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Nielsen’s Ten Heuristics and User Experience (UX)

Rafael Dourado

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A well-designed system allows users to perform all the tasks they need in a simple and intuitive manner. This is a core pillar of UX design. But how can teams turn this ideal into a reality? Nielsen’s Ten Heuristics can help your team create an interface with intuitive navigation, ease of interaction, and provide an overall great user experience. 

“Even the best designers produce successful products only if their designs solve the right problems. A wonderful interface to the wrong features will fail”. 

Jakob Nielsen 

Developed in 1990 by computer scientist Jakob Nielsen, the Ten Heuristics are principles for assessing the usability of interfaces. You can apply them at any time in the project. However, the Ten Heuristics are most often used in two phases: 

  1. During the project, as the basis for creating a functional layout 
  1. After the project’s execution, in which usability specialists test the product and identify problems in the interface 

Read on to learn more about each of the Ten Heuristics. 

1 – Visibility of System Status

Websites should keep users informed about what’s happening in real-time. Consider this interface on YouTube: 

UI/UX on YouTube

When we watch a playlist on YouTube, we’re informed of everything happening on one screen. The player bar shows multitudes of information in very little space: 

  • How much of the video is already loaded 
  • Where you are in the video 
  • How long the video has played 

On the right side, you can see which video you’re playing now, which ones you’ve watched, and a look at the next few videos. 

2 – No Language Barrier Between the System and the Real World

Systems should imitate the language of their users, utilizing familiar words, phrases, symbols, and concepts. Consider this Gmail interface:


UI/UX on Gmail

Here, the trashcan symbolizes deletion, the magnifying glass represents searching, and other symbols also depict concepts in a user-intuitive way. Each symbol makes a real-world connection to make its function clear.  

3 – User Control and Freedom

It’s important for users to have the freedom to perform tasks, but sometimes, they make mistakes. In these situations, you’ll want to have an “emergency exit” that allows users to return to the previous point easily.   

UI/UX of trash function on Gmail

Gmail allows users to undo the action of deleting an email in case it was a mistake. The “undo” option allows the user to recover an email immediately. Otherwise, the email sits in the “Trash” folder for 30 days before being deleted for good. This gives the user multiple opportunities and plenty of time to recover what could be mistakenly deleted information. 

4 – Consistency and Standards

Your interface must have consistency across the board. That way, users can identify patterns from the information they’ve already gained.  

UI/UX of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

Microsoft Office programs follow certain uniformity standards. Menu items are always at the top. Icons that perform the same action (cut, copy, paste etc.) are identical on all interfaces. The typography, size, and color are all the same. A user familiar with Microsoft Word will instantly understand many functionalities in Excel and PowerPoint.  

5 – Error Prevention

Along with helping the user to recover from errors, you must also aim to prevent mistakes in the first place. For example, your system can alert the user when they haven’t finished a task and tried to leave the page or ask to confirm before completing an action.


Microsoft outlook alert notification reading “Want to save your changes?”

An example of this is in Outlook. If the user closes an email before sending it, the system asks for confirmation and saves it in a draft folder for future use. 

6 – Recognition, Not Recall

Aim to limit the amount of information the user needs to memorize. Keep objects, actions, and important options visible in your interface. This helps the brain recognize patterns between similar items. 

For example, e-commerce sites usually follow patterns in their layout. The search bar is at the top, the website logo in the upper left corner, and the cart in the upper right. On the product page, there is a product photo on the left and its description on the right. Having a similar layout across e-commerce sites allows users to recognize the structure quickly.  

7 – Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

The interface must meet the needs of both newcomers and experienced users. New users need to have detailed information to perform a task. But as they get to know the interface, they should be able to interact more quickly. Therefore, the interface must allow users to adapt frequent actions according to their skill level. 

Microsoft Windows shortcuts

Windows’ keyboard shortcuts reduce the number of clicks to perform an action. This allows experienced users to bypass the search for a given action by pressing a familiar key combination. 

8 – Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

The greater the amount of information, the longer the user will need to analyze before making a choice. You also increase the risk of users abandoning the platform out of confusion or fatigue. Taking a minimal and intuitive approach to your design will avoid this, letting users navigate and act easily. 

Minimalist design of iPad Air

The Apple website is a good example of minimalist design. It is simple and objective, showing the product’s name, a short text description, and a large, highlighted photo with contrasting colors. Additionally, the elements are well-organized, and the typography is simple and clean. 

9 – Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover From Errors

If something goes wrong, it’s important to show the user what the error is and how to recover from it. The error messages must be clear and objective, using simple language. They should also appear close to the relevant action. 

UI/UX of Microsoft Outlook invalid password page.

The Outlook account creation form alerts the user when they try to input bad data, such as an incorrectly structured password. Microsoft shows where the error is in sharp red text. Then, they lay out the steps to correct the problem. 

10 – Help and Documentation

We never know when a user will need assistance. The areas for documentation and help are among the most necessary for your system. This is especially true with services that have many different functions, as they can help the user solve a problem by themselves. 

UI/UX of WordPress FAQ page

WordPress has an extensive FAQ that breaks down every action the user would take on its website. Their guides are organized with simple language and graphics to avoid confusion. 


Nielsen’s Ten Heuristics have great value in the development of digital interfaces. Using these tips effectively will improve accessibility and the user experience in your systems, which will lead to better customer satisfaction and engagement. 

If you need some guidance with incorporating Nielsen’s Ten Heuristics into your interface, Programmers can help. Our technology experts make your business more competitive, and a great user experience is only one of the many services we can provide. Contact us today to boost customer satisfaction and brand reputation.  

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