10 Usability Heuristics

A heuristic is a method or strategy that has been derived through data analysis of processes over time, that lead to non-optimal solutions to everyday problems.

  1. Visibility of System Status
user feedback

Provide a user with enough feedback during product use so that they are always in the know, in terms of where they are in the process and what they are doing. Have you ever been on a website and you get a refresh animation with no message or info ? Total frustration and you will have lost a user.

2. Real World vs System


Model your system with the user’s language and communicate to them in a clear and concise way. You never want to present a user with jargon that they would not understand. It creates confusion and loads the cognitive process.

3. Control of Process

control of your journey

The user should always be in control of their experience. They should have the freedom to navigate forwards or backwards in their journey. We are all human and are prone to errors. If a system has the ability to undo what you have done, you always feel more at ease navigating the process and exploring deeper. A good level of trust is built this way.

4. Consistency & Standards

maintain consistency

Maintain industry standards and conventions to improve consistency and onboarding by lessening the cognitive impact through poor standards or methods. Most people can get up and running with an email client because of the consistency in layout and modelling which has not changed much through the years.

5. Error Prevention

accidents happen

Control of errors and good error handling helps maintain the trust you have built up with the user. If you do not control this in a manageable way, a user will get a sense of abandonment and the frustration levels will increase. Errors happen, you have to come to terms with that and then manage them in a professional and effortless way.

6. Recognition over Recall

memory disk

People have limited short term memory spans. A user benefits out of recognising the functionality of a process rather than trying to rack their brains and figure out what is meant to happen. The apple menu panel is instantly recognisable through many of their products and this is one of the best examples of this heuristic.

7. Flexibility and Ease of Use

a knife with many additional uses

Offering personalizations and customizations allow a user to set up the product in a way that works best for them giving them that sense of greater control and trust. Advanced or hidden functionality can assist more advanced users in making them more proficient and enhance the overall experience even more.

8. Minimal Design, Keeping it Simple

simple coffee pot

Do not make the mistake of trying to feature pack a system or product to benefit the user. Often the user is confused with extra options and information. Dumbing down an interface to the exact requirements to meet the user’s primary goal is what often wins the race.

9. Recognise and Help Error Recovery


Helping recognise an error and then assisting to undo or return to a previous working state not only lessens cognitive load but also reduces frustration and confirms the trust factor of your interface. Be helpful and always offer the ability to undo and control.

10. Help systems and Documentation

help with directions

Help systems should be easy to use and understand and should not take a university degree to understand. A quick glance and a user should already be seeing a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

The heuristics above are based on the Nielsen heuristics for user experience which have remained the same for almost 26 years. You can clearly surmise that this is because of the psychology behind the behavioural patterns and not due to trends that come and go. Usability heuristics can be applied to most facets of life. I will be exploring in more detail, heuristics when applied to specific industries and how they differ from the general laws.