iPhone App Usability Heuristics

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: suzanne | Filed under: heuristics | Tags: | 11 Comments »

Heuristic evaluations involve systematically inspecting a user-interface and judging its compliance with a set of heuristics.  This method is a fast and effective way to identify usability flaws, however, the widely used heuristics put forth by Jakob Nielsen were originally created for desktop software.  As a result the language and examples are not always appropriate for other platforms.  Over the years, researchers and practitioners have evolved and expanded the heuristics to meet their needs.  While there are many noteworthy efforts, nearly all of them were created before the iPhone was developed.  With that in mind, I attempted to adapt Nielsen’s heuristics for the iPhone.  I’m certain there are many more useful examples, so I’ll edit this post as I–and my readers–discover more new and exciting apps.  Interested in learning more about heuristic evaluations?  Check out Useit.com’s heuristic evaluation overview.

1. Visibility of app status
The app should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback.
Example: Shazam provides feedback as it analyzes audio.  More common feedback use cases: progress indicator when sending content (e.g., email) or receiving content (e.g., latest news).

Shazam

2. Match between app and the real world
The app should sense the user’s environment and adapt the information display accordingly.
Example: Compass (lower left of app) changes the map orientation as needed.  Other apps change the display orientation from portrait to landscape when appropriate, e.g., iHandy Level.

IMG_0467

3. User control and freedom
Users often choose app functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit.”
Example: “Cancel” and “x” buttons are common iPhone controls.  In the case of “immersive” apps, e.g., video or games, users should be able to tap to access controls and/or exit.  The screen capture below is for the Facebook status update screen.

IMG_0458

4. Error prevention
Eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option.
Example: Spell check has option to reject the recommendation.  The example below is from the built-in email app.

IMG_0464

5. Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.
Example: Kindle uses standard controls for bookmarking and showing progress.  See Apple’s iPhone Human Interface Guidelines for the complete set of standards.

IMG_0379

6. Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible.
Example: The Yelp “Recents” tab stores businesses recently visited.  Maps also uses “recents” to enable users to access past addresses and routes.  Other ways to reduce recall (& minimize typing) include remembering the app’s last state as well as previous search results.

IMG_0468

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use
Reduce the number of steps required by anticipating user needs and enabling customization.
Example: Urbanspoon provides suggestions as the user enters their query.  Additionally, pre-populating fields can make users more efficient, e.g., the built-in Maps app will pre-populate the “start” field with the current location.

urban-search

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
Screens should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed.
Example: Photo controls are hidden when not in use.  The same is true for other immersive apps such as video and e-readers, e.g. Kindle.

IMG_0462

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language precisely indicating the problem and solution.
Example: Epicurious explains what content may be available when users are offline.

Epicurious

10. Help and documentation
Help should be focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too long.
Example: Ocarina provides contextual help upon startup.  The Sketches app has new user tutorials that are both playful & helpful.

IMG_0463



11 Comments on “iPhone App Usability Heuristics”

  1. 1 iPhone UX Reviews » Blog Archive » iPhone Usability Heuristics said at 9:26 pm on September 24th, 2009:

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  4. 4 Michel Futtersack said at 6:38 am on September 27th, 2009:

    Thanks for this study. I will present it to my students during my course on HCI

  5. 5 What Kicker Was Doing the Week Ending 2009-09-27 said at 11:01 pm on September 27th, 2009:

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  6. 6 links for 2009-09-28 | damonky.co.uk -web design and development said at 4:09 pm on September 28th, 2009:

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  7. 7 iPhone User » Blog Archive » iPhone UX Reviews » Blog Archive » iPhone Usability Heuristics said at 5:29 am on September 30th, 2009:

    [...] suzanne placed an interesting blog post on iPhone UX Reviews » Blog Archive » iPhone Usability HeuristicsHere’s a brief overviewWhile there are many noteworthy efforts, nearly all of them were created before the iPhone was developed. With that in mind, I attempted to adapt Nielsen’s heuristics for the iPhone. I’m certain there are many more useful examples, … [...]

  8. 8 Vinay said at 10:56 pm on October 1st, 2009:

    Great write up, talking about Help & Documentation I think Convertbot does a very tidy job of providing users a demo on using the app. Simple n easy to understand.

    Excellent articles on iPhone UX, thanks for all your contribution. Look forward for more.

    Cheers

  9. 9 Dey Alexander said at 1:40 am on October 2nd, 2009:

    One of my bugbears relates to heuristic 5. Consistency and standards – or rather, lack thereof!

    All iPhone apps should:

    * Allow horizontal display, on all screens within the app, and particularly when they have keyboard interaction as part of the app

    * Allow the pinch gesture to resize the display

  10. 10 Some bookmarks added by Alex Horstmann | BlobFisk.com said at 3:16 am on October 9th, 2009:

    [...] iPhone UX Reviews » Blog Archive » iPhone App Usability HeuristicsHeuristic evaluations involve systematically inspecting a user-interface and judging its compliance with a set of heuristics. This method is a fast and effective way to identify usability flaws, however, the widely used heuristics put forth by Jakob Nielsen were originally created for desktop software. As a result the language and examples are not always appropriate for other platforms. Over the years, researchers and practitioners have evolved and expanded the heuristics to meet their needs. While there are many noteworthy efforts, nearly all of them were created before the iPhone was developed. With that in mind, I attempted to adapt Nielsen’s heuristics for the iPhone. [...]

  11. 11 Mikko Martikainen said at 6:23 am on October 9th, 2009:

    Thanks for well thought out heuristics, I’ve already found use for these in my own work. Your post also motivated me to put some of my own thoughts into words here: http://fiftysixtysoftware.com/blog/2009/iphone-user-interface-guidelines/

    My take is very much simpler and unsophisticated, mainly stemming from my UI studies and the actual development for I’ve done over the past year or so.

    @Dey Alexander: I understand your frustration, but implementing screen rotation and zooming for all apps is not a solution. The solution is to be consistent within the design boundaries: implement screen rotation when it makes sense to do so, and when the navigation structure of the App calls for it, i.e. you shouldn’t be able to navigate from a landscape screen to a portrait screen and vice versa. As for zooming, that is not practical for all purposes and I suspect in many cases wouldn’t solve the real design issue.