Usability guidelines to check before testing

Here is a list of usability guidelines that anyone can use to evaluate whether their design meets basic usability criteria. You can use these guidelines as a framework for heuristic evaluation (aka, we looked at it and here’s our assessment).

For context, Design researcher tackles generative studies+ evaluative tests:
A generative study: can help you better understand your audiences and identify the right product strategy to try 
An evaluative test: (including usability tests) can help you determine if the solutions you came up with work.

A good evaluative tests goes beyond usability. To be effective, basic usability should already be in place.

These guidelines can provide you with a vocabulary for explaining why users are having trouble.They are a distillation of heuristics from the NeilsenNorman Group, modified and reframed as an assessment checklist:

1 Action / reaction feedback

If a user’s interaction within the product (click / swipe/ scroll/ tap/ etc) affects the display in some way, is it completely obvious what happened and why?

If a user’s action outside of the product (ran a mile, paid a bill, etc.) affects the display, does the design use visual cues and short statements to keep users informed about what’s going on and the impact?

2 Logical order + S.L.A.P. + K.I.S.S.

If you scan the screen from top to bottom, does the order things are presented in create a logical narrative?

Do the design say things like a person instead of a robot or a bank?

When in doubt, SLAP + KISS!

SLAP= Say it like a person.

KISS = Keep it simple silly

Would the average 8th grader understand what you’re trying to communicate? (The average american reads at the 7th or 8th grade level. Here are some frameworks to refer to)

3 Thoughtfully decluttered design

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention— Herbert Simon

Is irrelevant information cluttering your view?

Are you using headers to provide pertinent information, as opposed to just labels?

Does the design use blank space strategically to emphasize what’s important?

Have you determined how important different elements are to users, from their point of view? Does the design support this with a strong Visual Hierarchy (the use of visual cues to clearly distinguish what’s most vs least important)?

4 Consistency for clarity

Consumers don’t think about your product or industry nearly as much as you do, so they probably won’t speak your language as well as you think. For the love of all that is holy, logical and good in this world, be a good citizen and make room in your roadmap to test your blindspots so you can test your product and follow through on making things clearer for your audience.

Are words, situations and actions consistent throughout the product?

If an 8th grader explored your site would they wonder if different terms mean the same thing?

Are there cases where you are being consistent, but it’s actually making things more confusing when context is removed?

Consistency is important.
Also, it should never trump clarity.

5 Recognition rather than recall

Do people have to remember information from a past screen in order to understand what’s in front of them?

Elements of the UI and messaging should be so recognizable that they don’t have to remember — the recognize! Simple instructions, preferably with visual aids, should be easy to find — but don’t over rely on written instructions or things will get so cluttered people will get fatigued. Instead, make your cues recognizable. In some cases this means using visual illustrations to make complex concepts easy to understand and carry through an experience while minimizing text.

6 Help + documentation

Could an 8th grader use the product without help documentation?

Is the help documentation mostly short headers and bullet points focused on user’s tasks?

Does the help documentation list concrete steps to be carried out?

7 Error prevention

Does the design prevent error prone conditions — or present users with a confirmation step before they commit to an error prone action?

8 Error recognition + recovery

Are error messages expressed in plain language, not codes or jargon?

Do error messages precisely indicate the problem?

Do error messages constructively suggest solutions?

9 Flexibility + efficiency

Does the design use accelerators that speed up interactions?

For example, when filling out a form, can a user jump to the next question by hitting enter or selecting an answer?

Is the design flexible so that users can easily undo or redo actions?

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I’ve framed these guidelines as questions so that you can use them as a check list.

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What happens when WHAT you are trying to do is right, but for some reason HOW you’re doing it just doesn’t work? It’s too complicated or people have trouble figuring out how to use it? If the “how” is getting in the way of the “what”.. check the guidelines.

I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments to help improve this article and future articles.

Keep an eye out for “Design Thinking in a Nutshell”!