User Interface Design: Important Usability Heuristics

When it comes to user interface (UI) design, Jakob Nielsen's heuristics are arguably the heuristics that are used the most. They're not specific usability guidelines at all; they're general principles that work quite well.

Jakob Nielsen is, in a nutshell, a Danish human-computer interaction researcher and web usability consultant. These principles that he established are enacted globally.

Read on to learn more about Nielsen's usability heuristics for UI design:

Error Prevention

Of course, error messages should be taken into consideration. They should be concise and well thought out. Wouldn't it be better to completely eliminate the need for them to pop up at all? Make sure any conditions prone to error are addressed right away. If they must be there, make sure users get a confirmation option before they actually commit to whatever's about to happen.

  • Mistakes - These errors happen when the design and the user's mental model don't jive.
  • Slips - These are errors that are accidentally overlooked and could have been avoided.

Usability Heuristic: A bowling lane with bumpers so that the bowling ball makes it all the way to the pins at the end.

Example: Bumper guards on bowling lanes prevent the bowling ball from ending up in the gutter.

Match Systems with the Real World

Designs should not be hifalutin or too technical, instead adjusted for best understanding of the user. Aside from words and phrases, even the concepts should have some kind of familiarity with whoever's using it. Any internal jargon will likely cause more than confusion: it may lead people to choose another product altogether. Information has to have a flow that's natural, logical, and relevant to the real world's present state.

An awareness of the target market and users needs to be at hand. Concepts, images, icons, terms—just because it makes sense to your team doesn't mean everyone else will get it.

Usability Heuristic: A stovetop whose controls match the heating element's layouts.

Example: Having the controls match the heating elements' layout gives users no problem figuring out which controls correspond to heating elements.

System Status Visibility

Users should always have a full-on awareness of what's happening. This means that a feedback loop should be in place with a reasonable timeframe. Users can find out what their interactions led to and plan better how to move forward as soon as they get the updated system status. When interactions reach a level of predictability, trust in the brand is established. Of course, any products put out by a brand that's gained consumer trust will have trust by default as well.

Usability Heuristic: Person using Google Maps on their phone with drop pins within the app to show present location.

Example: Location pins onscreen within Google Maps need to show a person's present location so they can decide where to go from there.


User interface plays a key role in the overall experience of a user on a website. It's important for customer engagement to be maximized by using key usability heuristics. This includes error prevention, system status visibility, and matching systems with the real world.

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