UX should be incorporated into every stage of product development. That’s what the ideal strategy suggests, but things don’t happen that way usually and user experience specialists have to optimize the existing product to make it user friendly.As far as the UX optimization of a website is considered, it has its own pros and cons. An intense user research is required to be performed prior to making the changes and any of the methods can be adopted for this research; but here, we would like to go back to the basics and discuss about heuristic evaluation.
Heuristic evaluation is a process where evaluators (i.e. the user experience specialists), examine the interface of a website and judge its abidance with the established usability principles. They perform various tasks to identify the usability issues that are required to be fixed to deliver a smoother user experience.
As a user experience research method, heuristic evaluation has its own advantages and disadvantages.
• Compared to other research methods, it’s pretty fast and easy. It gives a quick overview of the usability parameters and highlights the issues that may be hurting UX.
• It delivers more value as compared to the resources it requires; and hence, it is comparatively more affordable than other UX research methods.
• Heuristic evaluation does not involve user testing or user behavior analysis; and so, sometimes it lacks proof.
• It is really difficult to find and hire a UX specialist, who possesses enough experience and expertise to perform the evaluation.
The Step-by-Step Procedure of Heuristic Evaluation
1. Define the scope
Any research has some kind of goal that needs to be clearly defined and stated to the researchers. You need to decide whether you want the entire site to be inspected or just a particular component, like the sign up process. Basically, you need to identify a set of tasks that the evaluators need to perform in order to uncover the usability issues. This helps the evaluators clearly understand the goal of the project and the desired deliverables.
2. Understand the users
Heuristic evaluation involves user data; the evaluators need to inspect the interface from the point of view of the intended user. They need to have a clear understanding of the target audience and their requirements. Some basic user research may also be required to know who is using your product and why, or else the evaluation will lack user focus and will be less effective.
3. Define the set of usability heuristics
Usability heuristics are basically the usability principles that may be applied to any website. Defined by usability experts, these principles are not mandatory. Also, there are no fixed rules as to what heuristics should be used in an evaluation, a generally acknowledged set of heuristics in given below:
• Transparency of system status: Users should always feel informed of the current situation or state of the system. For example, whether the page is still loading or it’s done.
• Maintain consistency between system and the real world: Every element should be consistent with the user expectations and the behavior. For example, an envelope icon shouldn’t play for add-to-cart action.
• User control and freedom: Provide emergency exits and alternative routes to make your user feel free and confident.
• Maintain standards: There should be consistency in everything. For example, the same button should not perform different actions.
• Error prevention: Remove any such elements from the website that may cause confusion and lead to an error.
• Flexible and efficient interface
• Awesome aesthetics with minimalist design
4. Identify and record the usability issues
Evaluators examine the interface and record a usability issue that they come across. For example, if a sign-up form does not clearly define the allowed symbol set in password creation, while after submitting the form it displays an error message asking to remove the invalid symbols; the evaluator will record this usability issue and mark the heuristic as error prevention.
5. Analyze and present the results
After all the usability issues are identified, a detailed report is prepared for presenting the same. The report describes the method of research along with the evaluation process, heuristics, and recommendations to fix the issues.
Heuristic evaluation is indeed a powerful way to identify major usability issues in a short span of time. It can also be used as a base for further usability testing and user research to better understand some of the issues.