Summary of Usability Inspection Methods

by Jakob Nielsen on January 1, 1995

Summary: Usability inspection is the generic name for a set of methods that are all based on having evaluators inspect a user interface. Typically, usability inspection is aimed at finding usability problems in the design, though some methods also address issues like the severity of the usability problems and the overall usability of an entire system. Many inspection methods lend themselves to the inspection of user interface specifications that have not necessarily been implemented yet, meaning that inspection can be performed early in the usability engineering lifecycle.


For more information, see the chapters on each of the methods in the book Usability Inspection Methods (John Wiley & Sons).

  • Heuristic evaluation is the most informal method and involves having usability specialists judge whether each dialogue element follows established usability principles (the "heuristics").
  • Heuristic estimation is a variant in which the inspectors are asked to estimate the relative usability of two (or more) designs in quantitative terms (typically expected user performance).
  • Cognitive walkthrough uses a more explicitly detailed procedure to simulate a user's problem-solving process at each step through the dialogue, checking if the simulated user's goals and memory content can be assumed to lead to the next correct action.
  • Pluralistic walkthrough uses group meetings where users, developers, and human factors people step through a scenario, discussing each dialogue element.
  • Feature inspection lists sequences of features used to accomplish typical tasks, checks for long sequences, cumbersome steps, steps that would not be natural for users to try, and steps that require extensive knowledge/experience in order to assess a proposed feature set.
  • Consistency inspection has designers who represent multiple other projects inspect an interface to see whether it does things in the same way as their own designs.
  • Standards inspection has an expert on an interface standard inspect the interface for compliance.
  • Formal usability inspection combines individual and group inspections in a six-step procedure with strictly defined roles to with elements of both heuristic evaluation and a simplified form of cognitive walkthroughs.

Heuristic evaluation, heuristic estimation, cognitive walkthrough, feature inspection, and standards inspection normally have the interface inspected by a single evaluator at a time (though heuristic evaluation is based on combining inspection reports from a set of independent evaluators to form the list of usability problems and heuristic estimation involves computing the mean of the individual estimates). In contrast, pluralistic walkthrough and consistency inspection are group inspection methods. Many usability inspection methods are so easy to apply that it is possible to have regular developers serve as evaluators, though better results are normally achieved when using usability specialists


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