June 21st, 2013
Heuristics derives from the Greek word ‘heuriskein’ and the equivalent meaning in New Latin ‘heuristicus’, translating to ‘discover’ or ‘find out’. Heuristic evaluation is one of the most notable usability methods founded by Jakob Nielson – an expert on computer human interaction. Having been the biggest influence on improving user experience via the ‘discount usability engineering’ movement, he shaped internet usage to be easier. His contribution has informed user interfaces and dubbed him as the forerunner of usability guidelines. The main principles of designing for user interfaces and their interaction, are known as ‘heuristics’.
Usability is paramount in website design and other computer devices. The 10 main heuristic principles for interactive design are as follows:
1. Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
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.
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.
4. Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
~ Jakob Nielson
This form of heuristics evaluation is the foremost method of usability inspection executed in computer software, identifying problems in the user interface (UI) design. Jacob Nielson developed them from his prior work with Rolph Molich in 1990. The feedback provided by evaluators to programmers allows them to overcome usability problems by ensuring interfaces are compliant with visitors needs and preferences. Such software performance testing reduces the time and budget utilised for expounding problems encountered by users. The guidelines for interface testing are popular within the new media sector as the growth of interactive technology evolves. Without the heuristic principles, typical user tasks would not be accomplished.
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