Applying Nielson’s Usability Heuristics to Website Evaluation
Jakob Nielsen is the father of modern software usability and has developed a framework of 10 points to consider when evaluating the usability of a software system. In this post I shall examine the relevance of Nielson’s Heuristics to usability in web design and development.
1. Visibility of System Status
Whenever a website user performs some action on a website such as submitting a form – the website should keep the user informed of the status of the user action. For example – when processing a payment the system should ideally indicate progress. Slow-loading or large pages should have some sort of progress bar or notification of how long the page will take to load – this will set user expectations and prevent high bounce rates. Web developers should not rely on the user’s browser to communicate progress or status to the user.
2. Match Between System and the Real-World
Know your audience! The website should communicate in a fashion that is familiar to its users. For example, avoid terminology, icons and components that the user is unlikely to recognise or have difficulty in interacting with. Recently the software industry has seen the rise of flat design and decline of skeuomorphism (or the use of metaphors) in order to improve user experience and engagement.
3. User Control and Freedom
Website users should be able to navigate and use a website in a why which is comfortable to them. For example – some user’s may be using touch screen devices while some users may be using mice, keyboards or even screen readers. Your website should facilitate ease of use and flexibility to all users of the site.
4. Consistency and Standards
Consistency is one of the 5 principles of usability (the other 4 being: visibility, simplicity, affordance and feedback). It is important that users receive a consistent experience across your website – that means that all the interactive, navigational and content components of your site should look and behave in a consistent manner. For example, the navigation across the site should be consistent so that users are able to recognise the navigation and traverse the site without having to think about where they are and how they find their way around. The same applies to page layouts, call-to-actions and forms.
5. Error Prevention
Chances are that if a user encounters an error on a website they are likely to abandon the website. Error prevention can be achieved for websites by, for example, checking links regularly to prevent 404 (page not found) errors or providing clear instructions on how to complete a form/validate input formats so that the user can complete an action successfully the first time.
6. Recognition rather than Recall
Following from the principle of consistency – Nielson’s 6th rule essentially means that users shouldn’t have to figure things out – it should be very obvious how to use, navigate and interact with the site. User’s shouldn’t need to remember anything to achieve a desired goal, for example – users should be able to recognise the visual and behavioural differences between buttons and links.
7. Flexibility and Efficiency of User
Mechanisms which may not be visible to novice users such as short cut keys should be available to advanced users in order to improve efficiency and use of the website. Some of this will be handled by the browser (eg tab order in forms or short-cuts such as Ctrl-P to print) but should always be a consideration when exposing functionality in web pages.
8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design
Trends come and go in web design but minimalism is more of an eternal principal. In minimalist web design you should provide only the content and information that is required. Reduce design elements, clutter and imagery to only what is required. Great post on minimalism on SmashingMag here.
9. Help User’s Recognise and Recover from Errors
Provide error messages that are helpful, understandable and provide clear instructions about how to recover.
10. Help and Documentation
In the case of a website it should be clear how to get in touch. Your website’s “Contact us” button should be visible and clear.
30 Dec 2013 / @pareendaya / 0