Heuristic evaluation was used by Jakob Nielsen in 1990 to describe a type of inspection method [5], for identifying usability problems of computer software

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Introduction

Heuristic Evaluation Stella Mills Department of Computing & Multimedia University of Gloucestershire The Park Cheltenham GL50 2QF, UK e-mail: smills@glos.ac.uk Heuristic evaluation was used by Jakob Nielsen in 1990 to describe a type of inspection method [5], for identifying usability problems of computer software and, in particular, the user interface [4]. Heuristic evaluation is the most informal method of usability inspection methods and 'involves having usability specialists judge whether each dialogue element conforms to established usability principles. These principles are normally referred to as the heuristics ...' [1, p.5]. Alternatively, heuristic evaluation is a usability engineering method 'for finding the usability problems in a user interface design so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process. Heuristic evaluation involves having a small set of evaluators examine the interface and judge its compliance with recognized usability principles (the "heuristics")' [4]. Usability engineering applies the principles of engineering to user interface design [6]. There is, therefore, no commonly accepted formal definition of an heuristic evaluation but essentially, a number of heuristics or principles are derived, usually from the literature, and then applied to the artifact to be evaluated, generally as a checklist. Potential problems for users are identified and suggestions made for their solution. The method does not involve the system's users and is generally completed by at least one, but preferably up to five, human factors' experts who should not have been involved in the development of the software. The need for experts, but not system users per se, places heuristic evaluation within the 'expert method' category of general methods of research in the social sciences.

Middle

Table 3 Timing of use of heuristic evaluation in the lifecycle Heuristic evaluation can be used at any time in the lifecycle but, as with all human factors/ergonomics evaluation methods, the sooner it is used the more likely it is that problems will be identified and so will be cheaper to remove. Providing sufficient focus in terms of the characteristics of the users and the functionality of the system can be given, heuristic evaluation can be used on the first interface designs, even if these are in paper. If these evaluations are done by double experts then basic interface design errors, such as misuse of colour, too small font size of text etc., can be avoided. In systems which use templates for the interface design, such as is the case with an increasing number of websites, this can be most advantageous in terms of cost and time savings. However, it should be noted that even if heuristic evaluation is used at the beginning of the lifecycle, it should be used again, especially before the ?-release (the first version to be tried by actual users in the field of domain) since problems can creep into the interfaces design as it is developed. One of the advantages of heuristic evaluation is that the same heuristics can be used as the interface develops but it is wise to vary the evaluators since familiarity with an interface may lead to errors and omissions. The commercial use of heuristic evaluation Heuristic evaluation is quick to use since it can be accomplished in a few hours, especially if interface templates are used and there is, therefore, much commonality between the various screens of the system.

Conclusion

Other evaluators may not place such emphasis on these problems; this may be particularly evident when severity ratings are used. In practice, the evaluators often meet after rating the problems in order to reach a consensus about the ratings so that the system's developers can have clear guidance about the importance of the problems cited. Such a group discussion can help to reduce the bias of each individual and is useful in informing the results of the evaluation. Group discussion and group working can be difficult owing to the different personalities in the group. It is important, therefore, that any group post-evaluation is formally chaired allowing each evaluator to express their views within the group. A chairperson should also sum up the findings formally so that a consensus of opinion is expressed in the report presented to the client. A full discussion of the problems of group working is beyond this article but such problems can arise within heuristic evaluation and can cause a slant upon the evaluation well beyond that of ordinary personal bias. Conclusion Heuristic evaluation is an inexpensive but efficient method of evaluating the interface of a software system and while it may not exhibit every usability problem of the system, it can be enlightening in terms of potential difficulties for different categories of user. Commercially, it is cost effective and consequently is used in industry to provide feedback, often well before the software is released for testing. While it is best achieved using 'triple' experts, it can be done by others since any reliable feedback is thought to be better than none.

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