gracefully—e.g., hide the U.S. state selector if a non-U.S. country is selected for an address.
    • Provide just-in-time feedback, guidance, and help when needed.
    • Use automation over errors—e.g., use the web app to “clean up” a phone number before the database insertion, rather than failing a form submission.
  8. Apply appropriate design
    • Use design to enforce messaging and tasks, but avoid over adornment.
    • Reduce design if it negatively impacts bandwidth performance, or inhibits goals/tasks.
  9. Be device agnostic
    • Embrace responsive design and performance best practices.
    • Allow access across a variety of devices and network speeds.
    • Gracefully degrade content and features into older platforms, ensuring critical content and features are still available.
  10. Maximize joys
    • Pleasantly surprise users with complementary content and features they want even if it isn’t business-critical to you.
    • If an error or warning is necessary, turn it into a positive interaction—e.g., using a friendlier “page not found” as Twitter or Firefox do.