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Mastering Usability Functions: A Guide to Nielsen Heuristics
Jakob Nielsen is considered by many as the father of usability. After much research, he defined some rules and good practices for good usability.
In a previous article, I explained the basics of usability and the five essential functions. To find out if all those five usability functions are being fulfilled, we can count on the 10 Nielsen heuristics. Jakob Nielsen is considered by many as the father of usability. After much research, he defined some rules and good practices for good usability. If you want to know more about him and his user experience research, training, and consulting company, go to the website.
Well, these heuristics function as a checklist for building your communication with your user, and they suggest that you:
Visibility of system status.
Match between system and the real world.
Exercise control without taking away your freedom.
Maintain consistency and standards.
Work on error prevention.
Recognition rather than recall.
Flexibility and efficiency of use.
Help recognize, diagnose and fix errors.
Documentation and help.
The 10 Nielsen heuristics usability functions
Let’s go one by one of them.
1 - Visibility of system status
You need to inform your user about what’s going on, tell them where they’re going, how they’re going, or what’s next.
Example 1: While I was registering for purchase at the Amazon website, I saw how many steps were left until order confirmation. At that point, I was informed about how long it would take or how much information I still had to fill in to complete my purchase.
Note 1: Setting the number of steps’ status does not mean that you can put as many steps as you want in the registration and, so, leave your user filling out an infinite form. Do your best to ask only the vital information in the most simple and quick possible way for everyone.
Example 2: I made my registration a meditation app, and after filling in all the fields and click to submit my data, the app signaled that it is loading and, then I knew I would soon have the answer to my action. It took more than 55 seconds to finish the loading process and finally give access to the app.
Note 2: When signaling that you are loading, make it clear to your user what’s happening. Don’t let them hang dry. If, for some reason, your product needs a longer registration process (three steps), build in a way the users can engage with the screens. Play with texts communicating to the user what or why is happening at the moment. This will make the feeling of waiting lessen, and then the user becomes more tolerant of it.
Note 2.1: Oh! Be really careful not to leave the user waiting for a long time and, in the end, give an error. A long time means seconds. Ten seconds is the time limit for a user to pay attention and do what he wants on the site. Above that, they will probably drop out.
2 - Match between system and the real world
You must speak the same language as your user; it must be done in a very natural and fluid way. This applies both to the choice of communication and to the use of symbols and other elements that are part of people’s daily lives.
Example: When I access the Netflix website, it knows that I have already been there and gives me a “welcome back” message. When I look at the Netflix plans page, I can tell that an “x” in the feature means it’s not available at that plan. Because the concept it’s widespread for us.
3 - Exercise control without taking away your freedom
You must direct the user to help them fulfill their task. But without taking away the options to do what he/she wants on your product (as long as there is no problem with the functionality or business rules). This one is tricky.
Example: I can create an ad on eBay and, when I want, I can delete that ad. But I can’t change his pictures. That’s because it wouldn’t be cool to advertise something, then change the photos to another product and say that someone bought what they saw on the site. The buyer could take a pig in a poke.
4 - Maintain consistency and standards
The user must be convinced of the decisions he/she must make. For this, the buttons named “call to action” must have the same behavior pattern and, if possible, be positioned in the same way whenever they seem to the user. These buttons are those “buy,” “learn more,” “follow,” etc.
Don’t forget to experiment with different copyright, colors, shapes, and sizes. Still, it’s crucial to set up your baseline and the goals you want to achieve with your experiments.
Example 1: Instagram keeps its buttons for interacting with the publication consistently below the post, aligned to the left. Already or other buttons that call for actions such as “buy,” “follow,” or “book a demo” also follows a pattern among themselves of color and typography.
Note 1: When we talk about Apps, reinvent the usability wheel might not be a great idea. Android and iPhone users already have prior knowledge of the standards adopted by each system. You will hardly be successful unless your service is something very, very innovative and disruptive!
Example 2: “I will create my usability because Facebook does this.” Watch out for comparison with big players. Using services already famous as a reference can be a shot in the foot. Calm down, and Facebook nowadays can.
I will talk about design in another article. In the meantime, you can start to explore the Android and iOS standards here:
5 - Work on error prevention
You need to understand where and how your user can make mistakes to prevent this from happening. The ideal experience is that everything is so “perfect” that she/he does notice they have been guided without any error using your product.
