10 Usability Heuristics for Your UI Design

By: Jessica @UsabilityL Miller

Usability Heuristics are generally accessible strategies or rules that use information for controlling and solving problems that may occur between machines and human beings. These rules enable a usability audit or evaluation to be conducted on a UI Design to ensure that it is user friendly.

There are ten common principles for the user design interface. They are usually referred to as heuristics since they tend to be more of rules of thumb, rather than being precisely usability guidelines.


Usability Heuristics

1. Visibility of system status

The system should guarantee that its users are informed about everything that is happening. This should be done with appropriate feedback and within a reasonable timeline. For example, if it will take several minutes to load the screen or display the progress bars. Then the users should be informed about the time estimate that the function will take to load, this way, the consumers will know what they are expecting beforehand.

2. Match between system and the real world 

The system is duty-bound to speak the language of the user. This should be with phrases, concepts, and even words that are the user is accustomed to instead of using terms that are system-oriented. The system should always follow conventions of the real world to make the information appear in an order that is logical and natural. For example, when one is designing a site that is meant for kids, they should use terms that are familiar with this age group and display the information in a format that children always see.

3. User control and freedom

It is important for the user to have a feeling of being in control when they are interacting with any system. This is because many users tend to pick most of the systems functions mistakenly. Therefore, they will require an “emergency exit” that is clearly marked so that they can easily leave this unwanted state without having to go through a prolonged dialogue. For example, the user should be provided with functionality that supports redo and undo actions and one that enables them to exist the system without difficulty.

4. Consistency and standards

The user icons, controls, error messaging, and terminology ought to be consistent all through the interface. In addition, platform and industry standards should also be applied where appropriate. This way, the users will not be confused with words, actions, and situation that have the same meaning. For example, you should use icons that most people are conversant with, instead of creating novel designs that have the same meaning.

5. Error prevention

User errors should be prevented by a design that inhibits problems from happening in the first place. The interface should be user-tested in order to identify any problem areas and restructuring it to clearly communicate the magnitudes of the users’ actions. The designer should eliminate the error-prone settings and offer the users a confirmation option to know what action they are committing to. For instance, when one is deleting data that is difficult to restore, the users should be offered a confirmation message to delete this information. In addition, there should be a setting for Undo actions to prevent the loss of vital information. For example, if the user terminates her account, you should offer him/her an approach to re-establish his/her account within a specified time period.

6. Recognition rather than recall

The memory load of the users should be reduced by presenting visible and familiar objects, actions, options, and icons whenever possible. The user should not be forced to remember information from one part of the dialogue or from another screen. Mouse-over tooltips should be used to describe the functionality of unfamiliar icons and the instructions for use should be easily retrievable and visible. For example, on the web form, one should allow stress-free access to information that was previously entered such as the serial numbers. This way, the user will not have to recall or write down the information.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

The experts and novice users will use the same system differently. Therefore, the system must be efficient and easy to use by both the experts and new users alike. Accelerators should be provided for the expert users so that they can resourcefully navigate the application to finish the most common tasks. The users should be allowed to tailor the frequent actions.

8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

The display of excessive or unnecessary design elements and information should be avoided. This is because every additional unit will contend visually with the relevant information displayed on the screen. This may diminish the visibility of the essential information. For example, background graphics can affect the viewing of text.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

The users should be presented with error messages that specifically indicate the problem and suggest solutions for recovery. The messages should be in plain language rather than be in cryptic coded form that most users do not know. For example, when the user enters an email address that is invalid on a web platform that requires this address, then the error message should state “the email address in email address invalid. Please confirm your email is in the right format; for example, email@address.com.”

10. Help and Documentation

It is advisable for one to create an interface that is so easy to use so that the Help and Documentation becomes unnecessary. However, there are times when the user will want to access help. In such a case, the user support and Help documentation should be easy to find and the instructions easy to follow. For controls that are difficult to trace or complex procedures, examples and video tutorials should be provided.

The main goal of a heuristic evaluation is to detect any usability problems in your design and correct them beforehand. This ensures that your website caters for the needs of both the experienced and the inexperienced users. Therefore, Usability Heuristics are an important part of creating an interactive design process and should be used to examine the interface and evaluate its compliance level.

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Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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