Top 10 Heuristics Principles for User Interface Designing

September 14th, 2021 . 9 minutes read
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“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.”

– Donald Norman.

Heuristic, in a nutshell, means rules of thumb that help in solving problems quickly and efficiently. It is one of the evolutionary mechanisms that help us to survive as a species.

But what does it has to do with user experience design?

The same principle applies in designing digital products. It is a thorough evaluation of a product’s user interface and the basic concept here is to identify usability issues that may arise when users interact with a product and make out ways to resolve them. Checking out designs against these heuristic is what called heuristic evaluation.

Evaluation is just not for the designers who want to create better interface but for anyone who cares about end users.

Jacob Nielson developed the heuristics while working together with Rolf Molich in 1990. The final sets of heuristics that are still used today were released by Nielsen in 1994.

Heuristic evaluation is an important part of designing a great product that users can effortlessly engage with and find value in their interaction. This method works against a determined set of usability principles.

There are 10 usability principles, also called heuristic principle, which helps in making designs easier and pleasurable for end users. We are going to discuss these principles in length in this blog-

10 Heuristic Principles for Usability

Breaking down 10 of these heuristics in detail:

1. Visibility of System Status

Designs should keep users informed about what is going on through appropriate and timely feedback. It can also be framed in simple words, as when you see things you’re more aware of what’s happening.

Some key points under this heading can be:

  1. To show users where they are in the system.
  2. Allow users to continue from where they left.
  3. Inform the users about their progress.
  4. Inform about successful/unsuccessful tasks.
  5. Give clear feedback at the right time.

For instance, the spinning dial indicates that the page is loading, which shows the user that the work is in progress.

If there was no such indication, it would have led the user to uncertainty and confusion, which could prompt him to abandon the site.

2. Match Between System and the Real World

The design should speak the user’s language. Familiar words, phrases and concepts should be used, rather than internal jargon. As it is more relatable when the system reiterates the real world, this can be achieved by the following methods-

  • By using easy language to communicate with the users.
  • Daily experiences and habits to use in design.
  • Allowing users to have the system which adapt to their first language.

Some examples which can explain this like symbol used on Instagram is the “heart”, in the real world heart symbol shows love or likeness towards something. This small symbol has a broad meaning and connects the world with the system.

The other example can be the Microsoft recycle bin and folder icon.

3. Give Users Control and Freedom

While performing actions, user often make mistakes, there should be clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted action or to undo the mistake. That’s when he needs the freedom to make decisions.

This can be done by giving prior warnings for important actions like deleting a file, exiting the page without saving the work done, etc. Warning messages let the user think consciously twice before performing that particular action.

The other method is showing mercy by providing undo options like Gmail which gives an undo option just after the message is sent.

4. Consistency and Standards

This principle states that the design should follow certain standards and should be consistent throughout so that user should not get confused whether the different words, symbols, icons, or situations mean the same thing or not. This could be inhibited by lack of continuity or consistency and can lead users to abandon the site.

To give the enhanced user experience and to influence the users, confidence and assurance are must to provide. This can be achieved by:

  • Working with the style guide
  • Using similar components to bring brand reorganization.

For example: In this app, the finish later button is on the right of the basic action button in the first and second screenshot, but in the third screenshot it changes the position to the left of the basic action button.

This layout has inconsistency which can easily cause the user to accidentally hit the finish button instead of submitting the form and could lead to confusion.

5. Error Prevention

Error prevention principle states that for a great design it is important to prevent users from making errors, but if any error occurs, the website should be able to help the user recover easily by identifying the problem. Some key points which can help to achieve this are:

  • Warn the users before making any disastrous mistakes.
  • Provide necessary prompts, wherever required.
  • Proactive suggestions or corrections.
  • Autofill information should be provided.

The above example shows that any error is prevented by asking the user to type “delete” to confirm the action.

Facebook issues a warning informing the user that he has entered an incorrect email address.

6. Recognition Rather Than Recall

This principle put importance on minimizing the memory load on the user by making the actions, elements and options visible. It helps the user to avoid remembering information as it is easier to recognize from a list of suggestions than remembering something from scratch. This can be done by:

  • Reminding users about their viewed history from their previous search session.
  • Providing possible hints.
  • Giving auto-complete options

As in this example, Google provides suggestions and options which prevent user to recall and save time. These suggestions are based on the previous search history of the user.

7. Flexibility and Efficiency to Use

This principle states that the website should give flexibility to both average users and expert users to use the interface satisfyingly. You can do it by incorporating accelerators which are unseen for average user but also allows the expert user to navigate faster and perform more frequent actions. Some key points:

  • Giving flexibility with shortcuts and social sign-in.
  • Allowing users to save their results.
  • Reducing clicks on regularly visited functionality.

For example, the expert users use the keyboard shortcuts for every function, whereas the average users use the mouse and do every task manually.

This page gives flexibility to use both mouse and shortcuts keys.

8. Aesthetics and Minimal Design

This principle states that the website should not contain any sort of extra information or unnecessary data. This means you should focus on diminishing relevant information and make it less visible.

The aesthetics plays the important role as it might turn the website more appealing or less engaging to the users. You can balance the design by preventing cluttering, which is a vital component that you must consider while following this heuristic principle.

Few key points that you need to focus upon are:

  • Remove unnecessary items.
  • Using progressive disclosure to highlight important information.
  • Maintain virtual hierarchy.
  • Using affordance for advantage.

For example, Google page is simple with minimal design that prevents cluttering and maintains aesthetics.

9. Help Users Recognize and Recover from Errors

This principle states that you should use simple language for showing error messages, and not error codes. Maintain precision while expressing the problem and constructively signifying the solution.

Error is bad but the inconceivable error messages are worst. The key points to adhere to this principle are:

  • Use colors to help users to identify errors.
  • Using simple language to convey the message.
  • Making empty states pleasant.

For example, if a user is filling some form and not able to proceed due to some error. If you have not provided a proper error message or not highlighted the particular area where the error persists, it could lead the user into frustration. It is important to give a clear indication of an error message.

This image contains an interesting picture depicting the empty state that is breaking the monotony.

10. Help and Documentation

For every website, help and documentation section should be provided. It can help users to complete their task efficiently. Some points which can fulfill this principle are:

  • Offering help through tooltips.
  • Providing FAQs page for complex products.
  • Help and support section.
  • Providing jump/section links on long pages.

The above example shows the help section which guides the user about the different option given in the website/app.

As you can see, how taking care of these little things in user-interface can greatly enhance the design and offers an amazing user experience.

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Author: Upasna Gupta