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Heuristic Evaluation

I conducted a heuristic evaluation of a popular travel planning website. A heuristic evaluation is an inspection method in which you systematically apply heuristics (qualitative guidelines) to find and explain problems.

I applied Jakob Nielsen’s heuristics:

  1. Visibility of system status

  2. Match between system and the real world

  3. User control and freedom

  4. Consistency and standards

  5. Error prevention

  6. Recognition rather than recall

  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design

  9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

  10. Help and documentation

My goal was to apply Nielsen’s heuristics to critique the user interface designs of the website by performing detailed heuristic evaluations. I’d like to share these evaluations as a way to illustrate how to apply this UX method.

Design Brief

The task was to compare the process of buying a round-trip ticket on a website. I could pick any mode of transit I liked. And I had to try purchasing a round-trip ticket from my home city, the following Saturday*, to any destination that I liked. I had to start on the homepage and work my way through the task while keeping a list of the heuristics handy. As I discovered usability problems with the site, I made sure to write them down and take a screenshot. Once I had finalized the list of violations, I gave a severity rating to each.

I used this severity rating scale:

0 — don’t agree that this is a usability problem

1 — cosmetic problem

2 — minor usability problem

3 — major usability problem; important to fix

4 — usability catastrophe; imperative to fix

I was to summarize the task I was trying to accomplish, show a screenshot where the violation occurred, list the heuristic violated, and describe the violation and its severity.

The Execution - RENFE (Spain's state-owned train company)

Task: Purchasing a return ticket from Madrid to Barcelona on Saturday 19/12/20, and returning on 20/12/20.

First Issue/Violation: Being unsure about which option to pick when choosing the train station.

Severity: 2

Heuristics violated: Help and Error Prevention Description.

When trying to choose my “departing from” and “arriving at” cities, I was not sure which of the train station choices to choose. It would have been helpful to be able to hover over the choices

Second Issue/Violation: Despite having set the page to English, I still can see some text written in Spanish.

Severity: 5

Heuristics violated: Recognition Description.

Across the whole page, the text is written in both Spanish and English languages making my experience on the site really confused. What if the user is not a Spanish speaker? And what if the text in Spanish is actually telling me something important?

Third Issue/Violation: After having selected my outward journey apparently nothing was happening.

Severity: 3

Heuristics violated: Visibility Description

I chose my outward journey but the bar with my selection, price, and the “next” button were far a the bottom of the page. Therefore, I had to scroll down a bit to see it and move on to the next task.

Fourth Issue/Violation: Insufficient information regarding their cancellation fees

Severity: 3

Heuristics violated: Help Description

I noticed that my ticket included two promos, “Change fee 20%” and “Cancellation fee 30%”. I clicked to find out what they meant by that. There was some information offered, but it was too generic and didn’t really help me much. At the bottom right corner of the pop-up window, there is a see regulation” link, I also clicked on that but I went to another generic help page and I couldn’t find out more. I was left wondering what really was their policy regards cancellations.

Fifth Issue/Violation: Unable to book the return ticket. I couldn’t reach my goal of buying the round-trip tickets and, in the end, I had to go to another website.

Severity: 5

Heuristics violated: Consistency Description

Every time I was trying to select my return ticket this pop-up window came-up saying that an error was found. I couldn’t complete my task and I was left with no tickets

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash