My thoughts on work and life

The Quiet Usability Heuristics

We are all familiar with a variety of common heuristics which we can use to measure, test and design interfaces. However, there are a few that tend to get overlooked, but like all good children they deserve their day in the sun! In this post I’ll just touch on some of the key aspects of these. A quick search on the web will give whole reams of further information should you be interested.

Window Organisation: By decreasing the time the user spends adjusting, moving and re-sizing windows, we can increase the amount of time they spend concentrating on their real goal, and consequently increase user-satisfaction. By observing the relative locations and size of spawned windows in relation to the parent window and other related windows one can judge whether the placement is optimal. If a certain task requires the user to move windows around, and re-size them to achieve their goal, this is a sure-fire indication of bad usability.

Some key characteristics of good window organization are
– simple user navigation
– minimal and simple user window management

The textual aspect of interfaces is very important. Much of the information imparted by a UI is textual, therefore the layout and form of the text has a significant impact on the ease with which the user assimilates information. Since text is one of the primary sources of information for users it is important how it is worded. If the text is worded poorly then the users will perceive the interface poorly. Certain standards do exist for text size, labelling, fonts and formatting.

Clarity: Crowded screens are difficult to understand and hence are difficult to use. Experimental results show that the overall density of the screen should not exceed 40%, whereas local density within groupings shouldn’t exceed 62%. Items that are logically connected should be grouped together to communicate their implied association, and can be tested against. Clarity can be empirically determined through ratios of signal to noise at the interface.

There are many more less lauded UI heuristics out there, and in the coming weeks I’ll come back and talk more about these.


  1. Terrence Wood

    Chris, where do the figures you present under “clarity” come from?

  2. Christopherkhalil

    Hi Terrence,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment much appreciated! This particular heuristic comes from a paper by Deborah Mayhew in 1992 called ‘Principles and guidelines in software user interface design’.
    Hope this helps, if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask!

  3. Mitch

    Chris, can you tell me how would a college graduate go about getting started in the field of usability? Is there an entry level job that could lead to information architect or user experience lead?

  4. Christopherkhalil

    Hey Mitch,

    That is a very good question. I think times are changing a bit now, a few years ago there wasn’t really an academic path into this job (except through, perhaps library science for IA). Now there are good postgraduate courses out there in IxD, IA etc. That might be one option worth considering.

    Otherwise, there are plenty of real world opportunities to get into this field. One advantage is that because there are so few courses on IxD, IA etc, few people come into the game professionally trained. A good friend of mine trained as a visual designer at my previous company and did a bit of IxD. She now is a Senior IA. So going in as a web designer/visual designer and making it clear to your new employee your career aspirations is definitely a good path.

    Otherwise, remember there is a deep shortage of people in the field. Keep an eye out for junior positions, and apply for them. To help improve your chances I would consider reading some classic texts such as ‘About Face 3’ by Cooper et Al. Then, off your own back, use the knowledge you have picked up and have a go at a UxD excercise (such as a Heuristic Evaluation of a famous website, followed by a proposed re-design of that website based on the results of your HE). This sort of thing can be added to your portfolio and I promise will deeply impress a prospective new employer looking for a junior IA/IxD/UxD position. It will show initiative and skill.

    Hope this helps!

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