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What is Heuristic Evaluation? How to Conduct Heuristic Evaluation like a Pro?

Wondering how can you do effective and efficient testing of your designs?

Here it is. If you are a designer who wants a functional way to test out your designs when you don't have quick access to target users, heuristic evaluation is the best approach.

A heuristic evaluation is a technique of determining whether or not a website or software is user-friendly. In other words, it evaluates the usability of the site or a product. Unlike user testing, which assesses the site or prototype by users, heuristic evaluation evaluates the site by usability experts. It is sometimes referred to as an "expert review."

Heuristics are similar to rules of thumb. A web or mobile site heuristic evaluation or expert review is based on predetermined heuristics or qualitative guidelines. While there are over 200 criteria for evaluating a website, many experts' questions are based on usability heuristics.

Even though it dates back to the 90s, this analysis is still relevant and useful. Let’s find out how we can conduct the Heuristics Evaluation with ease.

Ten Heuristics Evaluation principle of usability

Nielsen's heuristics are broad principles that do not dictate specific usability rules. Instead, heuristics are general guidelines to help you create more accessible, user-friendly, and intuitive digital products.

1. Visibility of system status

The first principle is about informing users about their actions and what's going on during a given interaction. When users are informed of the current system status, they learn the outcomes of their previous interactions and can better plan their next steps. Remember that a predictable design fosters trust in the product.

Example: "You Are Here" indicators on mall maps must show people where they are in order for them to know where to go next.

2. Match between the system and the real world

According to this principle, a system should always speak the user's language and adhere to real-world conventions. This includes avoiding marketing jargon or other expressions that may be familiar to those developing the product but not to their intended audience. So use words, phrases, and concepts that your target audience is familiar with. Furthermore, in order to establish a connection with the real world, components should appear in a logical order that makes sense to users based on their life experiences. When testing out any designs for mobile apps/software, be mindful of them.

Example: Users can quickly understand which control maps to which heating element when stovetop controls match the layout of heating elements.

3. User control and freedom

A good user interface design for should never impose an action or make decisions for the user. Instead, the system should only suggest possible routes for users to take. Except for rules that go against the system or interfere with some functionality, the interactions you create must give users the freedom to decide and take the actions they see fit. However, keep in mind that users may change their minds or make a mistake. As a result, it is necessary to consider how the system can allow users to undo and redo their actions as needed.

Example: Digital spaces, like physical spaces, require quick "emergency exits."

4. Consistency and standards

This heuristic is concerned with using the same language throughout the system in order to avoid confusing the user. Users should have no doubts about the meaning of words, icons, or symbols when interacting with a product. As a result, mobile apps/software interfaces must adhere to the system's conventions, preserving interaction patterns across contexts. Designers should create a consistent design that speaks the same language and treats similar things similarly.

Example: Check-in counters are typically found in the lobby of hotels. This consistency meets the expectations of customers.

5. Error prevention

According to this Nielsen heuristic, good design should always prevent problems from occurring. Consider the delete files button, for example. We must assume that users may accidentally click this button or imagine a different outcome from it. To avoid user frustration if they accidentally delete files, it is necessary to create a warning message to confirm the decision before proceeding.

Example: Guard rails on winding mountain roads keep drivers from crashing off cliffs.

6. Recognition rather than recall

As previously stated, Nielsen's heuristics aim to reduce users' cognitive load, which includes their memory capacity. So it's critical to consider how to make options and actionable components visible; this is important because we prefer to recognize something rather than remember it. The user should not have to remember all of the system's actions or functions. As a result, always leave small reminders of information that can help users navigate your mobile apps/software designs.

Example: Most people find it easier to recognize country capitals rather than remember them. People are more likely to answer the question correctly. Is Lisbon Portugal's capital? instead of What is Portugal's capital?

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

Your designs should benefit both novice and seasoned users. It should be noted that inexperienced users require more detailed information. However, as they continue to use a product, they gain experience. Allowing them to customize processes like creating keyboard shortcuts is a good practice in this way. Additionally, experiment with personalization by tailoring content and functionality to individual users.

Example: Regular routes are marked on maps, but locals who know the area better can take shortcuts.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design

Create interactions that only contain essential information. Avoid using visual elements that are unnecessary and can overwhelm and distract users. Remember that each additional piece of information will compete with relevant, necessary data and divert attention away from the most important.

Example: An ornate teapot may have excessive decorative elements that interfere with usability, such as an uncomfortable handle or a difficult-to-clean nozzle.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Your designs should assist the user in identifying and resolving potential problems and errors. To accomplish this, error messages should be written in a simple, code-free language. Furthermore, don't forget to explain the problem and offer a solution.

Example: Wrong-way signs on the road alert drivers to the fact that they are traveling in the wrong direction and request that they stop.

