About heuristics

Definition

Heuristic: A generally recognized rule of thumb that helps to achieve usability.

Example of a heuristic: Speak the users’ language

Heuristics are sometimes confused with user interface guidelines. Examples of three related user interface guidelines: The company logo must appear in the upper left corner of each page. Its position must be exactly the same as on the home page. Clicking the logo must cause the home page to be displayed.

The purpose of heuristics

The purpose of a set of heuristics is to increase the chance that a usability problem in an interactive system will be prevented or found before the users find it.

Heuristics can be used to:

1. Prevent well-known usability problems by teaching them to designers.

2. Find usability problems in interactive systems, for example by using them in a heuristic evaluation or a usability inspection.

A bit of history

The first set of heuristics was published by Rolf Molich and Jakob Nielsen in 1990.

A revised version of these heuristics was published by Jakob Nielsen in 1994. The revised version expanded the scope of the heuristics and described each heuristic in a compact and elegant way.

Quality criteria for heuristics

1.  Generally recognized
A reliable set of heuristics has stood the test of time

2.  Comprehensible

3. Examples
A good set of heuristics comes with plenty of examples that translate the heuristics into everyday language. I recommend at least two examples per heuristic, ideally a software and a hardware example.

4.  Manageable
Limit yourself to a few, important heuristics. I recommend sets of 10 to 15 heuristics.

5. Simplicity
Each heuristic should address exactly one usability issue.
“Speak the users’ language” is a simple heuristic.
“Match between system and the real world” is a complex heuristic. It can be decomposed into several simple heuristics, for example “Speak the users’ language”, “Follow real world conventions” and “Match the real world”.
Complex heuristics can be difficult to comprehend.