When people think of measuring usability, most think of a usability lab with a handful of participants, cameras, eyeball trackers and observers. But if you don’t have the time or money for such a traditional usability observation-based study, and need an analysis of your software’s usability, a heuristic review is a good alternative. This requires a usability expert to examine your software and produce a report detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the UI, combined with recommendations. There is no live observation of users working with the product, but you still get the benefit through the expert of how people use software which will ultimately help you improve your product. Understand the context should drive the criteria for evaluation, i.e. you can’t evaluate the usability of accounting software the same way you would evaluate a website as the context of usage is drastically different.  However, some general evaluation criteria categories may include:

  • Navigation – Users should be able to get to where they need to either backwards or forwards and be assisted if lost when executing the task(s).
  • Visual design – Graphics, color and layout should support the information being presented and the task being executed.
  • Terminology- Words that users know rather than make them learn new terminology.
  • User model- Along with terminology, concepts and the objects used in the UI should match what users expect given what they may be accustomed to. No matter how clever your design is, if it is not what users expect, they may have difficulty learning it.

A heuristic usability analysis will tell you how your software stacks up against the criteria and how you can improve it. You may notice a few italicized words above; users, information being presented, task being executed, expect, and learning. Each of these terms is critical in evaluating usability because usability is driven by expectations and context. More on understanding context and how to account for it in assessing usability to come…