10. Help and documentation

Nielsen's final heuristic concerns documentation that will assist users in understanding how to perform their tasks. Although all of the heuristics listed above are intended to help users avoid errors and navigate without assistance, it is still necessary to provide additional assistance at any time. As a result, always provide help documentation that is easy to find and focused on the tasks of the users.

Example: Airport information kiosks are easily identifiable and solve customers' problems in context and immediately.

A step-by-step process and guidelines for effective heuristic evaluation

  • Create a suitable list of heuristics. As inspiration and stepping stones, you can use Nielsen and Molich's ten heuristics or another set, such as Ben Shneiderman's eight golden rules. Combine them with other pertinent design guidelines and market research.

  • Choose your evaluators. Make certain that your evaluators are carefully chosen. In most cases, there’s only an expert evaluator you can rely on. They should ideally be usability experts with domain expertise in the industry type in which your product operates. An evaluator investigating a Point-of-Sale system for the restaurant industry, for example, should have a general understanding of restaurant operations.

  • Inform your evaluators or the expert evaluator about what they are expected to do and cover during their evaluation. The briefing session should be standardized to ensure that all evaluators receive the same instructions; otherwise, their evaluation may be skewed. You may want to ask the evaluator to focus on a specific task within this brief, but they may state which ones they will cover based on their experience and expertise.

  • The initial evaluation takes approximately two hours, depending on the nature and complexity of your product. The evaluators or an expert evaluator will freely use the product to get a sense of the interaction methods and scope. They will then identify specific elements to be evaluated

  • In the next phase of evaluation, the evaluator will perform another run-through, this time applying the chosen heuristics to the elements identified in the first phase. Individual elements would be scrutinized by the evaluators to see how well they fit into the overall design.

  • Problems should be documented. Evaluators or an expert evaluator must either record problems themselves or they must record them as they carry out their various tasks in order to track any problems they encounter. When recording problems, make sure to ask the evaluators to be as detailed and specific as possible.

  • Debriefing meeting - the debriefing session involves the different evaluators working together to collate their findings and create a comprehensive list of problems. They should then be encouraged to propose potential solutions based on the heuristics. This step is skipped if there is only one expert evaluator involved.

  • In general, the more evaluators you have, the more usability issues you will discover, especially if the evaluators have varying skill sets. However, according to Jakob Nielsen, three to five evaluators are sufficient. You should be able to identify up to 75% of all issues with five evaluators. While having more evaluators will help you find more problems, it may not be worth the time and effort. In best case scenario, a single expert evaluator could also do wonders.

Pros & Cons of Heuristic Evaluations


  • It is a detailed and functional process that compares the product to very specific criteria.

  • Because it is done by a group of people, there is a better chance of getting a variety of perspectives and identifying more potential problem areas.

  • The act of establishing the heuristic evaluation is a beneficial exercise because it forces you to identify the core elements of the product and focuses development on the most important issues.

  • As testers are testing in a virtual environment, there are fewer practical and ethical issues associated with heuristic evaluation.

  • The heuristic evaluation focuses on fewer, more relevant areas, so the problems it identifies are usually significant.


  • The quality of the evaluation is only as good as the people who conduct it. This requires you to spend a significant amount of time analyzing and reviewing experts to ensure they are relevant and experienced in the issues you are concerned about.

  • Another disadvantage of heuristics is that they require a large number of experts, which can be time-consuming and expensive to research and set up.

  • The exercise provides opinions and personal observations rather than hard, empirical data, and the experts' own background, attitudes

  • To begin with, you must conduct extensive analysis and thought to ensure that you select the appropriate heuristics. If this is incorrect, regardless of how good the experts are, you are likely to get less-than-ideal results.

Heuristic evaluation is explicitly intended to be a method of "discount usability engineering." Independent research (Jeffries et al. 1991) has confirmed that heuristic evaluation is a highly effective method of usability engineering. One of my case studies discovered a benefit-cost ratio of 48:1 for a heuristic evaluation project. The method cost about $10,500, and the expected benefits were around $500,000 (Nielsen 1994). However, heuristic evaluation is not guaranteed to provide "perfect" results or to find every last usability problem in an interface as a low-cost usability engineering method.

Heuristic evaluations are not a substitute for usability testing or user interviews. They serve as a foundation for improving the experience during user testing or before conducting a usability test. Heuristic evaluation is a versatile inspection method that requires no material or human resources. It is simple to execute and has a favorable cost/benefit ratio.

The alternatives - Cognitive Walkthrough and User testing

Cognitive Walkthrough Who : New user

What : Performs specific user tasks in line with user goals

Why : To determine if the sequential processes to get from point A (user task) to point B (user goal) work in the correct order they were designed to

A cognitive walkthrough is a technique for assessing a system's learnability from the perspective of a new user. In a cognitive walkthrough, there will be one or more professional evaluators who perform a list of specific tasks. They evaluate the learnability of a system from the perspective of a new user. To conduct this method, there will be a number of questions put forth to facilitate the process. The crucial ones are - “Will the user know what to do at this step? And “if the user does the right thing, will they know that they did the right thing, and are making progress towards their goal?”

