OD FAQs | What is a heuristic?

Heuristic is a big word for a usability guideline and principle (best practice).Heuristics are used in the context of an Expert Usability Review (Heuristic Evaluation) to ensure that the user experience professional uses as a rule of thumb to uncover issues and create a usable website. 

I use the story of how my Honours thesis was edited to describe heuristics. The process took my editor friend, June, ages! When I asked. “Why did it take so long?” She responded “I read it 40 times?” “What? Why?”, I said. “Don’t you just read it through and pick up mistakes?”

The reason that my thesis was read so many times is that each time she read it, she had one single editing issue in mind.

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Capitalisation
  • Fonts
  • Image Titles
  • Page numbers
  • Style
  • the list goes on.

She was using this technique to ensure coverage, to ensure that nothing was missed. 

I liken the expert usability review process to the editing process I experienced as an Honours student. Instead of ‘reading’ the website we use a set of carefully constructed tasks that represent what users would want to do with the technology, within the context of what the business is trying to achieve. Joanna recently blogged about how to create tasks.

As we go through the tasks the first time, issues that are observed can be noted down against each heuristic. Following this you can review the tasks again with an individual heuristic in mind as you go through each one.

According to Jakob Nielsen the 10 usability heuristics are:

  • 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

These usability heuristics are representative of the most common issues for technology. However, sometimes it is necessary to use other ones at a more granular level. When we do an expert review we also use a long checklist against each of the heuristics.

You can read more about expert and oporutunity reviews on our website.

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About Objective Experience

Objective Experience is your partner for customer experience strategy, research, design and usability testing. Our team of passionate Customer Experience Consultants uncover insights from your customers to optimize customer journeys across all digital and physical channels – mobile apps, websites, systems, shopper and retail. We research on how customers interact with products, services and environments through interviews, surveys, focus groups, desk research, eye tracking and usability testing. Actionable recommendations are developed from our in-depth observations and testing. Our partners and clients come from a wide range of businesses and industries - from large financial institutions and government organisations to technical consultancies, Universities and not-for-profit businesses. Objective Digital Holdings Pty Ltd has offices in Sydney (Objective Experience Sydney) and Singapore (Objective Experience Singapore). Eye Tracking, CX, UX, Usability Testing, Shopper Research & Design Thinking across Australasia and South East Asia.

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