The usability testing is one of the rates stages of the user experience design process where the prototype is tested and evaluated to ensure that the final product is user-friendly in terms of both for and function in addition to other usability factors such as user control, consistency, and error prevention. While there are different usability testing methods that could be used in the testing phase, one of the methods that have been part of a large debate is the heuristic evaluation. While many companies favor this tool because of its cheap cost and affordability comparing with other testing methods, many options dislike this tool as it doesn’t really involve the user in the testing process.
Unlike the other usability testing methods that depend on a user sample to test the product, the heuristic evaluation depends on UX Design experts (evaluators) who review the product based on predefined characteristics. In this method, the evaluator checks the design based on an assessment document that evaluates different elements such as the layout elements, function, flow, and system. The aim of heuristic evaluation is to identify the common usability problems in the design.
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Heuristic Evaluation in Usability Testing
The heuristic evaluation was first introduced by Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich in 1990. In their method, they suggested a number of guidelines that can be tested by a group of experts to evaluate the usability of the product. These guidelines act like a rule of thumbs which can identify the common usability problems in the design. There are different guidelines that can be implemented in the heuristic evaluation such as the following:
- Visibility of system status
- Match between system and the real world
- User control and freedom
- Consistency and standards
- Error prevention
- Recognition rather than recall
- Flexibility and efficiency of use
- Aesthetic and minimalist design
- Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors
- Help and documentation
In the heuristic evaluation, a number of UX evaluators test the product based on the above guidelines to uncover usability problems during the testing process. The aim of this usability testing tool is to identify the common usability issues rather than the user-specific problems as it doesn’t include the user sample in the testing process, which is the main reason behind the debate of the viability of the tool to use in the usability testing process.
The Advantages of using the Heuristic Evaluation
Companies may depend on the heuristic evaluation rather than another usability testing because of the following advantages:
- It is an inexpensive usability testing methods that can test the product based on number of in-house UX experts
- It is a quick testing tool as it doesn’t require to prepare a representative user sample to do the testing
- It can be used to element the common usability problems that don’t need a feedback from the end user
- It can be used prior to other usability testing methods to focus on the user-specific usability issues
The Disadvantage of using the Heuristic Evaluation
In contrast to the above advantages, the heuristic evaluation comes with different disadvantages that may affect its viability and a trusted tool to use in the usability testing. These disadvantages may include the following:
- It doesn’t involve the user opinion in the testing. As the UX experts who do the testing are not the same as the end userIt should depend in more than one UX expert evaluators in order to ensure accurate results for the testing
- It should depend on more than one UX expert evaluators in order to ensure accurate results for the testingIt may be difficult to find the experts who can do the evaluation in-house. Also, it may be expensive to hire external evaluators
- It may be difficult to find the experts who can do the evaluation in-house. Also, it may be expensive to hire external evaluatorsIt only works to identify general usability testing issues. Some issues can be identified as a problem when it is not actually a problem for the end users
- It only works to identify general usability testing issues. Some issues can be identified as a problem when it is not actually a problem for the end users
- It can’t be used alone to end up with accurate usability testing, other methods with user involvement should be used as well
Implementing the Heuristic Evaluation in Usability Testing
Although there is a long debate about using the heuristic evaluation in usability testing, it can still use in an early stage of the testing phase before depending on other testing methods that involve the user sample. Using the heuristic evaluation can reduce the cost of the usability testing as well as the tested factors. As in-house UX evaluators can start by testing the product based on the guidelines highlighted above, then the company may use other external usability testing methods that involve the end user in the testing process.
In order the to implement the heuristic evaluators, the company need to prepare the following:
- Between 3-5 UX evaluators
- The heuristic guidelines
- The user tasks that need to be tested
- The product prototype or wireframe that needs to be tested
- A form to collect testing results
And to ensure a successful heuristic evaluation process, in particular, and a usability testing process in general, the company need to consider the following:
- A good knowledge about the user behavior, needs, and demographics in order to consider while doing the evaluation
- Clear definition of the user tasks and use cases that will be evaluated by the heuristic evaluation
- Depend on more than one evaluator to ensure accurate output for the usability testing. If one issue missed by one evaluator, it can be highlighted in the other evaluators’ reports
- Once the evaluators test the product and collect the results, Each evaluator analyze the results and present it in a slide presentation to discuss with the rest of the evaluators and stakeholders to reach final reports
In addition to the above guidelines that need to be considered before doing the heuristic evaluation, other factors may depend on each project characteristics, For example, if the product requires specific skills or experience to test it. then, the company may consider reviewing the evaluator resume to ensure they have the proper experience required to test the product prototype.
Although there is still a debate on the validity of using the heuristic evaluation method in the usability testing phase, it can be used in an early stage of the testing phase before moving with other user testing methods to reduce the external testing costs and reduce the tested features. The heuristic evaluation tool can be very tricky especially with its end results. Therefore, companies need to consider the above guidelines in order to ensure the accuracy of the results of the tool.