10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design

Jakob Schedler

February 12, 2019

8mins

What is Usability?

Usability defines the extent to which a product, system or service can be used by specific users to achieve specific goals with learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors and satisfaction in a specific context of use.

Good usability is not noticed at all by the user - like good typography of a book, a poster or a website.

Let's take a look closer at the five quality components of usability:

Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?
10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Definition of Useful is usability and utility

What is Heuristics?

Heuristics, a form of cognitive strategy, have been studied in discplines such as cognitive psychology, social psychology and social cognition.

Heuristics are rules of thumb for reasoning, a simplification, or educated guess that reduces or limits the search for solutions in domains that are difficult and poorly understood.

Unlike formal structures like algorithms, heuristics do not guarantee optimal, or even feasible, solutions and are often used with no theoretical guarantee.

10 Usability Heuristics with examples

1 – Visibility of system status

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

Feedback

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Visibility of system status

2 – Match between system and the real world

The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

Follow real-world conventions

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Match between system and the real world

3 – User control and freedom

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue.

Support undo and redo

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - User control and freedom

4 – Consistency and standards

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

Follow platform conventions

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Consistency and standards

5 – Error prevention

Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Prevent errors

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Error prevention

6 – Recognition rather than recall

Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

Recognition

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Recognition rather than recall

7 – Flexibility and efficiency of use

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Provide actions for both, inexperienced and experienced users

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Flexibility and efficiency of use

8 – Aesthetic and minimalist design

Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

No irrelevant or rarely needed information

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Aesthetic and minimalist design

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

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Express errors in plain language, provide solutions

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

10 – Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Focus on the user’s tasks, list concrete steps

10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design - Help and documentation