Jakob Nielsen is one of the most famous people in the UX/UI world – he was often called a “king of usability” or the “guru of Web page usability” so his name is probably well known among designers. Today I’d like you to take a closer look at the famous 10 Usability Heuristics defined by Nielsen – a set of rules and hints that can be applied to practically every form of a user interface, starting with web pages, mobile apps to even interactive reports design, making it more accessible and user friendly for the users.


1: Visibility of system status

The first heuristic tells us that user should always know the state of system status – a current step in the process, a current page that they’re seeing, and how it fits within the navigation structure or remaining steps to be carried out. It is crucial for the user to feel that they’re in control of the tool that they’re using, so you should always provide them with information helping them not to get lost in the complex UI.


2: Match between system and the real world

This one is quite simple and straightforward – you should be very careful when it comes to language and naming – the UI should follow the user’s natural language: you should avoid complex naming that can be misunderstood by the user in the end. That is crucial especially for actionable elements such as buttons – it should be always clear what a button does. But, this heuristic also applies to design in general: for example, icons, photos, or terms could be understood in different ways by users from a different culture or part of the world. Design should always be user-centered and correspond to real life.

This one is especially important in report design: any visual should have a title that will be understood by the user so it’s always good to get to know your audience and naming that they’re familiar with.


3: User control and freedom

You have to keep in mind that users make mistakes. It is important for them to have an option to undo any change, go back to the default state or discard changes they just made in an intuitive and easy way that doesn’t force them to go through a complex process.

For report design that could be applied to filtering: modern solutions enable users to apply multiple filters or cross filter visuals by clicking on them. Those actions can be accidental so you should come up with an easy way to restore the default view, for example by introducing a “clear filters” button.


4: Consistency and standards

That heuristic can be applied to both visual and naming parts. For example, if one component looks in any particular way in one part of the UI, it should look the same in a different part, unless there is a reason for it to look differently. You should minimize the users’ cognitive load by keeping things consistent across your product.

Jakob Nielsen’s law of internet user experience states that users spend most of their time using different digital products than yours, therefore you shouldn’t always spend time trying to come up with something original and different that in the end could be misunderstood by the user – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.


5: Error prevention

It’s better to prevent a problem from occurring in the first place, rather than to show an error message. So in order not to cause frustration or annoyance, a good UI should be designed to prevent errors that can be made by accident. For example, it is a good practice to ask for confirmation before performing some crucial action like deleting or offer an option to undo.


6: Recognition rather than recall

As a designer responsible for the user experience, you should minimize the number of information that has to be remembered by the users. Let’s take a closer look at these two questions:

  1. What is the capital city of Portugal?
  2. Is Lisbon the capital city of Portugal?

The first question is a recognition, the second is a recall. It’s easier for the users to recognize something presented – remembering is much easier when we offer context.


7: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Some scenarios can be carried out in different ways, using different task flows. For example, in desktop apps, users can use their mouse or a keyboard shortcut. In a mobile app like Instagram, you can double-tap a photo in order to give it a like or tap on the heart icon.

Another way of making user experience is to allow some customization of the UI so the users can decide what works best for them.


8: Aesthetic and minimalist design

Even an app with the most beautiful UI isn’t a great one when the UX is designed in a bad way. You should always prioritize content and functionalities rather than looks. Don’t get me wrong, a good design is very important, it just isn’t the most important thing for the users when they use the app.

A good UI shouldn’t contain information that is rarely or never needed. Each visual element should have its purpose.


9: Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Error messages should be visible to the user and present the information in an adequate and straightforward way that precisely indicates the cause of the problem. So you should tell the users what is wrong and offer a way to fix it. Styling is also important: use colors like red that indicate a problem. However, you shouldn’t rely on colors only – a part of your audience can suffer from color vision deficiency.


10: Help and documentation

Sometimes users might need some additional help. That’s why you should offer documentation that is easy to search: is well structured, offer an option to search, has a FAQ section. Whenever possible you should offer help in context: using a tooltip is a good option in many scenarios.


Michał Stryjczak


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