08 May 2023 Frank Spillers


What is a heuristic evaluation?

What is a heuristic evaluation?

A heuristic evaluation is an expert review of a design, usually digital. Heuristics are rules of thumb (generalized guidelines) that help you interpret potential problem areas of your design. Heuristics for use in user experience design reviews were proposed by Jakob Nielsen and Ralph Molich (1990) and updated by Nielsen in 1994. Jakob Nielsen’s 10 heuristics are typically referred to as the list UX designers should use. However, there are many other heuristics proposed by others that extend the range of heuristics you can leverage in your reviews. Note: Wikipedia is one of the only sources that comprehensively lists the other heuristic sets; most organizations only mention Jakob’s 10. In this upcoming workshop on Conducting Holistic Heuristic Reviews, we will bring the less popularized heuristics into focus.

What’s missing from heuristic evaluations?

The main thing missing from expert reviews is the user. Heuristic evaluations are a user advocacy activity. You assume a user’s task and goal and review it while approximating their difficulty and effort, for example. You never involve a user in this research activity. This makes the method weaker than say, usability testing. Another thing missing in most heuristic evaluations is multiple expert reviewers. Many expert reviews involve one UX specialist. Nielsen’s own research shows you find 75% of problems with a design with 5 expert reviewers. Note: It is very rare to find entire teams conducting heuristic evaluations. So because of this, it is important to understand the limitations of heuristic evaluations.

So what’s holistic about this workshop?

First, as mentioned above, there are many more heuristic checklists you should be aware of (than Jakob Nielsen’s 10). Next, there is an urgent need to bring these UX heuristics into the 21st century. Specifically, we need to emphasize context of use, harm reduction, and sustainability. This means we need to apply heuristics to technologies that are already mature or maturing, including mobile, AR/VR and AI specifically. While these technologies are advancing rapidly (AI) or already mature (mobile), the UX field has yet to adapt the software-centric heuristics of the 1990’s to modern challenges like generative AI or immersive experiences like AR.

Learn more in this two-part workshop where we will cover:

  • How to conduct Heuristic Evaluations- by the book (research-based), hint: most people don’t follow the actual guidelines.
  • How to document and communicate heuristic findings without being a jerk
  • Pitfalls of Heuristic Evaluations and how to correct them
  • Using a super-checklist of heuristics that is more inclusive of all known rules of thumb
  • Evaluating for current business problems (VR/AR, AI, Inclusive Design, Accessibility, Sustainability and more)

Conducting holistic UX heuristic evaluations workshop

About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

Apply to start your membership at $99 or 50% Discount

for student/non-profit or Global South

Stay up to date with the UX Inner Circle, join our email list: