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Making the Case for UX - Usability Reviews

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Posted by Padraic McElroy on November 15, 2017

Making the Case for UX - Usability Reviews

In a usability review, UX analysts review the interface of a product or prototype, comparing it against accepted usability principles. This allows for quick feedback on a product’s UI which can be used to improve the design. This is part of a series of posts that explores the benefits of UX methodologies that can take place throughout a product development lifecycle. In the last article, I discussed the value of user research that involves actual users, early in projects. This article examines UX analysis that can be done internally, without users.

Usability principles

The usability principles referred to above can vary, depending on the nature of the product. One of the best and most commonly used sources for these is Jakob Nielsen’s "10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design", which was developed in 1994. Nielsen developed these on the basis of years of experience in the field of usability engineering. They include the following:
  • Visibility of system status: The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
  • Match between system and the real world: The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
  • User control and freedom: Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
  • Consistency and standards: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design: Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
These principles have been adapted in numerous ways to work in the modern digital landscape. At their core, they are still very relevant, as they emphasise the significance of basic conventions, such as simplicity, ease of use, control and consistency. UX analysts often develop their own principles based on the above. This allows them to evaluate interfaces intended for modern day contexts such as online communities and mobile devices. An internal UX review of an interface or prototype should not be used as an alternative to usability testing with representative users. UX analysts can however use it to quickly find and fix identifiable usability issues before proceeding to usability testing.

Comparative analysis

Some comparative research early in a project will let you review the strengths and weaknesses of competitor products. This can take the form of a usability review as discussed above, reviewing the product in the context of usability principles. Analysing a product’s competition involves examining the user interface of products that are both in direct and indirect competition, i.e.
  • Direct: Products that compete directly for a similar user base. E.g. Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and
  • Indirect: Products with a different service offering but similar features. E.g. two products offering different services but which both have a check-out flow
Uncovering usability issues in a competitor product can help you to eliminate them in your product. Comparative analysis can also take place during user research interviews to get user insights into how and why people use competitor products.

Conclusion

An internal usability review is a valuable way of getting quick feedback on a product, prototype or a competitor product. It can provide relatively inexpensive feedback to UX designers by catching issues that don't comply with usability standards. Usability reviews should not however be used as a direct replacement for usability testing with actual users. This type of research gives different feedback from the perspective of the user, and can answer questions around why users do what they do. Our next post looks at the benefits of usability testing. I describe how it is a fast and effective way to validate whether you are on the right track with your product design through testing it with real users.

Other posts in this series, "Making the Case for UX"

If you’d like to know more about any of our UX services, please feel free to contact us here or have a look at our sister company, X Communications. Sources: 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design (https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/)

About the Author

Padraic McElroy
Padraic McElroy

Padraic is a UX Researcher at Arekibo. He has a keen interest product usability.