“A perfect experience doesn’t mean a flawless product.” - Taric Andrade.
Example 1: When I’m on Google, and I want to search, it helps me not make mistakes in two moments: first, when I give suggestions of words or expressions as I type; and the second, when he corrects a word that I misspelled.
Example 2: If I fill out a registration form that the fields already have predefined masks and, of course, it still displays only what I need from the keyboard, it is very likely that I will with little chance of making any mistake that makes this task even more difficult. More boring and time-consuming. That’s what happens here on the Schutz app when I’m going to type in my zip code, and I don’t have to worry about the digit separation, which is automatic.
6 - Recognition rather than recall
Your user will not always decorate the path he took to reach a specific product or page of interest. So, you must make this step-by-step visible so that he can navigate and retrace his path without problems whenever he wants.
Example: If I enter the Submarino website and browse the cell phone section, then iPhone and iPhone XS Max, my path is represented at the top. There, I can return to navigate between these screens. This is what we call “breadcrumb.”
7 - Flexibility and efficiency of use
You must remember that people with different profiles can access your website. As much as your product has a defined audience, among them, there may be people more or less experienced in the use of applications. With that in mind, usability should be good for anyone who decides to access your product.
Example: In Gmail, there are two ways to archive a message. One is through a shortcut, moving the message card to the left. This option is probably more used by more experienced people who are used to this type of behavior. The other way is to enter the message and choose the “archive” button at the top of the screen. This should be the option of people less experienced in the use of websites or apps.
8 - Minimalist design
Your product screens need to be simple and contain only what the user needs to know or do. The more unnecessary information, the greater the chances people will get lost and fail to achieve their goals. Remember the story of the scale? That’s it.
Example: When I access the Nike Training app (to help with that promise to lose weight), I see a simple layout that directs my choices. On the first screen, I decide between doing what he suggests (at the top) or getting a workout. When I choose to search for training, the app offers me the options to achieve my goal.
9 - Help recognize, diagnose and fix errors
Even with great care, your user can encounter obstacles to accomplish their task using your product. So, the error messages must be clear so that people can quickly fix the mistake and move on.
Example: When I tried to register on iFood to order a feijoada on Saturday (on Saturdays I don’t diet), I typed my email wrong, and then an error message appeared, signaling what and where I should fix my error to continue with my order.
Note: It is widespread for apps and websites to display technical messages such as “database connection error” or “service unavailable.” This is awful. The user does not understand and still thinks that the website is full of errors/bugs. Ideally, it is to leave a simple language and, whenever possible, some instructions for the user. Depending on the error, the situation, and the importance of that task, you can surprise and leave an option for your user to access customer service.
10 - Documentation and help
Ideally, everything in your site or application can be done in a very intuitive way, but in some cases, it is necessary to offer information or help to your users. This will mitigate any impact that a doubt may have when he intends to complete a task.
Example: When buying the limited and illustrated edition of Harry Potter at an online bookstore, they asked me if I had a gift card and, if I did, I should put the pin and code in the indicated field. To prevent me from looking for it, they display a simple CTA “where to find the gift card code?” by showing an image of where this data is. This is a practical way to help your users.
Documentation and help are quite a thing to consider. Is there a limit? The plain answer is no limit. You should document everything on your product. The challenging question is how to better use your documentation to help your user.
Remember, you’re a user too, and I always question myself as a user:
“How lazy am I today to think about my job to be done?”
Those 10 topics are essential because if your site is challenging to use, difficult to read, if the user has difficulty finding what they need or cannot reach his goal, they will leave and will not come back.
Recap the 10 Nielsen heuristics usability functions
There are many websites for products and services, and if the user is unable to use yours, he will certainly go to another one. And most likely, it has already happened to you. I bet you are experiencing this right now.
Remember that the day when you really wanted to buy the Foo Fighters ticket concert? I do remember. I open the TicketMaster App, and after 30 minutes of searching, I found that I could only buy the ticket on the website. As a product manager at the moment, I really wanted to give a bear hug to my fellow PM at TicketMaster.
All think about that, please, do not do with others what you would not like them to do to you, go it? To have superb usability is crucial to invest time, research, interviews, team, experiment, and money.
I hope you got how usability is important and what it means. I will see you in the following article.