Heuristic evaluations are conducted by a small set of evaluators. The evaluators examine a user interface, and judge its compliance with a set of internalized usability principles. Usually, evaluators try to estimate the degree to which each usability problem would potentially impede user performance or acceptance. This is done to help set priorities for making revisions to the system.
Theoretically, the heuristics that are used are related to recognized usability criteria that, if improved, can make a positive difference in the product's usability. Unfortunately, "usability problems" are frequently identified that differ substantially from those obtained in performance testing (Catani and Biers, 1998). Part of the problem could be that evaluators continue to rely on faulty sets of heuristics.
Several recent papers referenced a set of usability heuristics as though these heuristics had some validity in the evaluation of user interfaces.
The most-used set of heuristics, shown below, can be traced back to a ten-year old paper by Molich and Nielsen (1990):
These heuristics, which are widely used, have never been validated. There is no evidence that by applying these heuristics in the design and development of user interfaces that it will improve the interface.
In fact, Nielsen (1994), after evaluating several sets of heuristics, concluded that a better set of heuristics may be:
An even better, research-based, set of heuristics was proposed by Gerhardt-Powals (1996):
Unfortunately, the best potential set of heuristics is little known and little used. And even worse, a much weaker set is widely known and apparently much used. Is it any wonder that we do not have more of an impact on the quality of new user interfaces.
Usability evaluation and prototype fidelity: users and usability professionals, Catani, M.B. and Biers, D.W., Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, (1998).
The evaluator effect in usability studies: problem detection and severity judgments, Jacobsen, N. E., Hertzum, M., and John, B. E., Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, 1336-1340, (1998).
An empirical study of perspective-based usability inspection, Zhang, Z., Basili, V., and Shneider-man, B., Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics society 42nd Annual Meeting, (1998).
Improving a human - computer dialogue, Molich, R. and Nielsen, J., Communications of the ACM, 33(3), 338-348, (1990).
Enhancing the explanatory power of usability heuristics, Nielsen, J., CHI'94 Conference Proceedings, (1994).
Cognitive engineering principles for enhancing human - computer performance, Gerhardt-Powals, J., International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 8(2), 189-211, (1996).
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