10 Usability Heuristics with Examples

10 Usability Heuristics with Examples

Imaginary design by Icons8 to improve the User Experience of a Boarding pass. Refer here.

User Experience is a qualitative metric subject to many factors. It’s an evolving discipline and it’s evident when the forerunner of great user experiences, Apple, humbly tags their iOS Human Interface Guidelines as Beta. Google termed their material design guidelines as a living document which will be updated regularly. One of the pioneers who tried to objectively evaluate the user experience on digital platforms is Jakob Nielsen with his heuristic evaluation. Though they date back to the 90’s, these general rules of thumb are still valid and are used today.

In this article, I attempt to explain these 10 rules in common language with examples:

1. Visibility of System Status:

When we were working on a 3rd party API for image cropping in our TutorsWeb application, we observed one usability issue. When the user uploads an image for cropping, he/she needs to wait until the image appears on screen with the square box. Depending on internet speed, this load time varies for many users. There is no way for the user to know if he needs to wait or continue to the next page.

This principle states that the user should know what’s going on inside the system. We need to give a feedback of his/her action within a reasonable time. This feedback is normally associated with points of action and can be provided using a color change, loader, time-left graphics, etc.

One example is twitter making a swoosh sound when a tweet is being posted. Another example is Google Drive showing the status of a document upload.

2. Match between system and the real world:

Is there something on your application that a user may not understand? This is very common to miss since we get associated with the product for over a period of time. It’s also important for the application to speak the language of the target user base.

Neil Patel could very well say “Sign Up” on his landing page. Instead, he chose to say ambitiously — “Yes, I want Neil to teach me how to grow my Business!”. It sets the context and speaks the everyday language.

3. User Control and Freedom:

This principle talks about giving the user the freedom to navigate and perform actions. The freedom to undo any accidental actions. This principle can be best illustrated by the Gmail’s flash message with undo action when we accidentally delete an email.

And below is Facebook checking on me if I tapped “Cancel” by mistake.

4. Consistency and Standards:

Consistency is the key. A Submit button in one page should look the same across the site on any page. If we show the data in a particular table format on one page, it should look the same the next time data is being shown in tabular format. If the header is displayed in a certain way on the public pages, it should be the same when he/she logs in.

How the same button can transform across different pages of the same site. Note that this is not a change of state.

Externally, it’s risk-less to follow the standard conventions. A “How It Works” link invokes similar expectation for a user across sites. Google Plus ambitiously launched “+1” to counter Facebook’s “Like” without much success. Facebook’s “Like” already became a standard and sites like LinkedIn adopted it without contesting.

Brand Flakes for Breakfast’s Illustration

5. Error Prevention:

How many times did your outlook remind you that there is no attachment in the email while you mentioned that something is attached? Outlook intuitively scans the email for such keywords and alerts the user before sending. This is Error Prevention.

Below is an example of Google Search trying to correct my spelling:

If you have set some rules for the format of user password, try to validate it as the user types rather than waiting for him to click submit.

6. Recognition rather than recall:

It’s always better to suggest the user a set of options than to let him remember and type the whole thing. The goal is to minimize the application of user memory.

Below is an example of Quora suggesting possible questions based on what I am trying to type.

One more example is when Quora lets you pick the topics of interest from a list of options rather than asking you to type all of them which would have been disastrous.

7. Flexibility and Efficiency of use:

The Interface should be flexible transforming itself between a novice user and an advanced user. One frequents this option while installing a new software that asks if the user wants to go ahead with default installation or custom installation. An advanced user chooses a custom installation to cut out the unnecessary services.

Below is an example of setting up Exchange on Android which hides the complex features under Advanced.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design:

Prioritization comes to play when this aspect is being considered. For the designer or the developer, all the information that’s being presented on the page is relevant. The product manager needs to ask the end user if it is so. Is every information displayed on interface necessary and useful?

Google has been resisting the temptation to show more information on their search page for years. This is could be shown as the example of the best possible minimalist design.

Google: Nothing More and Nothing Less.

Interfaces need to be cleared of unnecessary elements and content that do not support the page goals and tasks. Apple provides only the basic information of feature hiding additional information under “Learn More”. Check the same product on a retail website to understand the importance of clutter-free experience.

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

Errors are inadvertent in the user journey. A check needs to be made if those errors are being explained to the user in understandable language. In the below example, I have entered a fictitious username and password and the error message I got is either the username or the password is incorrect. Here we are not informing the user if the username is invalid or if the password is wrong.

Below is the example of how MailChimp is handling this scenario:

A check needs to be done if exception handling is done across the application so that relevant messages can be shown to the user. Empty state messaging, 404, 500, etc are some examples. There is no dearth of innovative 404 pages on the web. One example is below:

10. Help and Documentation:

If a user has reached this step, something is not right with the interface. A great user interface lets the user navigate through it;s features without any documentation or training. But if there is any user who could not make it out, adequate help should be provided within the product.

Below is an example of GoDaddy’s Help page. While there is a search field, there are main categories and frequently asked queries on the same page.


These guidelines are general rules of thumb and will mostly be applicable to any web & mobile application with some exceptions. Always use your judgment to implement these principles or any other UX practices by keeping yourself in end user’s shoes.

This article appeared on prototyp blog 

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