A Fresh Look At Usability Heuristics

Alex Faaborg for UX Magazine in Debating the Fundamentals: The geographic, temporal and political nature of usability heuristics:

On the surface, usability heuristics provide a simple checklist for making any interface perfect. But what is fascinating about them is the extent to which all of the heuristics are actually in direct opposition to each other, the extent to which they are geographic and temporal, and the extent to which they expose the designer’s underlying political views (at least in the domain of things digital). Usability heuristics present a zero-sum game with inherent tradeoffs, and it is simply impossible to achieve all of the heuristics simultaneously.

This is the best UX article I’ve read in a while. Like most UX designers I live and breathe the usability heuristics, and have always been reasonably comfortable with the tradeoffs, but this article perfectly articulates the complex interplay at work.

But it’s not just a theoretical exploration, I really appreciate the thought put into the practical approach to managing these complexities:

Novice designers memorize the list of usability heuristics and try to employ them in their work. As a more experienced designer, you may have already seen a deeper dynamic at play here. Instead of using heuristics as a simple checklist, try placing pairs of the heuristics against one another in a spider graph.  Achieving every ideal isn’t possible because the pairs exist in direct opposition. Realizing this, the challenge shifts to shaping a design that captures as much surface area as it can, given all the opposing forces.

This is one of those “I wish I wrote that” articles.