Designing a Usable Interface: Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics

Expert reviews are a method used to identify usability problems with a user interface design. While there are many different sets of guidelines that can be used to conduct reviews, Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics (1) are the most popular. Below, we’ve set out each of the heuristics with a few descriptions of how they should be applied.

Visibility of System Status

“The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.”

  • Your system should communicate to the user their location, actions being taken, changes occurring to the state of the interface or errors that have occurred.
  • System should indicate the possible actions and their consequences.
  • Controls should be visible to serve as a reminder to the user what actions are possible.
  • Use visual clues or simple messaging to communicate.
  • Providing users with clear and constant feedback makes them more confident with the system and improves the experience

Match Between System and the Real World

“The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms.”

  • The language you use should be clear, simple and mirror that used by your users.
  • Users form mental models based on their previous interactions with other popular products. Your design’s concepts and processes should reflect current popular patterns.

User Control and Freedom

“Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue.”

  • Let the user decide and control when to start and finish within an interaction.
  • Provide users with more than one path to complete their task.
  • Permit users to ‘go back’ easily and safely on actions taken. Let them ‘undo’ tasks.

Consistency and Standards

“Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.”

  • Be consistent throughout your interface with language, layout, behavior, and design.
  • Once the user learns how to do something, they should know that they can always do it again.
  • Use industry standard UI elements, patterns and conventions.
  • Developing consistency across your platform increases user efficiency.

Error Prevention

“Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place.”

  • Remove situations within the interface that are likely to result in errors.
  • Potential errors should be predicted before they’ve taken place.
  • Provide users with warnings, or ask for confirmation before users take potentially destructive actions.
  • Let users cancel commands.

Recognition Rather than Recall

“Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible.”

  • Reduce the cognitive load on the user, they shouldn’t have to think, the design should indicate the right action.
  • Don’t make users have to remember information from one part to another.
  • Instructions for use should be visible and task-focused
  • Elements without any clear meaning will be ignored by users, it should be obvious what something does by looking at it.

Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

“Accelerators – unseen by the novice user – may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users.”

  • Design for a range of user expertise levels and goals.
  • Provide expert users with options to customize frequent actions through shortcuts.
  • Let users perform tasks in as few steps as possible

Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

“Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed.”

  • Irrelevant information distracts visibility from relevant units of information.
  • Use a clear and aligned layout that reduces complexity.
  • Be consistent with placing information and tasks, don’t provide too much at any one time.
  • Language for labels and in messaging should be clear and direct.

Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover From Errors

“Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.”

  • Be specific and straight to the point, identify the problem
  • Provide a solution to fixing the problem.
  • Tone of voice matters, match your messages to your audience.
  • Keep consistent in terms of visual format, placement, and terminology.

Help and Documentation

“Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.”

  • Make it task focused and easily available to users in context.
  • Use clear, simple language and step-by-step instructions.
  • Users will likely be frustrated when having to use Help Documentation, focus on providing solutions to their problems.

Learn From the UXBERTS

At UXBERT we offer hands-on training in each step of the user-centered design process. In our Usability Testing & Expert Reviews workshop, we will teach you to conduct expert reviews using Nielsen’s Usability Heuristics. We keep our class sizes small to deliver a complete learning experience so we have limited seats available. Don’t miss out, buy your ticket now through this link!


At UXBERT Labs we specialize in UX Research, Design & Development services that deliver world-class experiences. With offices in Riyadh and Dubai, our team of UX Researchers, Designers, and Developers deliver custom designed and built software to help businesses succeed.

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