What does the word ‘heuristic’ mean, you may be wondering? In the context of ux design and web design, a heuristic is a problem-solving technique that relies on experimental means when an algorithmic approach is unrealistic.
Whoa! A lot to unpack there, right?
So, first of all, heuristics help solve problems. If your business can’t get customers or keep customers, and you don’t know why, the next step is to enact some sort of logical, fact-based plan to frame the problem. That’s where heuristics come into play.
With predetermined heuristics, like Jakob Nielson’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, an evaluator can look at a system and determine what is interfering with the ability to complete a particular task or action.
The user’s journey typically involves a variety of tasks. When task completion occurs with relative ease, you have created an accessible product that meets the customers’ goals.
Similarly, designers should consider inclusive design at all times to appeal to the broadest set of users. For example, if a designer knows their target audience inside and out, that type of narrow focus may lead to design choices only understood by that particular group. But if the interface design and functionality can speak to a wider variety of people, there’s potential for a much larger and more satisfied user base.
Going back to the heuristic definition at the beginning of this blog, what does it mean to rely on experimental means when an algorithmic approach is unrealistic?
Well, it means that sometimes crunching numbers and poring over data does not give you all the answers. It means that sometimes a practitioner like a ux designer, developer, writer, product manager, or any number of other people, have to sit down with a product like a website and experiment with it themselves. That can include actions like clicking through the menu, checking out where the call-to-action buttons lead or trying to complete a set of tasks. Through these personal product experiences, an evaluator can find pain points and begin identifying solutions in a thoughtful, strategic manner.
There are a few more essential distinctions to mention. A heuristic evaluation is not a form of user testing because the person conducting the assessment is an expert. They are evaluating a product based on their considerable knowledge and training.
It is also crucial to identify problems with your product or service early. Because the longer a problem is ignored, the harder it is to fix. And you can save a lot of money and time by identifying and addressing issues with a set methodology like heuristic evaluation.
And it’s not a one-time thing. If a product is not evolving or changing, it usually isn’t lasting. Updates and new feature rollouts are commonplace in the tech industry, and the last thing a business wants to create is a whole new set of problems by accident. So like anything in the design cycle, conduct heuristic evaluations iteratively. Things change, and perspectives change, so awareness and proactiveness can help you get ahead of any potential obstacles.