Expert reviewing a heuristic evaluation

I recently changed jobs and now work as a User Experience Consultant at Interaction Design Studio. Since starting I’ve been doing a lot of work conducting heuristic evaluations (HE).

Screen shot: Expert Review

Just to recap, a HE is an inspection method or review conducted by a usability expert, of a website which complies to widely accepted (and even adopted) design principles. These design principles (called heuristics) are what is considered standard practice or rather best practice. For example, when submitting form data the system should inform the visitor that ‘something’ is happening – processing, validating, checking, submitting – something that keeps the visitor informed. An ‘official’ widely used set of heuristics are Jakob Nielsen‘s ‘Ten Usability Heuristics‘.

A practitioner involved in the field of user experience conducting HEs is an essential skill and dare say one that should be mastered. Having the ability to pick apart a website and analyse its strengths and weaknesses has many benefits, notwithstanding cost-benefits and speed to conduct. Often the findings provide insights which allow website owners to fix the quick and easy issues, the low hanging fruit fixes. In most instances conducting a HE serves to highlight potential flaws and usability failings, but also suggest or recommend ways to fix or correct the issues.

I’ve been reviewing and reading HEs conducted by other practitioners. I find it kind of interesting to read their assessments. Often they spot issues which I may have missed, or articulate the problems differently. Reviewing HEs is also a good way off checking work too, making sure there are no errors, and of course it acts as a second pair of eyes strengthening the assessment process.

But, are we writing these reviews with the end-user in mind? Are we using technical terms with explanations? Quite often the reviews I write are written for business managers, website owners and marketers, and not user experience or usability professionals. So should we place more emphasis (on our writing) on our clients? Perhaps we should be writing both a technical and a normalised version? Or should we be documenting our findings providing explanations for technical terms which seem impossible to omit?

My view is that prior to writing a HE be clear about who its recipient is. All HEs or expert reviews should be written in normalised language and where unavoidable provide explanations for technical terms.

What do you think?


Mobile device switching, for improved productivity

Use Flow: User to submit press release from mobile device

Many of us working in the corporate world operate two mobile devices. In many instances the reason is primarily because the company has a corporate deal which involves an email exchange server and an associated Blackberry device policy. At the same time people have an additional smart phone for private use, like an iPhone. I know I do.

It’s widely accepted that certain functions work on some mobile phones but not on others and that operating those functions, like text documents, on different devices culminates in a better user experience. For example, trying to create and edit a document using an iPhone is seemingly easier than say the Blackberry (that does not include the manual operators, it’s the applications functioning).

During a recent usability test (testing a news wire iPhone app) I discovered that the participant did exactly as I do. When I asked how they would edit and send a document (press release) from their device they said they’d email the document from their work mobile device (the Blackberry) to their private mobile device (the iPhone) first, then edit the document on their iPhone before sending.

What contextualised findings have I learnt from the empirical usability test? Well, other than the specific functional insights originally set out, a) the only way to access work files is through the work device and therefore only good for emailing out* and b) workers are very good at finding alternative ways, albeit unconventional or perhaps inefficient, to complete tasks.

* phoning too of course