The first thought that comes to one’s mind about product design is its look and feel. However, an appealing design has to be functional as well. So, how do designers go that extra mile in achieving this for an exceptional user experience? More excellent usability is a significant determinant of a design’s quality. In addition, the better the usability, the more users will engage with the product. Today, companies perform a variety of usability tests to evaluate their products. Heuristic Evaluation is an effective and proven method backed by engineering concepts to test for user-centricity and compliance with established usability principles (the “heuristics”). Read on to understand Heuristic Evaluation and how to perform it better.

What is Heuristic Evaluation?

Heuristic evaluation is a detailed assessment of a product’s UI, where it helps perceive usability issues and identify ways to resolve them based on severity. This approach to problem-solving or self-discovery is practical to reach an immediate design goal. Evaluators use proven heuristics (e.g., Nielsen-Molich’s) to reveal actionable insights to design teams who want to enhance product usability sooner than later.

The Ten Guiding Principles of Heuristic Evaluation:

A “Heuristic” is a generic design guideline that applies to a wide range of designs. However, many experts follow Jacob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for UI Design for the direction that can be summarized as follows.

  1. Visibility of System Status:  Keep users informed appropriately and promptly with appropriate feedback.
  2. Match between system and the natural world: Show information logically and organically related to the real world and the users’ language.
  3. User control and freedom: Provide users control and undo errors by using “emergency exits” without navigating an extended process.
  4. Consistency and Standards: Maintain design consistency and reduce ambiguity over what different words, icons, and actions mean. Follow industry and platform conventions.
  5. Prevent Errors: A system should let users bypass error-prone conditions or notify them with a message for consequences/further actions (example, “Are you sure you want to do this?”).
  6. Recognition over Recall: Add information visibility elements like instructions or menu labeling/positioning to indicate options, actions, etc., and minimize the user’s memory recall.
  7. Flexibility and Efficiency of use: Experienced and even inexperienced users find faster and efficient ways to achieve goals.
  8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design: Avoid clutter and irrelevant information to improve user visibility towards designated tasks.
  9. Help users identify, diagnose, and resolve errors: Easily using content and information in plain language (no codes).
  10. Help Documentation: Document the straightforward steps in a lean and searchable format to overcome problems and execute tasks.

When to Conduct Heuristic Evaluation? You can do it at any stage during the design process in an iterative manner. This means you’ll get more feedback when you conduct earlier.

How to Effectively Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation? An accurate heuristic evaluation calls for careful preparation and requires you to follow a predefined sequence. Any errors may deem your test results invalid.

You can conduct a Heuristic Evaluation by following these steps.

  • Know what to evaluate and how – Clearly define the tasks, testing goals, and the usability parameters for the entire product, a feature, or procedure. Wireframes, mock-ups, or prototypes can be used along with usability parameters like:
    • Registration 
    •  Login/out 
    • Navigation 
    • Checkout                                                                                                                                                                           
  • Know your users to clearly define their behaviors, expectations, contexts, motivations, etc. User personas help look at functionalities, features, and results from the users’ perspective based on demographics, personal preferences, skillsets, etc.
  • Select 3–5 usability experts from different domains for design review. This will give a holistic picture of your design based on different perspectives and experiences based on the defined principles.
  • Select a set of standard heuristics (around 5–10) that evaluators will use depending on the system/product/design’s nature. Consider adopting/adapting the Nielsen-Molich heuristics or define your own for reliability and consistency.
  • Set up an evaluation system, identify issues, and brief evaluators on what testing system you’re following. Use severity ratings like critical, regular, minor, and good practice to flag (using color codes), track, and address issues. 
  • First Walk-through – Have evaluators use the product flexibly to discover the elements to analyze.
  • Second Walk-through – Evaluators delve deeper to test individual elements based on the heuristics against the overall design while recording all the issues encountered. 
  • Debrief the evaluators to gather, compare, and summarize results for analysis and suggestions based on the severity rating of each issue. Then, they can remove duplicates and prioritize workflows. 

Determining Severity Ratings:

Three main factors determine the usability severity:

  1. Frequency: Is it common or not?
  2. Impact: Will it affect the end-users, and to what extent?
  3. Persistence: Is it a one-time or recurring problem?

Usability experts will map a Severity Rating to each usability issue and rate the issues from ‘0 to 4’ where ‘4’ will be resolved using the most resources and efforts, ‘1’ the least, and ‘0’ will need no resolution.

Nielsen’s ratings are as follows:

  • This is not a usability problem.
  • The problem need not be fixed unless additional time is available.
  • Minor usability problem, fixing which should be a low priority.
  • Major usability problem that is important to fix with high priority.
  • Usability catastrophe that is imperative to fix before releasing the product.

Sample Severity Evaluation Template.

You can find more samples here, or you can contact us for customized templates.

Getting an Expert to Perform Heuristic Evaluation

Many companies can’t decide if they should pay for a heuristic analysis or use their in-house UX designers since Heuristic Evaluation is expensive. They are willing to pay so their product will benefit from expert analysis in the long run, and designer bias is avoided. However, the overall heuristic evaluation process can be overwhelming and needs additional eyes and a fresh perspective to identify the weak spots. If you’re launching your product sooner, undergoing a heuristic analysis from a UX design professional is a brilliant idea. 

Performing Heuristic Evaluation by Yourself

In her book The User Experience Team of One, Leah Buley details an informal and handy Heuristics Evaluation method called Heuristic Markup. Here, you do a product walk-through from beginning to end for hours. Leah also suggests capturing a screenshot of each step in the journey, pasting it into a presentation, and noting your observations from your user’s perspective. Finally, share your findings with your team.

Heuristic Evaluation and User Testing – The Difference

Heuristic Evaluation

Performer: System Expert.

Action: Comparing usability to predefined heuristics.


  • To check the compatibility of the digital product with the user’s needs.
  • Detect errors and correct complex problems.
  • Check alignment to heuristic principles.

 User Testing

  •  Performer: The end-user.
  •  Action: Uses the digital product in real situations.
  •  Purpose: To understand how end-users will complete typical tasks in real-life situations in both successful and erroneous scenarios.

Here are some tips to ensure your Heuristic Evaluation is practical and beneficial.

  • Collect accurate info on user behavior, needs, and demographics before the evaluation.
  • Define the user tasks and use cases.
  • Include more than one evaluator for a broader perspective on product usage.
  • Once the evaluators test the product and collect the results, present it to your designers and stakeholders for feedback.

The Bottom Line

Performing a heuristics analysis with user testing is enough to identify and fix significant UX design issues. As soon as you fix these issues, you’ll notice the difference in user engagement, retention, and sales. 

Radiant Digital’s evaluation experts have a sharp eye to detect and fix design flaws. So call us today to engage the best design brains in your project.