Heuristic analysis

Who : System expert

What : Compares usability to predefined heuristics

Why : To see if the digital product can be used in a way that is most compatible with users and aligns with recognized usability principles

Heuristic evaluation is a usability engineering method for identifying usability issues in a user interface design of mobile apps/software and addressing them as part of an iterative design process. Here, there will be one or more professional evaluators who look for problems in 10 categories or more of heuristics to find problems and to see if the system is usable. This method helps to identify the potential/hidden issues. Predefined guidelines & checklists are defined and evaluators have to stick with them. The whole system is evaluated by experts in a systematic manner. This method also helps to improve the overall user experience through a thorough evaluation. It is cheaper and faster than conducting full-blown usability testing.

User testing

Who : End-user

What : Uses the digital product in realistic circumstances

Why : To understand how representative users will complete typical tasks in real-life situations

Usability testing is a well-known UX research method. A researcher (known as a "facilitator" or "moderator") asks a participant to perform tasks, usually using one or more specific user interfaces, during a usability-testing session. The researcher observes the participant's behavior and listens for feedback as they complete each task. This method helps to identify the real issues. Meanwhile, specific or limited tasks are performed by the user. The ‘Screen-by-screen’ approach is used by testers to test the system. This method also helps to improve the functionality of the programs. It is costly because it involves a lot of user participation.

These are the difference between these three methods in relation to one another. One can use the right method depending on the design they are working on. But of all three usability inspection methods, heuristic analysis is the most reliable, as tests are more rigorous and systematic.

The most common mistakes we make that can be improved

Heuristic evaluations are a little tricky; simply knowing the heuristics will not allow you to judge an interface and identify problems.

Although heuristic evaluation is primarily a usability measure, it is not a substitute for usability testing. Although the terms can be combined to refer to the technique as heuristic usability testing, involving users is preferable to troubleshooting the product as a designer.

A UX audit is not the same as a heuristic analysis. A UX audit is a broader assessment of a product, and heuristic evaluation is only one component of usability testing, research, interviews, and so on.

Another common error made by junior designers is analyzing the interface against an inappropriate set of design heuristics. The best way to avoid this error is to follow Nielsen's ten heuristics, or any other industry standard, such as Shneiderman's eight golden rules of UI design or Gerhardt-Powals' cognitive engineering principles The most inefficient way to conduct a heuristic analysis is as sole designer. The disadvantage of being an outlier in this assessment technique is that you may not be able to keep track of all determined heuristics, resulting in impaired judgment.

It would be worse if the evaluation was conducted by the team that designed the product. To understand the errors with the UI and possible avenues for improvement, one should always seek an objective, detached pair of eyes. When it comes to existing lists of heuristics, designers frequently overlook the fact that users spend time on websites/apps similar to their own. Many junior designers make the rookie mistake of not comparing and seeing what works on other websites/apps and how to design heuristics are evaluated.

Writing report after Heuristic Evaluation

Following the completion of heuristic analysis, the evaluation manager (or observer) performs some tasks, such as removing duplicates and compiling the findings. The observer's next step is to compile the heuristic evaluation reports and create a table with the severity ratings of usability issues that the design team can prioritize. To be useful, usability testing findings must clearly identify issues and assist the team in moving toward design solutions.

A heuristic analysis should produce a list of usability problems that not only identify specific problems but also refer to the usability heuristics that the problems violate.

Using reference codes from the chosen set of heuristics will aid in the construction of a data table that can then be sorted. When the design team notices that a large number of issues are related to a small number of violations (identified by code), they can concentrate their efforts on fixing them. As in the preceding example, there may be widespread issues with visibility and discoverability.

The heuristic analysis does not always provide solutions to usability problems, nor does it provide a "success probability score" if design improvements are implemented. However, because a heuristic evaluation compares the UI to a set of known usability heuristics, it is remarkably simple to identify the solution to a specific problem and create a more compelling design in most cases.

However, because people's perceptions of positives and negatives differ, inviting other designers to evaluate the prototype can result in even better results - in terms of a final product.

Create better designs with Heuristic Evaluation

Nielsen's heuristics are essential for UX design and will help you create better designs. Working with heuristics in mind from the start of a project is the ideal scenario for avoiding future adjustments. An intuitive mobile app/software or website design with a minimalist approach that is simple to understand engages users both online and offline. Designers can create user-friendly, accessible, and intuitive products by following Nielsen and Molich's ten heuristics.

Every product or website should go through several rounds of heuristic analysis on a regular basis. The best thing one can do to ensure the success of their design is to assess issues, repeat them, and continue to deliver better experiences.

Better choices = Better design


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