Heuristic Evaluation

Expert evaluation, also called heuristic evaluation, is a review of your product’s user interface by two or more usability specialists. Working independently, these experts use published research data, industry-accepted usability principles (heuristics) and best practices, and years of experience observing users in lab and field settings to evaluate the product and identify usability problems. Evaluators also put on the user’s hat, walking through the user interface based on task scenarios, to assess work flow issues.

The evaluators then come together to prepare the results report. Typical findings include:

  • What features of your product are likely to cause usability problems and should be improved.
  • What features are likely to be successful and should be retained.
  • What features should be tested with actual users.

The findings are assigned severity ratings and accompanied by actionable recommendations for improving the user experience of the product.

Research shows that an expert evaluation can identify a majority of the usability problems, with the problem-identification percentage increasing as evaluators are added.

Benefits of Heuristic Evaluation

Expert evaluation is useful for:

  • Discovering “low-hanging fruit,” problems that are evident to usability specialists. Expert evaluation of an existing product can identify problems for a product redesign to address. Expert evaluation of initial product designs can catch new problems before prototyping.
  • Getting broad usability feedback. The evaluators can inspect most or even all areas of the product. In contrast, target users can perform only a few high-priority tasks with a product during a usability test session.
  • Increasing the value of usability testing. Without expert evaluation, test participants may struggle with obvious usability problems. These problems can mask other important usability problems that might otherwise be found during usability testing.
  • Evaluating usability when time and resources are short. Expert evaluation does not involve the detailed scripting or participant recruiting of usability testing. It is a good fit for product development schedules and budgets that will not accommodate usability testing.

Heuristic Evaluation Options

Evaluators, regardless of their skill and experience, can only emulate users—and not necessarily typical users of the product. Feedback from target users can add an important dimension to some expert evaluations—for example, of alternative navigation approaches for an existing product, or of a product recently targeted to a new user audience. In these cases, TecEd conducts a few usability walkthroughs with people whose characteristics are similar to the target user audience to supplement the evaluation.

When evaluating products in specific technical domains, a domain specialist joins the usability specialists on the evaluation team.