Examining the interface and judge compliance
A heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection method for computer software that helps to identify usability problems in the user interface (UI) design. It specifically involves evaluators examining the interface and judging its compliance with recognized usability principles (the “heuristics”). These evaluation methods are now widely taught and practiced in the new media sector, where UIs are often designed in a short space of time on a budget that may restrict the amount of money available to provide for other types of interface testing. There are many sets of usability design heuristics; they are not mutually exclusive and cover many of the same aspects of user interface design.
Jakob Nielsen’s heuristics are probably the most-used usability heuristics for user interface design. Nielsen developed the heuristics based on work together with Rolf Molich in 1990. The final set of heuristics used today were released by Nielsen in 1994. The heuristics as published in Nielsen’s book Usability Engineering are as follows below:
The main goal of heuristic evaluations is to identify any problems associated with the design of user interfaces. Usability consultant Jakob Nielsen developed this method on the basis of several years of experience in teaching and consulting about usability engineering.
Usability problems that are categorised according to their estimated impact on user performance or acceptance. Often the heuristic evaluation is conducted in the context of use cases (typical user tasks), to provide feedback to the developers on the extent to which the interface is likely to be compatible with the intended users’ needs and preferences.
The simplicity of heuristic evaluation is beneficial at the early stages of design. This usability inspection method does not require user testing and it is helpful to prototype within the schematic process.
Using heuristic evaluation prior to user testing will reduce the number and severity of design errors discovered by users. Although heuristic evaluation can uncover many major usability issues in a short period of time, a criticism that is often leveled is that results are highly influenced by the expert reviewer. This subjective review repeatedly has different results than software performance testing, each type of testing uncovering a different set of problems.
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
The system should speak the user’s 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.
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.
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
According to the Microsoft Developer Network the Performance Testing Methodology
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