10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design

Posted on
July 27, 2020

Contrary to heuristics sounding like a medical diagnosis, they are actually vital for successful UI (User Interface) design.

Speaking of ‘diagnosis’, the word heuristics loosely comes from the ancient Greek meaning to find or to discover. Mostly, a heuristic is a guideline – an experience-based approach to problem-solving.

It’s important to remember that heuristics aren’t set rules for UI design. Heuristics help shape design by leading designers to answers that will keep the user in mind. 

Itching to know what the 10 best usability heuristics are for UI design?

Drumroll, please…

Visibility of system status 

Nielsen outlined that users need to be “in the know” of what is going on and getting feedback within an appropriate time. Not knowing why a page isn’t loading or payment isn’t being completed are two examples of poor visibility of system status. Here are ideas of how to increase visibility for users.

Match between system and the real world

Users need to understand the content. Use common language and references so that users can follow the site or app with ease. The adage “less is more” applies here. Users need to see the relevance of the system to the real world. Learn more about Nielsen’s thoughts on matching between systems and the real world in this video.

User control and freedom

It’s common for users to choose an option by mistake. Create easy ways for users to retrace their steps and get to where they want to be on the site or app. If your systems in place are too restrictive then users won’t stick around to figure it out.

Consistency and standards

You’ve heard that “consistency is key”. Computer scientist Ben Shneiderman shares that consistency needs to be prioritized in UI design. All menus, dropdowns, filters, and dialogue need to be consistent during the designing process. You can find more on Shneiderman’s 8 Golden Rules here.

Don't keep 'em guessing.

Error prevention

Preventing errors is the goal, right? We all know that mistakes happen in the design process. Thankfully, those hiccups aren’t going to derail the design. Test for errors, but also put safeguards up for when errors occur. Give users the option to opt-out of error pop-ups and prompt them to confirm if they want to leave a page, resubmit payment details, etc.

Reduce Users’ Minimum Steps

This heuristic is key. Your UI design needs to help users have an effortless navigation experience. Users want to be able to go from A to B without any problems. Frequent users would benefit from having shortcuts such as being able to save pre-fill information at checkout. Craving more on how to do this? Check this out.

Flexibility and efficiency of use

Cater to experienced and inexperienced users with accelerators. Building in accelerators will speed up processes for frequent users and go unnoticed by those that do not need to utilize them.  

Aesthetic and minimalist design

We talked about consistency in design, but it’s important to remember that the overall aesthetic is just as important. The design needs to be appropriate to the user. Having a minimalist design allows the user to navigate easily and understand the overarching brand and message. 

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Many of us have been on a site that dropped the ball on loading the page or getting us safely through checkout. To further frustration, some of those sites haven’t offered a solution. The page goes blank or pops up with a generic error. Design with errors in mind and present a clear solution to users. Need some help with error messages? We got you!

Help and documentation

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” Implementing help and documentation may seem like a tedious task in UI design, but it’s helpful to the user. Here’s a tip from Jakob Nielsen: “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.” In other words, help without creating overwhelm.

Wrapping Up

These 10 usability heuristics for UI design are going to guide your team in creating a working system that benefits the user and yourselves. Think of these heuristics as guideposts and not set rules––although all of them are relevant to any design.

The truth is, UI design is constantly being perfected as new best practices emerge to reel in customers and corner the competition. It’s typically in your best interest to consult the pros (ahem, like the people whose blog you’re reading 👀)

Posted in
July 27, 2020