UX Rules Beyond the Web

There’s a vibrant industry around user experience (UX) thought today, but as UX  moves beyond flat screens we’re finding that a lot of the best practices and known methods are too specific. What applies to call-to-action styling and page navigation on desktop web and mobile is often totally inapplicable when interacting with Alexa or Siri, or diving into virtual reality headgear.

Early UX and interface research dealt with the same problem. When Jakob Nielsen, now head of Nielsen Norman Group, was at Bellcore in 1994, he published a report called Enhancing the Explanatory Power of Usability Heuristics (pdf).

The report explores usability and user experience heuristics. Heuristics in this case are generalized methods to solve groups of problems — not specific solutions but ideas and processes you can fall back on as rules of thumb.

Importantly, Nielsen and team assessed heuristics for telephone interfaces and text-based environments as well as graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs, back then things like Windows desktop environments, have a huge overlap with web design. The idea was that problems that arise between GUIs and text-based interfaces, like DOS, and telephone interfaces are more generalizable as overall user experience ‘rules’.

Nielsen started with a long list of usability fixes, and pared down which of these solutions are most useful. To figure out which heuristics are most important, Nielsen split out results into the heuristics which solve

  1. The greatest number of UX problems, and
  2. Those that are most effective at solving serious problems
From Enhancing the Explanatory Power of Usability Heuristics (pdf).

I’ve been keeping these lists at hand and referencing them often as I look through projects we’re working on. They’re useful for getting a broader view of what we’re looking at, and help us solve larger numbers of problems with reproducible techniques.

— Phillip