Heuristic evaluation and usability testing: Which is the right for you?

July 29, 2024
16 minute read
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Heuristic evaluation and usability testing are distinct techniques for approaching usability problems.

If you are considering conducting usability testing for your website or app, you should continue reading this article.

Once you finish reading, you should be able to choose the best evaluation method for user interface design of your products or services. Each has its pros and cons, and we are outlining them. You will also understand why these two approaches are distinct and know how to choose the better option for your product or service.

Key takeaways

  • The difference between heuristic evaluation and usability testing
  • The 3 testing methods
  • How an expert evaluator explores a user interface
  • The evaluation development process
  • A roadmap for your evaluation to be a success

What is a heuristic evaluation?

A heuristic evaluation is when experts examine a user interface and identify the good and bad in its design. These evaluators improve the usability of your product.

Heuristics are the benchmarks for the test and ten reign supreme for usability engineering. The most commonly tested are outlined below, and we will explain why they are used to evaluate the usability of a product.

Visibility of system status

Your UI should keep your users aware of what they are doing. It should promptly provide feedback to guide them on their journey through using your product. Finding usability design problems when one or more professional evaluators look for design flaws will greatly enhance your end users and their experience but keeping users informed.

Real-world applicability

Your product's system, such as menus and other functions, should communicate with your user base using their language. You should use phrases and concepts they use when discussing their business and avoid high-level, system-oriented terms only a few may understand. Lastly, in this benchmark, an expert will examine how you structure data and if it appears in a logical and natural order.

User control

In this test, experts examine if your product or service UI allows users to undo issues; if they incidentally click on a button, they should be able to undo the action quickly and promptly. Similarly, they should be able to redo something if they accidentally delete it or move in the wrong direction.  It will result in a better user experience (UX) and make it easier to recruit users to your platform. It shows you have a well thought out product.


In this benchmark, your UI is examined from a customer's perspective. It will help you understand if customers understand your UI or feel lost using its features.

Error prevention

Your UI should prevent users from making common errors; this test will ensure it does. Using this guideline, you will know which features you should enable confirmation popups to prevent unwanted deletions or other actions that could cause a user distress or anxiety.

Reducing cognitive load

Your product should be intuitive for users, and they should be able to learn to use your system easily. Your users should never need to look for instructions; they should be accessible and easy to locate. Using this benchmark ensures your app or website is simple and easy to use with clear instructions.

Error diagnostics and recovery

When your users do have an error, can they understand it with ease? In this benchmark, your error messages are scrutinized so you know if they make sense to users and offer a reload map to resolve them quickly.

Minimalist design

Error dialogues and other features in your UI should only contain information relevant to the user and the task at hand. Including irrelevant or extra information will compete with the most important information you need to share and reduce their visibility.


In a perfect world, your customers should be able to intuitively use your product without referring to help documentation. However, as this is rarely the case, this benchmark assesses how simple it is for users to search for information related to completing a task and whether or not the documentation has clear, straightforward, and actionable steps to guide the user in completing the task in as little time as possible.

If you want to get a holistic view of your product or service's UI, then an evaluation can be a great choice because it is:

  • Inexpensive
  • Intuitive
  • Fairly comprehensive

However, there are some drawbacks associated with the approach.

Sometimes, an evaluation can uncover problems that may not be addressed immediately. You could end up with false alarms or spend time addressing issues that customers are not bothered with.

The result is that your business could spend more than necessary when addressing less critical issues with your product or service.

Now, let's compare this to end users in your target audience testing your product so you can understand the difference compared to heuristic evaluation. These two different techniques are helpful for understanding the system’s gaps but achieved use it two methods.

What is user testing, and how is it different from heuristic evaluation?

Customer testing is a great approach when you need to identify the problems your users are experiencing in real time.

Unlike heuristic evaluation, which experts conduct, you can conduct usability testing with your customers. Real users will identify their issues with your UI, so the problems you find will merit investigation. Similarly, because users are finding the errors, you know they are actual problems your users experience, so you won't waste time with a false positive that could occur during the evaluation.

But it's not always the simplest route. You must invest time and effort into creating testing materials that tell users the flow you want them to take with your product. You may even need to write an interview guide. But, the most time-intensive aspect of customer testing is recruiting willing users who will give your test the time needed to succeed.

