The purpose of a heuristic evaluation is to understand any gaps between a website and usability best practices, to then know where specifically on the site the user experience (UX) can be improved. Let’s compare a heuristic evaluation to a vehicle’s state inspection. You take your car in to see if there are any functional problems. The inspection comes back and there’s a major issue with your brakes. It’s now up to you to schedule an appointment to replace your brakes. A heuristic evaluation won’t fix problems on your site, but it will give you a guideline on how to improve it.
A heuristic evaluation is a method used to analyze and evaluate an existing application or website against best practices for usability, accessibility, design, and functionality.
These best practices are based on a set of predefined “heuristics,” which are rules of thumbs. There are many different sets of heuristics that can be used to accommodate various usability goals. As a starting place, I would recommend checking out Abby Covert’s 10 Heuristic Principles. Covert, an information architecture specialist, combines other well-known heuristics into her own set. As you can see in the image, Covert’s 10 Heuristic Principles covers critical usability topics such as findability and accessibility. She reminds evaluators who are conducting heuristics of three things: put on your user shoes, put on your user goggles, and say, “I am not my user.”
5 Ways a Heuristic Evaluation Can Improve Your Site’s User Experience:
1. Quickly Analyze Your Site’s UX
A heuristic evaluation is a relatively quick way to check how your website compares to best practices in usability. Depending on the size of your site and the number of people performing the evaluation, the evaluation could take between a week and a month. At the end of the evaluation, you will have a report that ranks all the usability problems on your site based on how severe it is affecting the UX.
2. Uncover “Quick Wins”
Evaluators will comb through your site from a user’s perspective. Anything that hinders the user’s path to their goal will be noted. These problems will be ranked on a severity scale. Problems that greatly affect the UX and are easy to fix can be a quick win to help improve the overall UX.
3. Stakeholder Leverage
When heuristic evaluations are performed by third parties, you get an unbiased opinion about your site. The evaluator’s goal is to discover any issues in site communication, accessibility, credibility, or anything that will affect the user’s experience. The evaluations are comparing your site to best practices, not just opinions.
4. Validate Problems
Although heuristic evaluations do not replace usability testing, they are a good first step. Once you’ve identified the problems users may be running into on your site, you can validate these through usability testing. For example, if an evaluator identifies that your key call-to-action is difficult to see (which could affect your conversion rates), you could test this hypothesis with through usability testing.
5. Next Step Recommendations
Evaluators are familiar with best practices in usability. Once the problems have been identified, they will offer recommendations on how to alleviate those problems. These issues are ranked in two ways: severity to the UX, and ease of fixing. We would recommend tackling the problems that are really impacting the UX that require low effort or development to fix.
If you’re looking to improve your website’s UX, a heuristic evaluation is a great place to start. An evaluation can be done at any point, including the design process. Just remember, a heuristic evaluation does not solve the problems, similarly to how a vehicle inspection does not fix your brakes, you must actively take the next steps of usability testing and design iteration to improve your website’s UX.