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Top tips for usability heuristics or rules of thumb

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Top tips for usability (heuristics or rules of thumb)

The considered views of the usability experts – UX advice

Amongst his various careers Keith spent several years at the HUSAT Research Institute in Loughborough doing research into usability.

During this time a survey of usability practitioners was carried out by Arnold M. Lund (WayBackMachine link) of Ameritech.

Experts in Human factors, design, HCI, Ergonomics and Usability (user experience/UX) were asked to rate a whole collection of so called ‘Rules of Thumb’.

usability ideas

Why you are not a user

The details below are from an archived email message which contained a full discussion of the methods and results.

We have been unable to find a full version of any research paper on the web, please do let us know if you find it. If you would like the full details of the notes we have, please feel free to mail Keith.

The survey

From the original notes:

“Colleagues working in the human-computer interface (HCI) design field were asked to suggest rules of thumb that they have found particularly useful during the design process.

These rules were collected, some editing took place to combine duplicates and refine wording, and the list was sent back to see whether any rules were missing from the list.

The list was also submitted to members of the ANSI-200/HFES HCI standards committee who were also asked to identify rules that might be missing. Once the new suggestions were incorporated into the list, a list of 34 rules of thumb had been defined.”


Numbers represent overall views of the usefullness of the ‘Rule’ (5=highest)

4.1 Know thy user, and YOU are not thy user.
4.0 Things that look the same should act the same.
4.0 Everyone makes mistakes, so every mistake should be fixable.
3.9 The information for the decision needs to be there when the decision is needed.
3.8 Error messages should actually mean something to the user, and tell the user how to fix the problem.
3.8 Every action should have a reaction.
3.7 Don’t overload the user’s buffers.
3.6 Consistency, consistency, consistency.
3.5 Minimize the need for a mighty memory.
3.5 Keep it simple.
3.4 The more you do something, the easier it should be to do.
3.4 The user should always know what is happening.
3.4 The user should control the system. The system shouldn’t control the user. The user is the boss, and the system should show it.
3.3 The idea is to empower the user, not speed up the system.
3.3 Eliminate unnecessary decisions, and illuminate the rest.
3.3 If I made an error, let me know about it before I get into REAL trouble.
3.3 The best journey is the one with the fewest steps. Shorten the distance between the user and their goal.
3.2 The user should be able to do what the user wants to do.
3.2 Things that look different should act different.
3.2 You should always know how to find out what to do next.
2.9 Don’t let people accidentally shoot themselves.
2.9 Even experts are novices at some point. Provide help.
2.9 Design for regular people and the real world.
2.9 Keep it neat. Keep it organized.
2.9 Provide a way to bail out and start over.
2.7 The fault is not in thyself, but in thy system.
2.5 If it is not needed, it’s not needed.
2.5 Color is information.
2.3 Everything in its place, and a place for everything.
2.3 The user should be in a good mood when done.
2.0 If I made an error, at least let me finish my thought before I have to fix it.
1.7 Cute is not a good adjective for systems.
1.7 Let people shape the system to themselves, and paint it with their own personality.
1.3 To know the system is to love it.

More Info on Heuristics

Most people in the usability trade build up their own collection of such phrases. They are also a good way to help non-specialists remember aspects of usability for their work.

Unfortunately a lot of good stuff gets lost, so some of these links have been replaced with copies from …aka the WayBackMachine (WB)

Learn from your own web browsing. Note what you like and what causes problems.  There is also another collection of usability links I’ve found helpful in the Usability section.

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