Lastly, this can be more costly than heuristic testing because you may need to pay participants for their time. Meanwhile, with heuristic testing, you can ask your team of experts to complete the evaluation for you, and you will only need to pay them what you're currently giving them for their time.

Can you understand the biggest differences between these two types of tests?

Essentially, a heuristic evaluation is about perceived issues your users could have through the eyes of experts. Audience  testing gives you a first-hand experience with the users themselves.

How can you decide between user testing and heuristic evaluation?

You know your business needs a second set of eyes to review your UI. But how should you choose between heuristic evaluation and user tests?

You should consider your budget and time. If your business has a large budget and a team to help you find users for testing, investing in audience testing may be worthwhile.

At the least, your data will be concrete, and you will understand how real users experience your product or service's UI.

On the other hand, heuristic evaluation can be much more economical and completed more quickly. You will not need to look for users or offer them financial incentives to complete tasks related to your UI.

Let's assume your business is a startup and your budget isn't never-ending. In that case, you will likely prefer a heuristic evaluation.

So, let's go through the process of an evaluation.

The three types of usability evaluation

When it comes to potential usability testing, three terms come to most business owner's minds:

  • Heuristic analysis
  • Cognitive walkthroughs
  • Real users analysis

People tend to think of these as synonyms, but they are not. They are distinct and all valuable. User’s examining your produce and interaction design of it have the following attributes:

Who: The user of the product or service

What: the product or service is used in real-life situations

Why: To understand how your users will complete typical tasks and correct UI issues that make task completion more difficult.

A cognitive walkthrough is slightly different, as it involves a real user. However, a cognitive walkthrough is for:

Who: A new user of your product or service

What: To perform goal-oriented tasks

Why: To understand if your UI has a sequential order of processes to guide users through completing activities as designed.

Lastly is the heuristic evaluation. The evaluation is for:

Who: An expert

What: To compare usability to the benchmarks mentioned above

Why: To see if your product's UI aligns with users' needs and expectations through common usability principles.

The information outlined above clarifies that this type of evaluation does not include real users.

So, who does if real users are not helping you solve UI issues? How is the system expert equipped to help you solve issues related to your product if they are experts in UI? They likely have more intuition regarding usability than a standard user, right?

Yes, they likely do. However, they are also evaluators with a background in:

  • Psychology
  • Computer and information science
  • Business

So, you will still gain valuable insight, even if it isn't from real-time users.

How do you conduct an evaluation?

Ideally, you will gather five to eight usability experts to test your product's UI.

Professional evaluators work by using your product and flaggin potential errors they find. During their evaluation, they assign a severity number for issues they encounter.

They use a severity scale with one purpose: to help you organize your backlog. The number assigned by an evaluator tells you which issues must be fixed promptly.

At the end of the evaluation, you will receive a thorough report that gives you a holistic overview of your UI.

It's a good idea to hire more than one evaluator. Not only are issues subjective, but they can also miss usability issues found by another evaluator.

If you opt for 5-8 evaluators, you should be able to identify up to 80% of your product's issues.

Why should you complete usability-testing?

You should complete usability testing if you cannot afford or invest time in finding test users.

Testing your product and finding 80% of potential issues is far superior to launching a product blindly without UI testing in any capacity.

During testing, your evaluators should follow rigid guidelines and steps in a clearly defined order. The order mandates they complete one set of tasks at a time and progress through your whole system.  It’s the best way to identify problems early on and include best practices for actual users.

Skipping a step in the process or omitting a step can result in flawed results, making software applications or products receive invalid analysis which is a serious problem.

We understand your product's importance and want you to avoid major usability problems.

So, let's explain our process. If you decide by the end of this post, you need a heuristic evaluation of your product. You can know the steps that should be followed or perhaps have the confidence to contact us for guidance.

How do we conduct heuristic analysis?

We follow a clear process to ensure your evaluation is effective and fruitful. Here is everything usability testing involves as an evaluator looks for common problems.

Step 1: Define your evaluation's scope

Before conducting a heuristic evaluation, you must understand what you seek to gain from it.

You should know if you need to test one or every UI aspect.

In most instances, businesses will have multiple user flows, so you should identify if you want to test all or one.

