Heuristic analysis provides a way of objectively evaluating your own work or that of others against a set of design principles (“heuristics”). While it is a great way to pick up issues early on, it is not a replacement for observing real people using your system. We’ll get to usability testing later on!
A quick overview
Heuristic analysis is something we’ve used sporadically in the past at the EBI, in different projects, and I blogged about using heuristics and other design principles (notably CRAP) a while ago. More recently, though, as part of a recent drive to begin looking at the design and delivery of the tools that the EBI provides, we have been able to begin to introduce evaluation according to heuristics as a more common activity across project teams at the EBI.
Heuristics – a fancy word for principles or guidelines – offer a very useful framework for objectively evaluating, for example, a data visualisation tool, particularly in terms of usability. Importantly, this does not and should not replace the observation of real users carrying out real tasks with a tool, as I wrote above, but it can give you a way to catch usability issues cheaply before using time and resources to run usability tests.
While we begin to develop a more institute-wide approach to using heuristics at the EBI, we are working with a customised version of the heuristics developed by Rolf Molich and Jakob Nielsen – basically a big checklist.
Perhaps the first thing I ever read about heuristic evaluation was on Usability Net, and I’d say that it still holds strong! That description references Jakob Nielsen’s article “How to conduct a heuristic analysis“.
The heuristics checklist we use at the EBI is a customised version of the System Checklist developed by Xerox. You could try that. I also like the “dev_hr.doc” (a Word doc you can download from the Usability Toolkit) way of approaching this, although trials with developers at the EBI suggested they weren’t so keen!
See also “User Interface Design and Evaluation” (Stone, Jarrett, Woodroffe, Minocha).