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Research Options Defined: Heuristic Analysis/Expert Review

By:
February 4, 2016

As applications and platforms continue to get more complicated, it is increasingly important to understand what end users think, feel and do when they use your application or website.

Most of our work at Crux Collaborative revolves around creating or optimizing complex processes that are behind a login. We approach these projects using a different methodology than we would a public, content-based site and we never take a one-size fits all approach when it comes to user research.

It’s important to choose the research methodology based on the type of information you are looking to collect.

This will be the first in a series of articles that focuses on the pros and cons of various research methods and how to use them to effectively meet your objectives.

In this article we’ll be covering Heuristic Analysis/Expert Review.

What is it?

A heuristic analysis is a report in which the observations and recommendations are based on our expert opinions.

 

How it’s done?

When we conduct a Heuristic Analysis, we will typically identify goals our client would like to address about the application or questions they are hoping to answer about a certain aspect of a process or interface. We may look at competing applications or similar processes in order to compare industry standards and methodologies. Our reports provide observations, recommendations and, where appropriate or requested, visual examples of how to improve the usability of an interface. We have deep knowledge evaluating financial services, healthcare and software as a service applications.

 

When to use it?

A Heuristic analysis is not a substitute for usability testing. It is not a cheap way to get around checking in directly with your users.

We find them to be most effective when:

  • Evaluating an application or a process with a lot of functionality and moving parts
  • Attempting to maximize the value of a usability study when you want to fix obvious usability challenges prior to conducting the one-on-one research.

Heuristic evaluations are less effective for content based sites because the primary navigation and calls to action tend to be more consistent page to page. When we evaluate a content-based site using this methodology we tend to include more competitive analysis and industry best practices. We also tend to focus on primary navigation structures, and consistency with contextual navigation and forms across the site.

 

Advantages

  • This is a fast research tool and takes 2 weeks from start to finish
  • It is inexpensive compared to other research methods
  • It can easily uncover issues that fall into the usability best practices category such as consistent color usage and placement of navigation etc.
  • It can help prioritize the changes that will have the biggest impact on the application

Challenges

  • You are relying on the expert opinions of the experts. If they have little experience in the market or industry you are in, they may not understand what recommendations will be appropriate or resonate with the target user
  • It’s not thorough. During a research study involving actual users, we generally uncover additional use cases, scenarios and interpretations that would have never have surfaced using a heuristic methodology

 

Why we’re good at it

Most of our team has had over a decade of experience designing complex, transactional sites and applications. Why does this matter when it comes to a heuristic analysis? Two words: pattern recognition.

Chances are that when it comes to the problems that arise from transactional user experiences for companies in regulated industries, we’ve more than likely seen it before and we have experience solving it for similar companies. This means that clients who hire us to conduct a heuristic evaluation get the benefit of the cumulative knowledge and experience from hundreds of applications we’ve worked on and the thousands of users we’ve spoken to.

In one of our heuristic evaluations, we’re able to confidently identify issues and propose solutions that are not only based in best practices, but are also based in decades of real world experiences.

If you need help determining if a heuristic analysis is the best fit for your current project needs, talk to us. We’d love to hear about what you need to better understand and what the best research approach to understanding it will be.

By John Golden
Principal

John’s career in interactive media design began in 1995 and has spanned over two decades with a focus on developing simple, streamlined approaches for complex problems.

View John's Bio

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