Next, decide on a budget and deadline. Setting a timeline is necessary so you can reach your goals quickly.

With the former defined, you can begin to narrow your scope to specific aspects of your UI, such as:

  • User logins
  • New user registration
  • Newsletter signups
  • Shopping cart funnel flow
  • Checkout process

When you limit your scope, you have more control over your evaluation, and it will lead to better overall outcomes.

Simply put, ask yourself, "What do I need to test most?"

Step 2: Know your target user

Understanding who uses your product will help you define their goals. You need to map their user flows to understand what they hope to achieve from your product or service before you can address potential issues they may experience.

Consider the following:

Some people may not mind creating an account to use your product or service.

But others may see it as unnecessary, especially in the case of online services that are quick and simple, and they would prefer to abandon your product altogether in lieu of a similar service that allows them to achieve their goals without registering.

Step 3: Choose your benchmarks (heuristics)

Now is the time to choose which benchmarks to compare your product or service's UI against.

You must choose these wisely and concordantly with what you defined during the first two steps mentioned above.

Step 4: Create your evaluation system

Tell users how you want them to evaluate your product and report its severity.

Some business owners may adopt a traffic light system where red is severe, yellow is minor, and green is a less pertinent error to resolve.

However, other business owners may like a number system where 1 indicates a problem isn't severe, but ten means it needs to be fixed immediately.

Make sure you share your chosen evaluation system with your evaluators.

We make notes as we define the severity of issues so you know our reasoning from a professional evaluator's point of view.

Step 5: Analyze your findings

Once we complete an evaluation, we provide you with a comprehensive report. Most evaluators will, and you should then take it and summarize the findings to plan action.

A benefit of multiple evaluators is the ability to cross-examine reports.

How much should you pay for a heuristic evaluation?

Heuristic analysis is usually more cost-effective than user tests. It will also save you more time.

However, many clients ask if paying for a heuristic evaluation is necessary, and it depends on your in-house team of designers.

We usually recommend that business owners contract someone outside of their in-house team for such evaluations because:

  • In-house teams are too attached to the project.
  • They can't identify issues adequately as they designed the UI.
  • Your time may feel overwhelmed with the extra work given.

However, an in-house team performing a heuristic evaluation is better than no evaluation.

So, whether you should pay for a heuristic evaluation depends on two questions.

  1. Do you trust your team will be 100% objective and fully critical of the UI that they designed?
  2. Can you afford an external evaluation?

We aren't implying your team cannot complete a heuristic analysis of your product's UI.

It is human nature not to find flaws in products or services we create, which is why industries such as copywriting and copyediting exist.


This blog post outlined the differences between usability testing and heuristic analysis. We covered what constitutes a heuristic analysis and the drawbacks and benefits of it in comparison to users analyzing your product.

Not all businesses have the time or funds to invest in user tests; we highly recommend a heuristic evaluation in such cases.

After a heuristic evaluation, you should see higher user engagement, lower bounce rates, and increased sales.

Save our guide so you can refer to it when you conduct a heuristic analysis of your product's UI. Or, if you would like help with this, click the yellow "get started" button at the top right of your screen to schedule a meeting with us today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between a heuristic evaluation and a usability test?

Heuristic evaluation involves an expert analyzing the user interface against usability principles, whereas usability testing evaluates a product by observing real users interact with it. This allows for more accurate insights as problems found with usability testing are true issues that at least one user encountered.

What is usability evolution or heuristic evaluation?

Usability evolution, or heuristic evaluation, is the process of evaluating an interface design based on a set of guidelines to ensure it is user-friendly. By following this method, designers can identify usability issues before releasing a product.

How is heuristic evaluation different from usability testing Mcq?

Heuristic evaluation looks for UI problems by identifying them while usability testing finds true user issues by having users interact with the product. Usability testing also highlights problems that heuristic evaluation may miss.

What is the difference between end users analyzing my product and a professional evaluation?

Heuristic Evaluation is done by usability experts to identify potential problems in the interface, while user tests involve average users performing tasks to identify any problems that impact their experience.

When should heuristic evaluation and usability testing be conducted in the design process?

Heuristic evaluation should be conducted throughout the design process, whereas usability testing is best performed at later stages when a prototype or product is available.

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