Heuristic Evaluations and Usability Testing are Critical to Your Business

By Evelina Tapia | Oct 15, 2015

Did you know that difficult to use, ineffective, cumbersome software leads to low user adoption which accounts for about 70% of failed projects? Creating user-friendly products is crucial to user adoption and success. How can you make sure that your product is user-friendly? Heuristic evaluations and usability testing are two powerful methods that help ensure user-friendliness of a product. Every business should care about how intuitive and easy-to-use their devices or software are because these factors significantly influence user adoption rates and, as a result, the financial success of the company.

Imagine a food delivery website such as GrubHub, EAT24, DoorDash or OrderUp: if the user presses a button to complete his lunch order, but the web page doesn’t change, the user is left with the impression that either he did something wrong, that order was not placed or that the system is broken. However, the backend processes may be fully functional and the chefs may have started cooking! Such user-system miscommunications cost companies lots of money, and can be easily eliminated by performing heuristic evaluations and usability testing before product launch.

What are these methods?

Heuristic evaluation consists of an expert assessment of a product’s usability against a checklist of usability standards. Depending on product complexity, heuristic evaluation can be completed in as little as a couple of days. Evaluators capture inconsistencies in the design, problems in navigation, issues with errors shown (or not shown!) to users, and other interface elements.

When a usability test is conducted, a user researcher observes how intended product users interact with a prototype and whether users can complete various tasks. Researchers can record various metrics about user behavior, such as task completion failure and success, time on task, number of errors, perceived ease of use and so on. Usability testing reveals what features and functionality of the product can be improved or removed.

Both of these methods are completely technology-independent and can be utilized on all types of devices, from microwaves to augmented reality headsets.

When should these methods be used?

Heuristic evaluations and usability tests can be utilized at any stage of a project, but the earlier it is done the better. Heuristic evaluation should be conducted after each design sprint. When prototypes incorporate heuristic evaluation feedback and the interface is updated to remove major flaws before users ever see the design, usability testing can reveal subtler usability issues that are pertinent to the identified audience.

If heuristic evaluation or usability testing cannot be conducted early in the project life cycle, it is still better to conduct these activities later rather than never. As the graph below shows, the cost and project time increase exponentially with the increasing delay of implementing changes to the interface or information architecture. The highest cost to re-design and re-code the product is incurred after launch; this can be mitigated when user testing activities are incorporated into the project lifecycle.

cost-of-design-changes-chart

Why do these methods work?

Heuristic evaluation and usability testing both reveal design flaws that would impact usability, user experience and user adoption rates, all of which directly affect the business success of any product. When these methods are utilized, design problems can be prioritized by severity which enables the team to cheaply and quickly fix the issues before launch. This significantly reduces overall project cost and timeline, minimizes rework to fix bugs and address user feedback post-release, and increases the likelihood of user adoption as a result of high product usability. Because of their direct and significant impact on business’ success, there is no excuse to skip heuristic evaluations and usability tests during product development life-cycle.
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