Heuristic ( heuristics; Greek: , “find” or “discover“) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a good enough solution, where an exhaustive search is impractical. Examples of this method include using a “rule of thumb”, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.

Here’s an informal list of 20 Heuristics from Weinshenck and Barker in 2000.  Jakob Neilsen identified 10 principles for user interface design in 1990. Gerhardt-Powals identified 10 principles of cognitive engineering in 1996.  The point is that there is substantial agreement and overlap – and most of it makes sense on the face of it.

  1. User control heuristics that check whether the user has enough control of the interface.
  2. Human limitations The design takes into account human limitations, cognitive and sensorial, to avoid overloading them.
  3. Modal integrity The interface uses the most suitable modality for each task** auditory, visual, or motor/ kinesthetic.
  4. Accommodation The design is adequate to fulfill the needs and behaviour of each targeted user group.
  5. Linguistic clarity the language used to commun icate is efficient, clear and
  6. Aesthetic integrity The design is visually attractive and tailored to appeal to the target population.
  7. Simplicity The design does not use unnecessary complexity.
  8. Predictability Users will be able to form a mental model of how the system will behave in response to actions.
  9. Interpretation There are codified rules that try to guess the user intentions and anticipate the actions needed.
  10. Accuracy There are no errors; the result of user actions correspond to their goals.
  11. Technical clarity The concepts represented in the interface have the highest possible correspondence to the problem domain they are modeling.  (Fidelity)
  12. Flexibility the design can be adjusted to the needs and behaviour of each particular user.
  13. Fulfillment The user experience is adequate and the user feels good about the experience.
  14. Cultural propriety The user’s cultural and social expectations are met.
  15. Suitable tempo The pace at which users works with the system is adequate.
  16. Consistency different parts of the system have the same style, so that there are no different ways to represent the same inform ation or behavior.
  17. User support The design will support learning and provide the  required assistance to usage.  (ai.e. Help)
  18. Precision The steps and results of a task will be what the user wants.
  19. Forgiveness The user will be able to recover to an adequate state after an error.
  20. Responsiveness The interface provides the user enough feedback information about the system status and their task completion.

These are fairly well-established and accepted. However; even the most recent list is almost 20 years old. I’ve got my own take on what it is/should be.  But this is all pretty close.

Heuristic analysis is often the basis for a preliminary site evaluation.


Here are some notes from a recent engagement in which I provided some analysis and recommendations for a non-profit organization:


Solutions:  Scale, Scope, Agenda

Based on our initial evaluation of the legacy website, we already have a thumbnail impression of what’s good, what’s not and what’s missing – as well as a sense of what we need to do about each.

  • What’s good :  Keep it, though possibly rearrange it
  • What’s not : Fix it
  • What’s missing : Find it, add it, create it

What’s Good:  Reorganize it

This re-design isn’t just a new coat of paint.  If that were the case, we could proceed directly to “low-hanging fruit” (see below). In addition to the surface presentational fixes, we’re looking to take the existing collateral and reconfigurehow it is presented.

Reorganization of the structure of information is the heart of UX.

Restructuring is reflected in the Navigation MenuBar.  Here are a couple of basic ground rules:

  1. Menubar labels should be clear & simple
  2. Fewer = better

And here’s how I suggest we apply it to our site:

What We Do Projects, examples

Most new visitors will go to view these active, short, practical project “stories” first, then go view the philosophical policy rationale as a follow-up.  Not the other way around.  The Projects are the focus of interest. Policy & organizational structure  – in most cases – are secondary.

Why We Do It  Mission, Initiatives, Agenda, History

The ‘why’ justifies our actions logically.  But – perhaps even more importantly – it reinforces  affinity with the audience.  History establishes  credibility and integrity.

Who We Are  Personnel, governing Board, Sponsors, Partners

This is the face of the organization.  It’s an opportunity to personalize and tell the story.

How It Happens  Calendar of Upcoming Events, Collateral, Press

The Calendar identifies opportunities toparticipate, Collateral offers things to do, Press and News are talking points. This is where ‘the rubber meets the road” as regards audience interest.  All provide traction to action – direct engagement with the site visitor.

Reconfigure Donate and Contact Us as branded Call-to-Action buttons, rather than navigation menu items.

Turning these into action buttons both makes organizational sense and gives these critical CTA’s appropriate emphasis.


What’s Not Good : Let’s make the Quick Fixes

The Usual Suspects

Legacy Issues usually identify some of the “low-hanging fruit” that we can deal with fairly quickly.  These are often cosmetic changes which can be addressed presentationally, rather thanstructurally;

  • Terminology
  • Tagging
  • “gleaning”

Here are a few issues that are unique to our site:

Be Memorable

Currently our strongest, most communicative taglines are lost in the verbiage.  Statements like these should be hilited, repeated, and front & center.  These punchy statements can also serve as a Call to Action.

Avoid Bureaucratese

Headline labels like “Delivering Health Education” and “Informing Policy” may be technically correct, but they aren’t very informative or compelling

The deadliness of “-ing.  Every time you give something an “-ing” label, you’ve made yourselves in-active.  Instead, say:  “We educate”, “We influence” (or We advocate)

Homepage: Limited attention span

7 slides in a 5-second autoscroll is too long, too slow, and in the wrong order.  A slideshow of 3-4 panels works better.   Try different slideshow versions to keep it fresh and also to highlight different aspects of our message.

Media Hits (and Misses)

Media pieces are powerful – and potentially dangerous.

  • Quantity: Our “Media” pages are over-engineered, unnecessarily data-heavy and slooooooooow, as a result – because they attempt to present all the media at once.
  • Quality: We have an animation that is charming, informational, short and accessible. It should be front & center.  Even an important message is lost if it’s not viewed.
  • Relevance: Nobody actually comes to our site because they want to “see some media”. They are interested in a topic.  And the media are of interest only if they are relevant to that topic.  Grouping all the media pieces together “because they’re media” makes little sense.

  Attention span = short. Especially for media. Let’s guide ourselves accordingly.  BTW:   Everything on the site is media … of some sort.

What’s Missing : Discovery and Surprise

FAQ’s (answers to “the usual suspects” questions)   First-time visitors often use FAQ’s as a “fastTrack” to engagement – and they also provide context for the novice. 

A good idea: Add+ the FAQ’s section to the topmenu

There should be at least 10 or so FAQ’s.  In addition to a brief explanation, they also point to the relevant page/section on the site.  FAQ’s and “factoids” should be branded and presented on pages of the site as accessible information snippets.

The Content Inventory often leads to the discovery of “hidden treasure” – collateral that’s incredibly valuable, but is hard to find.

Sometimes the hidden treasure is hidden on the website.  Often it’s “cross channel” – information that resides elsewhere (as a brochure, in a fact sheet).


I began the JobBlog engagement in mid-May of 2015. These articles had attracted a total of 763 Views and 43 Likes on LinkedIn by 08/16/2015.


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