What is heuristic evaluation?

What heuristic evaluation is, its uses, the benefits, the limitations and Nielsen's heuristic framework.


What is heuristic evaluation?

A heuristic evaluation (also known as heuristic analysis) is the process of a number of expert evaluators reviewing an interface design (e.g. a website) against a set of usability principles in order to uncover and fix usability issues, preventing failure once the interface is released. These tend to be relatively quick compared to typical usability evaluations of the past which could be long, expensive, time-consuming, and daunting for developers to conduct themselves.

What is a heuristic evaluation useful for?

A heuristic evaluation is useful for assessing the usability of a website, a landing page, a new design, or a new functionality. If you do not currently involve heuristic evaluations in your go-live process, then we strongly advise to try it out as another method alongside QA (quality assurance) to stop issues getting on to your live website.

What are the advantages / limitations of a heuristic evaluation?


  • Helps to identify and fix usability issues
  • A relatively quick method of gathering website feedback
  • Can be relatively inexpensive as it doesn’t require much time and can utilise in-house resources


  • If your evaluators aren’t impartial, bias can creep into the process. Also if you have already worked on the website, it can be hard to maintain a ‘fresh’ mindset in which to conduct the heuristics
  • Doesn’t cover all issues in isolation, user research & analytics are also required to discover extra insights
  • Requires 5 evaluators to uncover 75% of usability issues
  • If the heuristic is just of some website designs, on-site interactions may become an oversight and may not be picked up in the evaluation.

What framework / heuristics should I use?

If you’re still wondering what is heuristic evaluation useful for, then a good resource for Heuristics and anything user experience is the Nielsen Norman group, who in 1994 created a list of usability heuristics for user interface design. We’ll go through each one with an example to demonstrate the value of adding this into your process.

  • Visibility of system status (feedback)

The website should always keep people informed via feedback, an example is when applying a filter on a website and the website informs the user via a loading icon that the filter has been applied and it’s loading the updated selection.


  • Match between system and the real world

The website / interface should use words, phases, language, and concept familiar to your users rather than internalised terms and showing information in a logical order. Here we have a field which asks for ‘Apartment or suite’ on a UK website, of course this text is very Americanised and is most likely the default text in the CMS.


  • User control and freedom

Website users may choose functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked way out without a lot of hassle e.g. something as simple as clicking an icon to return to the homepage.


  • Consistency and standards

Different words, situations, and actions should all mean the same thing and website users shouldn’t have to worry about inconsistencies. For example, the cross-device experience should be consistent. In a recent heuristic evaluation that we conducted, we found that one client’s filter options were different on their category pages and their search result pages, which could be confusing for visitors.


  • Error prevention

What’s better than error prevention is an interface that helps to prevent errors in the first place. Flags, real-time validation and useful help text can help to prevent errors from occurring whilst filling out forms.

Default state

During typing, the user receives real-time feedback to show that the number is too short

After typing, the user receives feedback whether the number entered is valid


  • Recognition rather than recall

Minimise people’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. An example is the labelling of header icons on ecommerce websites so there is no risk of users forgetting which icon does what.


  • Flexibility and efficiency of use

Your interface / website should provide a positive experience for both novice users and experienced users. Nielsen talks about ‘Accelerators’ which are unseen by novice users, but help experienced users. Amazon are masters of this and nothing shows this off better than their 1 click ordering for logged in users.


  • Aesthetic and minimalist design

Nielsen says that “every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility”. Apple are famous for their minimal design approach on their website. In the example below, they show the minimum amount of information they can get away with.


  • Help users recognise, diagnose, and recover from errors

If somebody does break something or encounter an error on your website, make it as smooth as possible to recover the situation. Present your error messages in clear English rather than via error codes. If an error occurs on a form or the user clicks back, don’t clear all the data they entered on that form. On 404 error pages, tell people what’s happened and give them links to useful/popular sections of your website, rather than just tell them ‘404 error’ – how is that useful?


  • Help and documentation

It would be ideal to provide an excellent user experience which doesn’t warrant the need for any extra help like documentation. However, sometimes this is necessary and this information should be easy to find and not too complicated. Carphone Warehouse have a couple of ways to help customers, a ‘help me choose’ tool and a pro-active live chat.


Conducting a heuristic evaluation can help you to uncover usability issues relatively quickly for any new/existing website and designs, but there are some considerations as we mentioned above, like bias if you’re conducting the evaluation in-house. We recommend using the Nielsen usability heuristics / framework to conduct any heuristic reviews as these are tried and tested, and if you haven’t conducted any of these evaluations before, then start adding them to your design / change process.

If you lack the in-house resource and want a heuristic evaluation on your financial services or ecommerce website or designs, then Worship can help. Just call 0161 713 2434 or email [email protected].

Lee Preston

7th June 2019

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