An Interface should teach you how to use it — the 10 Heuristics of Usability..

I’ve been working quite a bit on UX / UI design lately. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that there’s a discipline of science behind developing User interfaces for digital devices. At MIT a prerequisite course in User Interface design is Computer-Human psychology. One of the main text books used there was published in 1986 and many of the concepts still hold true. Every year there is a huge conference called CHI or The ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems where engineers on the cutting edge of changing the way humans interact with computers get together to geek out. There is a LOT of thought that goes into how to organize data, and how to create an environment that teaches the user how to understand that data in a way that’s meaningful to them without hurting their brain.

A well built User Interface has clear steps that cannot be ignored by the user while allowing them the most amount of navigational freedom possible. There are a number of Design techniques that can be used and there’s literally an infinite number of well built interfaces that are all slightly different. It truly is the line where art meets engineering in the realm of Software.

If you’re wondering how to best architect your information there are 10 commandments to keep in mind. These were originally published by Jakob Nielsen p.H.D :

  1. Visibility of system status:The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Consistency and standards:Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
  5. Error prevention:Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
  6. Recognition rather than recall:Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use: Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
  8. 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.
  9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors:Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
  10. Help and documentation: Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.


Memorizing these Heuristics lays the foundation for some really excellent UI environments. When you read through these they seem like common sense but far too many designers ignore some of these key basics. It is always painfully apparent when someone who knows the above has designed an interface. Everyone who uses it enjoys using it and remembers their experience. This is often the make or break point for competing applications in the web marketplace.

Keep pumping out beautiful designs, and stay tuned….

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this helpful information. I have shared this article with designers at my company.

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