Heuristic evaluation is highly effective, relatively inexpensive and time efficient. It is believed that a heuristic test (if done properly) will illuminate up to half of all usability issues, including those that are the most severe, in just about any user interface. This method provides designers, developers and engineers with quick and effective guidelines to improve a product.
A heuristic test should involve 2 to 5 evaluators, a clear set of heuristic parameters, a well-defined user persona and a clear goal. Ideally, the test will bring any usability issues to light that, once fixed, will improve the design and effectiveness.
The more effort that is put into planning a heuristic test, the less time will be needed in the execution and review, and the more useful the results will likely be. One of the best ways to approach a heuristic evaluation for your product or website is to break it down into a step-by-step process.
Step 1: Define Your Objective
What is your desired outcome of this test? Is there something specific about your website that needs to be changed? Perhaps you sell enterprise cloud solutions, but one of your service tiers is not selling. Maybe there is no demand for that specific tier, but there could also be an issue with the sales page that is negatively affecting your conversions.
Whatever the specific problem may be, there’s usually a good chance that design or usability adjustments will help if not completely fix it. But you need to know which problem or problems need to be addressed in order to properly conduct your evaluation.
Step 2: Outline Test Parameters
There are many different ways to measure and test heuristics, but among the most well-known parameters were laid out by Nielsen in 1990, which remain relevant in modern design and development.
These parameters emphasize clear (generally non-technical and user-friendly) communication, minimal design, easy control, and consistency in style, tone and features. The exact parameters to test in your specific case depend on your project and goals.
Step 3: Find The Right Evaluators
As stated earlier, you should find anywhere from 2 to 5 evaluators to test your site. They should have familiarity with your company and product, and they should represent your target audience.
Ideally, your evaluators would also have some experience in heuristic testing. Maybe they are designers or developers themselves, or quality assurance testers. Whoever they are and whatever their profession, they will need to clearly communicate and document their findings.
Step 4: Test And Evaluate
Evaluators should test your website in at least two passes: once to get an overall understanding and feel for the site, and then again for specific heuristics. During the first pass, evaluators should keep track of which elements require attention, then should assess each element individually.
If, for example, a landing page is not converting, then the evaluators should click through and engage with it to determine if there is some design or functional issue that needs attention. Whatever they are testing, your evaluators should take detailed notes during the process.
Step 5: Review The Results
After the test is complete, you should go over the results in detail with the evaluators (as well other team members, such as site admins, developers and/or designers). If the test was conducted properly, it should illuminate at least a third of your usability issues.
Review all of these issues and develop a plan to resolve them. Once you’ve made the needed changes, test again. The more you test, the more you can optimize.