Heuristic analysis is one of the most popular techniques used by UX professionals. It is primarily used for usability testing of websites and applications. With its help, we can get quick feedback on the usability, problems and shortcomings of the analyzed platform.
In this blog post, first we get to know some areas of heuristic analysis, and then cover the advantages and limitations of the analysis. Finally, we share a specific tip that you can try right away!
What is heuristic analysis?
The word heuristics basically comes from the ancient Greek language and means "finding". The method did not get this name by chance. Its purpose is to identify and find the shortcomings and problems found on the examined platform.
UX designers can choose from more and more tools and techniques that support their work, new software and methodologies are being released on a daily basis.
Let's take a look at the 10 points of the heuristic:
- Visibility of the system’s status
The system must always clearly indicate what is happening and what the next step is. Think for example, when you start a movie and you see the hourglass icon or anything else that indicates loading. This signal clearly communicates that the system is not frozen, but is working to fulfill the command. The phone's battery charge indicator is similar, which indicates the charge status of the device with numbers and visual elements.
- Meeting the worlds of the system and the user
It is important to keep in mind that we do not create websites and applications for machines, but for people (at least for now) . That is why the language we use and the symbols we display must be easily understandable for people. So don't use technology that is difficult to use or understand.
- User freedom and control
Sometimes we make mistakes. With the widespread use of mobile devices there are countless times that we accidentally push something aside that we didn't really intend to. Such cases should also be considered and our users should be provided with the possibility of withdrawal. It must have happened that you almost deleted a picture or an application from your phone due to a slight carelessness. In this case - in the majority of cases - you will receive a pop-up message asking for your confirmation regarding the completion of the command. If you really didn't want to delete the file, you got an "emergency exit" and saved the given document.
- Consistency and conventions
Let's be consistent as users adapt much better to the usual. Use uniform language and design elements. The logical structure should not change from page to page. The more consistent we are, the easier we make it to navigate the site, and the user experience increases with it.
- Preventing Errors
It is important that the system we build (or just check) helps prevent possible mistakes. It is therefore worth thinking in advance how we can contribute to the problem-free use of the system. Consider, for example, when you have to enter your username and access code when logging in to your email, Facebook or NetPincér account. Ten times out of ten, the password field points out the code we typed, so I can only be confident that it was indeed entered correctly. The function was developed for this purpose, which makes the previously invisible code visible and verifiable by pressing a button, thus avoiding possible mistypes.
- Instead of recalling, prompting recognition
We are bombarded with a lot of information every day, and our attention is becoming more and more diverse. That is why it is important that the (controlled) system does not overburden our user, try to help him store information and retrieve it later. For example on a webshop we can reduce the load on the short-term memory by displaying the previously visited product pages. That way, the user doesn't have to remember everything, just scroll down and you'll find what you were looking for before.
- Flexible and efficient use
There are cases when it makes sense to separate beginner and experienced users and offer them different options. The professional user has - presumably - already visited the platform countless times and knows the system well. It is therefore advantageous to enrich the user experience with "shortcut" options.
In the case of image editing, if someone has been using Photoshop for a long time, countless key combinations can make their work more efficient. On the other hand, a beginner user will work more slowly and will presumably reach for the options clearly visible on the interface first.
- Aesthetic and minimalist design
It cannot be denied that minimalism has taken over in recent years. Fortunately, moving away from cheesy solutions, clarity and logical structure came to the fore. Any element that unnecessarily distracts attention does not need to be on the platform. On the other hand, we check whether what is really relevant and necessary is properly communicated.
- Error handling
The integration of error prevention functions into the system is essential which can save a lot of time and energy for our users. However, sometimes we cannot predict all errors. This is when error handling comes into play. Handling the situation when a problem has already developed on the surface, which is waiting for a solution.
