UX audit using heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluation is a powerful technique for diagnosing and fixing usability problems

What is Heuristic Evaluation?

Heuristic evaluation is a UX audit usability analysis technique for computer software used to find usability problems in the user interface design. The technique is first developed by Jakob Nielsen, an usability expert from "Nielsen Norman Group".

The evaluation is conducted by a group of usability experts who examine the user interface of a product in contrast to recognized heuristic standards.

Heuristics are accepted set of principles used to improve interface design. There are common heuristics employed by the majority of examiners, but there is also view among many examiners that they should also add their own product-specific heuristics. They can be used while the design is still in progress to determine the best design solution or during heuristic evaluation to detect problems with the interface.

The heuristic evaluation helps greatly increases the chances of solving problems in the early stages of development, which makes it widespread in the development community.

10 Heuristics rules

Nielsen's heuristics are the most common usability heuristics for user interface design. They are named after a usability expert Jakob Nielsen who created them with another usability expert Rolf Molich in 1990. The final list of heuristics was published in Nielsen's book Usability Engineering. They are:

1. Visibility of system status – The system should always keep users informed about what is going on through useful feedback in a reasonable time.

2. Match between system and the real world – The system should speak the user's language, without being too technical.

3. User control and freedom – It is recommended to include „emergency exit“, undo and redo.

4. Consistency and standards – Developers should follow platform conventions.

5. Error prevention – Current error-prone conditions should be removed and a confirmation option should be included.

6. Recognition rather than recall – Objects, actions and options should be visible.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use – Accelerators are used to speed up the interaction for the expert user but remain unseen by the novice user.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design – Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed because it decreases the visibility of the relevant units of information.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors – Error messages should be expressed in plain language with an indicated problem and suggested solution.

10. Help and documentation – It may be necessary to provide help and documentation that is easy to find and not too large, focused on the user's task with concrete steps to be executed.

Reasons to conduct Heuristic Evaluation

The main reason to conduct a heuristic evaluation is to improve the user interface of a product that will result in the overall usability of a product. When conducted in the appropriate way it shortens the cycle in which product is tested, improved and delivered to the market. This allows companies to repeat this process many times which greatly increases chances of solving problems and delivering a high-quality product.

Time to conduct Heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluation can be conducted at any higher level of the design process. It is not beneficial to do this too early because there is a lot of work to be done before a product gets the shape that resembles the final product. With new products, it will usually take place later in the design process. With existing products, it is usually done prior to redesign in order to set the course for the overall improvement.

How to Run Heuristic Evaluation

In order to obtain the best possible results, it is necessary to adhere to particular steps. This steps can vary from company to company, but in general, they are:

1. Defining the scope – Time and budget can often play a crucial role in deciding which parts of the product should be tested. It is sometimes not possible to examine the whole website so examiners have to concentrate their efforts only on the most important parts.

2. Choosing the right heuristics – This step is extremely important because right heuristics will set course for the entire process. Before mentioned Nielsen's heuristics are the most common heuristics for user interface design. They can also be combined with other heuristics.

3. Meticulously examining user experience – User experience should be examined in detail. Here attention must be paid on users characteristics. Examination process should be adjusted to these factors.

4. Identifying usability problems – Every component is compared to usability heuristics and deviations are recorded. These deviations should also be accurately described exactly pointing to the heuristic that deviation defies.

5. Examining and presenting results – Findings must be as precise as possible. This requires categorizing of problems, pointing out heuristics they defy and assigning them severity ratings.

Heuristic evaluation for eCommerce

Ecommerce stores have a set of defined pages and user flows prior to, at and after purchase. The heuristic can drastically improve the conversion rates and help to gain better user experience.

Other than heuristic evaluation, for eCommerce stores other UX audit methods are used:

  • business and user objectives review
  • Conversion rates analysis
  • Conversion choke points analysis
  • Customer feedback review
  • Engagement rates analysis
  • Retention rates analysis
  • UX standards analysis
  • Visual design standards
  • Wireframing & Prototyping

Heuristic evaluation for SaaS products

Other than heuristic evaluation, for SaaS stores other UX audit methods are used:

  • business and user objectives review
  • Conversion rates analysis
  • Conversion choke points analysis
  • Customer feedback review
  • Engagement rates analysis
  • Retention rates analysis
  • UX standards analysis
  • Visual design standards
  • Wireframing & Prototyping

Other notable heuristics

Some other notable heuristics are Gerhardt-Powals' cognitive engineering principles, Weinschenk and Barker classification, Donald Norman's Design principles for usability and Dr.David Travis's 247 web usability guidelines.

UX audit and/vs heuristic evaluation

Heuristic evaluation is an established technique to perform UX audit. UX audit can of course be perform with different techniques dependant on the project goals and industry. Heuristic evaluation is a set of principles on how to perform UX audit set by usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Heuristic Evaluation

Advantages of Heuristic Evaluation

  • Gives feedback in the early stages of the design process
  • It is cheaper and faster than many usability tests
  • It can be combined with other techniques like usability testing
  • It reveals user interface problems and helps to solve them
  • Using heuristics, examiners can focus on particular problems

Disadvantages of Heuristic Evaluation

  • It is often hard to find usability experts and they can also be expensive
  • Experts found outside of the development team can be unfamiliar with technical limitations
  • Presumed conception of good usability can be in contrast with users needs
  • The whole process is limited by examiners expertise
  • There are often cases of false alarms (issues that are no real problems)


Heuristic evaluation is a powerful technique for identifying and solving usability problems. Results will depend upon the way it is conducted. When planned well and conducted meticulously, it will greatly improve any product. Today there commonly used heuristics so the examiners already have a good base for their work, but, for the best results, they should also try to include product-specific heuristics as much as they can. Heuristic evaluation cannot cover every aspect of the user's actions, but it is very helpful in getting closer to that goal, especially when it is combined with other techniques like a cognitive walkthrough and user testing. All of this makes it an essential component of product development in any company.

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