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The 10 Usability Heuristics: Examples & Evaluation

Instructor: David Gloag
We pick up, and use, many objects during a regular day. This lesson is a formalized approach to determining the best choice, covering usability heuristics, what they are, and examples of how to apply them. At the end, you should have a good understanding of this interesting area.

How Do We Decide?

We use many objects in our day-to-day lives. We make calls on our cell phones, we use cutlery to consume our meals, and we use various toiletries as part of our morning rituals. But how do we select these objects? What is it about them that makes us choose one over another? Most of us go through a series of questions, trials, and answers, to arrive at a choice. That process has been formalized into the area known as usability heuristics.

What is Usability?

Usability is the area that deals with how easy something is to recognize, understand, and ultimately use. It has 5 major factors:

  • Learnability: How quickly something can be understood and put into operation.
  • Efficiency: How quickly something can be used once understood.
  • Memorability: How easily something can be put down, left for some time, picked up, and reused effectively.
  • Errors: How many errors are created during use, and how quickly the user can recover from those errors.
  • Satisfaction: How pleasing the object is to use.

Taken together, these factors represent a complete overview of the usability of an object. Think about any object that you use regularly in your life. What is it about that object that warrants a special place in your pocket? Why have you chosen that one in particular? Chances are, you are using one or more of the factors mentioned above to arrive at your choice.

As an example, consider your cell phone. What is it about your cell phone that made you choose it? Was it easy to use? Did you find that you could quickly perform any operation? When you put it down, looked at others, and went back to using it, did you continue right where you left off? Did you make mistakes often during use? And overall, was the phone pleasing to use? Chances are, the answers to these questions led you to select that particular phone. In other words, usability allowed you to arrive at the conclusion that the phone you chose was the right one for you.

What are Heuristics?

Heuristics are the results, or lessons learned, from solving problems, repetition, and general observation. A heuristic is not a specific rule, but rather a time-tested principle for thinking about problems. Applying heuristics is a form of continuous improvement achieved through trial, error, and auditing. Think about the cell phone example above. Did the questions and answers lead you to a decision on their own? Or did you have to pick up, touch, and play with, the phone to answer the questions? If you are like most people, you needed both. You needed to experience using the phone and observe whether it matched your usability requirements to make a choice. That is what heuristics are all about.

What are the 10 Usability Heuristics?

Jakob Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, outlined 10 usability heuristics, or general rules that serve as a guide to usability. Below, they are listed alongside explanations of the attributes they refer to:

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