Summary: How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation

This is a short summary of Jakob Nielsens Arcticle on questioning "How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation".

Definition: Heuristic evaluation is a method for finding usability problems in a user interface design[1]

Heuristic evaluation is intended as "discount usability engineering" method. This is per se not bad as it is very cost efficient: Nielsen[3] found out, that costs were about $10,500 and expected benefits $500,000.

Basic conditions

  • three to five evaluators are recommended (throwing people on the problem does not inevitable lead to additional information)
  • Evaluator inspect the interface alone
  • Evaluator are only allowed to communicate with other evaluators after they have done the evaluation
  • Domain-related questions of evaluators are allowed and should be answered (Contrary to traditional user testing)
  • Evaluations sessions typically last one or two hours (Complicated interfaces should be splitted in several sessions)


  • Iterative approach (at least two times): the evaluator uses the interface several times and compares it with defined heuristics
  • Heuristics can be
    • own expectations to usability
    • heuristics retrieved by competitive analysis
    • usability principles[2]
      • Visibility of system status
      • Match between system and the real world
      • User control and freedom
      • Consistency and standards
      • Error prevention
      • Recognition rather than recall
      • Flexibility and efficiency of use
      • Aesthetic and minimalist design
      • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
      • Help and documentation


  • Ideally formalized as written reports
  • "List of usability problems in the interface with references to those usability principles that were violated by the design in each case in the opinion of the evaluator."[1]
  • Explanation of each violation and link to the heuristic
  • As detailed as possible


  1. Nielsen, J. (1995), How to conduct a heuristic evaluation, January 1, 1995, Accessed on March 13, 2015
  2. Nielsen, J. (1995), 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, January 1, 1995, Accessed on March 13, 2015
  3. Nielsen, J. (1994). Heuristic evaluation. In Nielsen, J., and Mack, R.L. (Eds.), Usability Inspection Methods. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

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