At some point, looking for a definition of “heuristic” turns up: “rule of thumb”, which might or might not be helpful depending on whether you know that means “rough and ready”, widely accepted, approximations that are “good enough” etc.

Practically, when evaluating usability, there doesn’t seem much point in booking a lab and going to all the trouble of calibrating the eye tracker and analysing traces in order to evidence that something like a “spinner” will mitigate against user pressing the “submit” control again whilst she waits for the system to process an input. (Neilsen’s first heuristic: “Visibility of system status“).

Neilsen goes on to list a further 9 considerations which can be used to structure “expert”, heuristic reviews.


More heuristics

If 10 aren’t enough, here’s a further 23 more I gathered to evaluate webforms, but which are also relevant elsewhere : –

  1. Is user sufficiently orientated and motivated with what’s about to happen ?
  2. Will user have ready everything they’ll need before they start ?
  3. Does user know how long the task will likely take them  ?
  4. ask for the minimum amount of information ?
    (organisations tend to ask for more than is necessary)
  5. Is security addressed ? e.g. Norton security logo data protection policy
  6. Is privacy addressed ? e.g. an accessible and available policy
  7. Are there any distractions from the userflow ?
  8. Is it feasible to complete the form in one sitting ? If so let’s try.
  9. If not, does it support user picking up as near to where they might’ve left off (e.g. have meaningful breakpoints in the process)
  10. Is the process broken down into sensible blocks ?
    e.g. personal information, choice, transaction details, payment, summary, next steps
  11. Is positive feedback given ? e.g. indication of progress, validated form fields
  12. Help users to understand terminology and references, and use accessible language (the average reading age is surprisingly young)
  13. Is copy tight and concise ?
  14. Are calls to action clearly visible, consistent in appearance and behaviour ?
  15. Are fields grouped into sensible, meaningful sections and do they accord with convention ?
    e.g. Block 1 – marital status, name, address, phone, Block 2 – …
  16. Are help links and resources visible and relevant to their context ?
    (and for accessibility, do they rely on proximity to provide their meaning)
  17. Is form error feedback immediate and inline ?
    e.g. feedback needn’t wait for the submission button
  18. Though some forms are better done on a desktop,
    should that preclude responsive design ?
  19. Is support flexible to meet different needs and levels of proficiency ?
    e.g. a tip by a form field with a link to further information
  20. Avoid pop-ups (interstitial screens) they’re seldom for users’ benefit.
  21. Does submission trigger a reassuring, engaging welcome/thank you email including next steps and anticipating user needs ?
    e.g. “Thanks for submitting your application –
    would you like us to email you a summary ?
    Please contact us if you don’t hear back from us within two weeks.”
  22. Post registration, when they return and have maybe forgotten their login and what the’ve previously done, is it easy for them to get in and pick-up ?
    e.g. login with other existing credentials (OAuth)
  23. Is account setup and recovery straightforward
    e.g. email with links to p/w reset

Caroline Jarrett is an authority on form design, and UXplanet.org and Smashing Magazine have published these articles on the subject.

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