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How can we increase usability without usability testing?

Ten rules to increase usability without conducting usability testing.


Do you know which is the important factor that makes your product/service success?

That is actually usability. Usability is the only factor that matters product/service into a success. Maybe the aesthetic usability effect (refers to users’ tendency to perceive attractive products as more usable)has a very small role in the success of a product. But, your product will be a failure if it has a number of usability problems.

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.

So while designing it is important to make sure that our product/service has better usability. One of the method we use to evaluate usability is usability testing. We all are familiar with testing like A/B testing, remote usability testing, guerrilla usability testing, etc. All these types of testing need time and money and we need to find participants too. Here I am discussing how can we evaluate the usability of our product without usability testing.

Jakob Nielsen, the pioneer of usability listed 10 rules to evaluate usability which is known as heuristics rules or 10 thumb rules.

Listing 10 usability heuristics

1. Visibility of system status

Visibility of system status deals with the communication between user and system. Users should know about what is going in the system through feedback.

Jakub Antalik for Frame.io

The above animation showing the progress of uploading files and how much time is required to complete the task.

2. Match between system and the real world

Match between system and the real world is the second heuristics. By this rule, the system should speak the users’ language and follow real-world conventions.

Movie ticket booking

In the above movie ticketing process, the same seat layout of theatre is used in design to satisfy real-world convention.

Failing to satisfy these will lead the users to behave in a negative way.

3. User control and freedom

Jakob Nielsen’s third rule is dealing with user control and freedom. Choosing the wrong option is a common problem in humans. So there should be a way to get back users from mistakes. Redo and undo options are an example of getting back users from mistakes. Another thing that matters this rule is the back and front buttons of web and mobile apps.

How do you feel if your web pages have no back button?

Larry . Y

In the above design, users can undo the action by clicking on the undo button. Thereby we can prevent users from mistakes.

4. Consistency and Standards

Next usability heuristics is consistency and standards. Consistency is one of the main factors we consider while designing. We can consider consistency as two, ie internal consistency and external consistency.

Internal consistency: Did you ever see a screen that has two same icons for a different purpose?

Internal consistency can be defined by an example, consider there are two labels named power on and power off, and the icon used for both these labels are the same. This leads to inconsistency. Because both same icons will generate confusion in users.

External Consistency: We all are familiar with the basic layout of an e-commerce website. ie the navigation bar at the top, the cart button is in the right top corner, etc. For example, changing the position of the cart button to the bottom of the page (inconsistency) will generate confusion in users. Designers should follow the users’ mental models to satisfy external consistency.

Amazon site - The verge

Amazon has placed its cart icon on the right top portion to satisfy external consistency.

5. Error Prevention

Error prevention is one of the important heuristics rule. We all are familiar with this popup message

“Are you sure you want to delete this?”

Why we use this message? This warning message is used as error prevention to reduce the accidental deletion of data. All humans have a common problem to do actions accidentally. So it is important to save users from that. So designers should use error prevention messages in designs.

Gmail compose

While composing a mail in Gmail, if we type a message like“I am attaching” and then if we forget to attach documents. Then Google will show a popup page will as shown in the above figure as error prevention.

6. Recognition rather than recall

Recognition rather than recall is another heuristics by Jakob Nielsen. From our memory, we can easily recognize an item rather than recalling.

Catarina Coutinho

In the above chat screen, it is easy to recognize for the users what they chatted with their partner. If there is no chat history, the user needs to recall that from memory and that’s a big load. Maybe the user can’t recall that. Another example of the recognition is the opening of recent files in Microsoft word.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

Most of us know the purpose of shortcut keys ctrl+c and ctrl+s.

Am I correct?

ctrl+c is used for copying and ctrl+s is used for saving. Why we use these shortcuts?

For increasing the speed?

Yeah, those keys are called accelerators. Heuristics flexibility and efficiency of use deals with the accelerators. By using accelerators we can increase the efficiency of our task.

Accelerators used in Adobe Xd

Another example of the accelerator is double-tapping on Instagram to like a picture.

8. Aesthetic and Minimalist design

Another heuristics of Jakob Nielsen is Aesthetic and Minimalist Design. This doesn’t mean our product/service need appealing visuals. It means that we need to design with the right amount of data. Too much adding of details will increase the cognitive load and confuse users.

Home page of google chrome

Google chrome home page is an example of aesthetic and minimalist design. They have included only the content that users need.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Jakob Nielsen’s other heuristics rule is Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from the error. This can be done by applying below factors

  1. Inform users error has occurred.
  2. Tell them what is the problem?
  3. Tell them how can they fix the error?
Biel Morro

In the above design, the designer satisfied all three factors to increase usability.

10. Help and Documentation

The last heuristics of Jakob Nielsen is Help and Documentation. User interfaces are going more complex today. So it is important to provide help for users. Thereby they can achieve their task without any frustration.

Valentin Salmon

On the above design, users can use the search bar, FAQ, community guides, etc. for their help.

I think now you understand about Jakob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics rules. Evaluating design with these 10 heuristics will increase the usability of our product and service.

That’s for all now, folks. Thanks for reading.


How can we increase usability without usability testing? was originally published in Muzli - Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.