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Nielsen Heuristics: 10 Usability Principles To Improve UI Design

Renowned usability expert Jakob Nielsen developed a collection of heuristics called "Nielsen's Heuristics" to assess and enhance user interface usability. These are broad rules, or heuristics, that are used as a checklist for usability assessment in the design phase.

Here are the 10 Nielsen heuristics:

  1. Visibility of system status;
  2. Match between the system and the real world;
  3. User control and freedom;
  4. Consistency and standards;
  5. Error prevention;
  6. Recognition rather than recall;
  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use;
  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design;
  9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors;
  10. Help and documentation.

1. Visibility of system status:

Keeping people informed about their actions and the proceedings of a particular interaction is the first premise. Users can better plan their next course of action when they are aware of the present status of the system and the outcomes of their previous interactions. In this sense, it's critical to give prompt feedback that both directs and leads the user to the following steps while also informing them of the interaction's state.

For example, the Netflix system displays a brief screen with the loading time for the next episode when you finish watching an episode of a series.

2. Match between the system and the real world:

According to this theory, a system ought to always communicate with users in their native tongue and adhere to common sense norms.

This entails staying away from marketing speak and other idioms that the people developing the product may understand, but their audience may need to understand. Thus, make use of terms, expressions, and ideas that your intended audience is acquainted with.

Additionally, components should appear in a logical order that makes sense to consumers based on their life experiences to create a connection with the real world.

3. User control and freedom:

A well-designed user interface should never force the user to do something or make decisions for them. Rather, the system needs merely to recommend possible routes for the users to follow.

It would help if you designed user interfaces that allow users to do as they choose, with the exception of breaking system rules or interfering with certain functionalities.

But remember that consumers could change their minds or make a mistake. As a result, it's important to consider how the system will enable users to go back and change their actions as needed.

4. Consistency and standards:

This heuristic focuses on avoiding user confusion by utilizing consistent language throughout the system.

Users should, therefore, be able to understand the meaning of any words, icons, and symbols used while interacting with a product.

As a result, an interface needs to adhere to the standards of the system to preserve interaction patterns in various scenarios.

Designers ought to produce a unified style that uses the same terminology and handles related elements in the same manner.

5. Error prevention:

According to this Nielsen heuristic, a well-designed system should always be able to avert issues.

Consider the delete files button, for instance. We must think that users may inadvertently click this button or that they may imagine a different outcome.

To avoid user frustration in the event that they unintentionally destroy data, it is imperative to provide a warning message asking the user to confirm their decision before proceeding.

6. Recognition rather than recall:

As can be observed, Nielsen's heuristics are designed to lessen users' cognitive load, which encompasses their memory capacity.

Because it is easier for us to recognize something than to remember it, it is crucial to consider ways to make options and action components accessible.

It should be optional for the user to memorize every operation or feature of the system. As a result, always include brief explanations of important details that can help consumers navigate your designs. For instance, menu items ought to be accessible or easily visible when needed.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use:

Both novice and expert users should find your designs useful.

Observe that novice users require more specific information. However, individuals gain experience with a product as they continue to use it. Let them personalize procedures like setting up keyboard shortcuts.

Moreover, it attempts to enable personalization by adjusting functionality and content for specific users.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design:

Please don't choose functionality over design.

As a result, design interactions with just the most important information. Steers clear of superfluous graphic components that could overwhelm and divert users.

Keep in mind that every additional piece of information will compete with pertinent, vital information and divert focus away from the most important.

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

The user should be able to recognize potential issues and mistakes in your designs and find remedies for them.

To do this, provide error messages in simple, concise code. Additionally, remember to explain the issue to them and provide a fix.

10. Help and documentation:

Nielsen's final heuristic relates to task-specific material that clarifies how users should do their activities.

Even while all of the heuristics above are meant to help users avoid mistakes and make it simple to navigate without assistance, more support should always be provided when needed.

Deliver help documentation that is always simple to find and task-specific in this way. Providing users with a list of specific steps to follow to accomplish a task is a good practice.

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