How to Optimize Your Brand’s UX (Remotely!) with Heuristic Evaluation
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How to Optimize Your Brand’s UX (Remotely!) with Heuristic Evaluation

March 19, 2020

Aviva Urkov

As consumers' time becomes increasingly defined by social distancing and working from home, online experiences will matter more than ever. Here's one way to make your brand's digital touchpoints more effective.

The world’s priorities changed last week, cementing our transition from a time when UX was a nice-to-have to one when it’s not only expected by consumers, but a key purchase driver and lifeline to the outside world. User attention spans continue to dwindle, and the simplest frustrations drive users to bounce at the first sign of trouble, like a cluttered page, confusing purchase flow, or lost progress. One usability hiccup can mean losing a user, conversion, referral, and your online reputation — something most businesses can’t afford right now.

Traditionally, evaluating and optimizing brand UX is accomplished via in-person research. However, if you suddenly find yourself working from home, how do you gain the same consumer and user insights remotely?

Fortunately, there are many partners, remote market research operations, and tools to help you bridge the gap and double down on optimizing your brand’s UX — one of which is heuristic evaluation.

The even better news? A UX heuristic evaluation is a quick, time-effective tool to identify usability issues and set your users (and business) up for success when they need you most.

Providing clarity: The basics of a heuristic evaluation

A heuristic evaluation is a relatively quick and low-cost analysis of your key digital experience touchpoints (i.e. your website, app, etc.) to identify common (and sometimes uncommon) usability issues.

The process itself is fairly straightforward — experts use UX heuristics, or “rules-of-thumb,” to complete tasks on your site just like a user would. Along the way, they record elements that violate those heuristics, align them to future UX research to learn more (e.g. remote moderated testing), and recommend potential solutions for your development and design teams.

Choosing heuristics

If you look, you’ll find tons of heuristics curated and followed by UX researchers. While the ideal principles for you may depend on your business objectives, a tried-and-true choice is Jakob Nielsen’s plainly titled list, “Nielsen’s Heuristics.” This list has been widely adopted in UX as the gold standard of usability heuristics.

Nielsen’s Heuristics:

1. Visibility of system status: Show system status, keep users informed on what’s happening and what’s going to happen.

Check out videos like this for all of Nielsen’s Heuristics.

2. Match between system and real world: Speak the user’s language and follow real-world conventions.

3. User control & freedom: Users often make mistakes. Make it easy to fix mistakes, undo, and redo.

4. Consistency & standards: System should look and function consistently to itself, the design platform, and industry norms. Follow platform conventions.

5. Error prevention: Prevent problems from occurring in the first place, check for them, and ask the user to confirm before committing an action.

6. Recognition rather than recall: Allow users to recall information instead of having to remember it, by making actions and options visible.

7. Flexibility & efficiency of use: Accelerators can speed up interactions for expert users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design: Align and group elements, use a grid, and only present relevant information.

9. Recover from errors: Error messages should be in plain language, precisely indicate a problem, and suggest a constructive solution.

10. Help and documentation: Help documentation should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, a list of concrete steps, and concise.

Things to remember

There are a few things to keep in mind when kicking off a heuristic evaluation:

  • This does not replace research with your users. While this evaluation is effective in offering solutions to issues users may run into, it is not a research method to garner user feedback or sentiment. In fact, everyday users are not leveraged at all in this evaluation. So, this should not replace user testing — rather, it’s your starting point. It serves as a complementary tool in your larger UX toolkit.
  • Consider your stakeholders. Before diving into your evaluation, think through who needs this information. Chances are, you’ll want to involve a cross-functional team spanning departments like design, product, marketing, and engineering (but will depend on your organization). Bringing this team into the process early will pay off when it comes time to implement solutions.
  • More than one-offs. Heuristic evaluations are not only a great tool for picking out individual instances of poor usability — they help teams see their product holistically. Understanding which heuristics are being violated with high frequency and severity is invaluable information for a team that wants to improve the usability health of an entire system.

We’ll help you get started 

At Kelton, we believe that a heuristic evaluation by experts is a necessary method in any UX project. Our team leverages a range of UX testing methods, including heuristic evaluations, to ensure all of our projects yield real insights that meaningfully influence the design and product development process.

Tell us about your latest UX or Experience Innovation project — we’d love to help!

Aviva Urkov

Senior Analyst, Experience Innovation & Design Research

Aviva’s desire to understand human behavior and help others solve hard problems are what drove her to Kelton. As Senior Analyst, Experience Innovation & Design Research, she supports the...

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