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What are some of the primary usability heuristics that might be used in a discount heuristic evaluation?

Posted by Chris Adams

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Categories: Business Analysis, Systems Analysis


What is a discount heuristic evaluation? It’s a method used to analyze the usability of an application or website based on a small, select group of usability principles that are intended to represent the majority of all usability guidelines. 

When talking about and researching usability principles its almost impossible to not encounter the name Jakob Nielsen.  Nielsen has outlined thousands of details usability guidelines over several decades.  However, he has also taken the time to group these and filter them down into a set of broadly applicable heuristics that he feels encompasses most of the usability guidelines you might use to evaluate your application or website.  Here is a list of 10 usability heuristics that Nielsen has outlined for a discount heuristics evaluations (paraphrased for clarity and comprehension). 

1) Show system and process status.
Examples might be a progress bar that shows while a file downloads or a multiple-step icon that highlights which steps of a multi-step process have been completed. If the user is carrying out a multi-step action such as entering a record into a system, upon completing all of the steps it should be absolutely clear to the user that the record has been added.
2) Mimic the real world.
Try to match the logical order and sequence of real world concepts when modeling your system or application.  Use the vocabulary of users and the language they would use while completing their activities in the real world.

3) Allow users to change their mind.
Inevitably users will start down a path either by mistake or just flat out change their mind.  Make exiting out of a function or navigating to another area of the application easy.  Support undo and redo features when it makes sense.

4) Be consistent.
Use consistent vocabulary throughout your application when describing the same things.  If there is an industry standard that exists to perform a specific action, 80% of the time you want to use it.  But above all, whatever convention you settle upon for specific application actions must be consistent throughout the application.
5) Prevent Errors.
Take steps that prevent errors and warnings in the first place.  As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If a user needs to fill out a minimum of 6 of 10 fields for a process to successfully run and complete, then make this visually apparent to the user before they submit the information.

6) Rely on recognition not recall.
Users can only remember so much without help.  But if shown an icon or bit of information that they’ve seen before they’ll recognized it much more easily and act in response to it.  Make actions and options visible to the user to relieve the mental burden.
7) Apply minimalist design concepts
Every piece of information that is placed on a screen competes for the attention of the user.  As more pieces of information are added the relative visibility of each diminishes. For this reason, it’s important to adopt a minimalist design philosophy.  Only show what is absolutely necessary.  Make secondary information a single click away so that it can be revealed only when needed.

8) Promote efficiency through flexible design.
Think about how a user will flow through an application to accomplish their goals and design for the most efficient path possible.  Also while you may not be able to make all features for all users available on screen immediately, you can still create a flexible design that allows more adept users to work efficiently.  This could be through the use of hotkeys or by having more complex features hidden just a click away.

9) Useful error recovery
No matter how much you try to avoid errors, sometimes applications need to instruct the user that something hasn’t gone quite right.  Error messages should be written in a language that the user will understand, not just an error code. Giving enough information to help the user understand how to solve the problem is ideal.  If Twitter has taught us anything, it’s that if we are creative we can figure out a way to express ourselves in 140 characters or less.

10) Useful help documentation
It’s best to design a system that needs no help documentation.  But some systems are just too complex to be “self evident”.  Make sure that the help documentation that you provide is concise while clearly conveying what is essential.  Supplementing help topics with short 10-30 second video clips explaining how to use a feature can be very helpful.  Finally, make sure that your help documentation has an effective search feature.

Chris Adams
LinkedIn Profile



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Do your homework prior to the business analysis interview!

Having an idea of the type of questions you might be asked during a business analyst interview will not only give you confidence but it will also help you to formulate your thoughts and to be better prepared to answer the interview questions you might get during the interview for a business analyst position.  Of course, just memorizing a list of business analyst interview questions will not make you a great business analyst but it might just help you get that next job.


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