Consider, for example, when you enter your shipping information when purchasing a product in a webshop. If you fill out the form incompletely or incorrectly, you will see a clear error message. E.g.: "Entering a phone number is mandatory." In this way, the users receive clear instructions on what to do, which will help us to successfully eliminate the error.
- Providing help and documentation
Most systems do not require separate documentation to be prepared for it, however, it does no harm. In the case of more complicated platforms, the user may get "lost" and be confused about the next step. In such cases, it is beneficial, for example, to create a help function or frequently asked questions menu item, where the user can find the answers to their questions.
Advantages and limitations of heuristic analysis
If we don't want to settle for a poor or mediocre quality digital product, we must resort to heuristic analysis. We are much more likely to go in the direction of acquiring customers, or we are more successful in retaining existing customers.
Now let's look at the advantages one by one:
- Fast and cost-effective: existing internal resources allow us to perform the analysis quickly and cheaply.
- Comprehensive: the most critical points are sure to receive due attention and scrutiny
- It is easy to interpret: the results can be easily communicated within and outside the team. The completed document provides appropriate guidelines for designers.
- It can be used even at the beginning of planning: you don't have to wait until the system is completely ready, but can be used already in the initial steps.
- Lack of usability experts: we have to take into account that we cannot find enough or suitable experts for the analysis
- False positives: during the analysis, certain areas are classified as negative, but they do not necessarily cause a negative experience for the end users.
- If the experts performing the evaluation are external people, it is possible that they are not aware of the technical limitations of the system, so we run in unnecessary circles.
The steps of heuristic thinking
A well-executed heuristic analysis requires sufficient preparation and a set of consistent rules. Missing a step can also bias the results.
The following steps ensure that you get the most out of your analysis:
Step 1: Determine the budget, the focus of the analysis, and the available time
It does not matter whether the entire system needs to be tested or only one or another aspect of the user journey. It also has an influence on us if I'm short on time and "work is due tomorrow". In such cases, it is better to define the focus and select the elements to be examined.
Some ideas that are often critical elements include:
- Registration page
- Email subscription
- Checkout page
Once we have the focus, we can move forward much more efficiently, so do not skip this step.
Question you need to ask: What do I want to test?
Step 2: Know the end user
Everyone is different and so are users. In order to perform a proper analysis, we need to understand their problems, their motivation and how experienced they are in using certain systems.
It may happen that someone has difficulty filling out a registration form, while others get stuck with payment. So let's identify several groups of visitors based on criteria such as demographics, personal knowledge and individual preferences. Knowing these, evaluators can obtain more accurate information during testing.
Question you need to ask: Who is this product for?
Step 3: Choose your heuristics
Determine which heuristics the evaluators should use for testing. This ensures that the evaluation takes place along uniform guidelines and that the results are compatible.
Without designated heuristics, the results of the analysis would be unreliable, inconsistent, and ultimately useless.
Question you should ask: What heuristics will I use?
Step 4: Develop a unified evaluation system
Try to set up a simple evaluation system that is easy for the evaluation team to apply.
The evaluation can be done for example by marking the following
- Minor problem
But we can even mark them with the colors of the traffic lights (red, yellow, green). It is essential that the testers use the notations consistently, which can then be easily processed during the analysis.
Question you should ask: On what basis/how will the testers evaluate the platform under review?
Step 5: Analyze and summarize the results
As we come to the end of the analysis it is time to collect, compare and then summarize the results.
Let's start by filtering out duplicates and then organizing the data, this will help the designer team prioritize tasks.
Question you need to ask: What do the results show? What is the next step?
After that, all that's left is to weigh the results and schedule the repair rounds.
Summary: the role of heuristics in analysis
Heuristic analysis is a highly effective method for analyzing the usability of digital products. However, we should not rely solely on this data, as certain psychological factors - such as cognitive bias - limit the 100% objectivity of the evaluators. In order to achieve optimal results, heuristic analysis should be combined with the Cognitive Walkthrough (CW) method and personal user interviews.