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Web Heuristic Evaluation

What is it Web Heuristic Evaluation?

Web Heuristic Evaluation is a variation of usability inspection where usability specialists judge whether each element of a user interface follows established usability principles. This method is the part of the so-called "discount usability engineering" method.
Basically, heuristic evaluation is a fancy name for having a group of experts scrutinize the web site and evaluate each element of the site against a list of commonly accepted principles--heuristics. Early lists of heuristics were quite long, resulting in tedious evaluation sessions and tired experts. These long lists rather defeated the purpose of this method, which was to save time and money over testing. We distilled this list of heuristics down to seven that have served well in evaluating web projects.

  • Maximum availability
  • User control and freedom
  • Consistency and standards
  • Error prevention
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design
  • Content quality

How do we do Web Heuristic Evaluation?

Use the expertise
Gather the group of experts to perform the evaluation. From our analysis and studies, we found that three to five evaluators detected most of the web usability problems.
These experts have a broad background in web usability evaluation and human-computer interface (HCI) design. We have a database of experts that knows the subject matter of the site ("domain knowledge") in addition to HCI expertise. An example would be in evaluating a B2B finance portal – we could you find you a person who is an expert in HCI and accounting?

Experts evaluate on their own, then compare findings
Once we choose the experts, send them off to perform their evaluation individually. They need to look at the whole site on their own so that they don't get biased by their fellow evaluators. You'll need to provide them with the proper roles and scenarios to use so they'll have the right mind set and perspective when interacting with the site. If the users of the web site will get job aids like online help, provide these to the experts as well. Help them to evaluate the whole web site.
The expert will go through the site at least twice, looking at each element of the entire web site (for example, each menu item, button, control, forms etc) and evaluating its design, location, implementation, etc. in regards to the list of web heuristics.

Experts provide feedback
When each expert performs an evaluation, they can provide feedback in a number of ways. The following are a few of these feedback methods:

Structured Report: The expert writes up a formal report about his or her findings. This is probably the easiest to digest, since the evaluator will have compiled all of his or her notes and summarized things in the report, but it might delay the turnaround time.

Verbalized Findings: While evaluating the web site, the expert dictates his or her findings to another person. Although this adds the cost of another person, this can discover other problems that might be missed if the experts need to write everything down themselves. Plus, unstructured comments like "What the #{*&%[email protected]$ was the web designer thinking?!?" can get captured this way.

Categories: Before sending the experts off to do their evaluations, everybody agrees on specific categories of problems that they'll log. While this is really easy to analyze, it probably misses some problems that the other methods might find.
The experts usually then reconvene to discuss their individual findings. Most of the time, you'll get back a summary report of all the web usability problems found, even if individual evaluators disagreed on whether a particular feature was a problem or not. Our report provide the web heuristic(s) that were violated by the site along with the expert recommendations on how to fix it.

When should you use Web Heuristic Evaluation?

Web Heuristic Evaluation can be used at almost any time during the web development cycle, although it's probably best suited to earlier stages, when you don't have anything firm enough to test. You can provide our usability experts with paper mockups, or even just design specifications, and still get a good amount of usability problems discovered before actual web development work begins.

Download a brochure for our Quick Usability Audit based on web heristics.

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Last modified on 27 june 2004

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