1.1 – Problem Identification: Heuristic Evaluation

An appropriate rationale (must be) provided for the problem chosen. The justification should go beyond ‘scratching you own itch’. Validate that this is a real problem/need.


The previous post detailed how www.irishwrecksonline.net was chosen as our most likely project “problem”. The next step was to conduct a heuristic evaluation to find the usability problems in the UI design, to further support the selection of Irish Wrecks as the focus of a redesign. Additionally, we would be able to start discussing and planning our remedial steps for those usability problems as part of an iterative design process.

Jakob Nielsen speaks about heuristic evaluation being difficult for a single individual to do, because one person will never be able to find all the usability problems in a UI. Therefore being part of a project group was immediately beneficial, as it was likely that each of us would find different usability problems.

Heuristic Evaluation

1. Visibility of system status – Fail
Although the site performs well and is fast to load content, there is no appropriate feedback given when users perform certain tasks throughout the site. For example there is no UI change to indicate a “hover” action, etc.

01 Nielsen's Heuristics - Visibility of System Status
(click on all images to zoom in)

2. Match between system and the real world – Pass
Overall the site uses words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms.

02 Nielsen's Heuristics - Match Between System and Real World   02-1-nielsens-heuristics-match-between-system-and-real-world

3. User control and freedom – Fail
The filtering system for searching wrecks does not allow users to easily reset filters. On multiple pages there is no clear navigation to allow users to return to the previous page. Also, some map sections allow you to zoom in repeatedly, however there is no method provided to zoom back out – only a Home button to go back to the start (see below).

03 Nielsen's Heuristics - User Control and Freedom

4. Consistency and standards – Fail
The site layout changes dramatically from page to page and does not offer a clear global navigation. UI elements are disparate and perform different actions throughout the site (see below).

04 Nielsen's Heuristics - Consistency and Standards

5. Error prevention – Fail
The search system immediately brings the user to a new page once a single filter is selected, preventing users from changing their mind or selecting additional filters (see below).

05 Nielsen's Heuristics - Error Prevention

6. Recognition rather than recall – Fail
Specific information on wrecks is buried within lists and sub categories rather than providing a simple way to navigate or filter them. For example, the user needs to find a specific wreck in a long list and click the correct table cell to load more details (see below).

06 Nielsen's Heuristics - Recognition Rather Than Recall06.1 Nielsen's Heuristics - Recognition Rather Than Recall

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use – Fail
The site is geared towards experienced users only who would have a previous knowledge/experience of diving. Novice users are not catered for. For example, there is no searching or filtering assistance (see below).

07 Nielsen's Heuristics - Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design – Fail
The UI design features textures, gradients and interface embellishments that are not necessary or contributing to the usability of the site. The overall design is dated and jarring (see below).

08 Nielsen’s Heuristics - Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

9. Help users recognise, diagnose and recover from errors – Fail
The site does not display error messages, nor does it provide a 404 page to assist the user in a basic manner.

09 Nielsen's Heuristics - Help Users Recognise, Diagnose and Recover From Errors

10. Help and documentation – Pass
The website provides a glossary of terms, illustrations of ship types and a list of sources for the data provided on the site.

10 Nielsen's Heuristics - Help and Documentation10 Nielsen's Heuristics - Help and Documentation

Basic Heuristic Evaluation Score:



As seen above, going by a basic pass/fail system, the Irish Wrecks site performs badly in this evaluation. It can be noted that, if we were to apply Nielsen’s Severity Ratings (1993) to this list, perhaps only a small number of these would warrant the highest rating of 4 – “usability catastrophe”.  Nevertheless, we have now identified a number of problems* with the design, interface and functionality of the existing Irish Wrecks website – and we are committed to it as our project base.

* these problems include the site’s searching and filtering systems for looking at wrecks around Ireland, the overall site navigation, the layout of data and additionally the proposal of a new booking system for users looking to organise a tour of a wreck.

Our rough work for this section of the project can be found here.

Next: Empathy Maps and Proto-Personas – our initial steps towards understanding our users and preparing for user research.


  1. Dr Andrew Errity & Sue Reardon (2016). Fundamentals of UX Design – Course Notes
  2. Jakob Nielson (1995). 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design
  3. Jakob Nielson (1995). How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation
  4. Theresa Neil (2009). Designing Web Interfaces – 6 Tips for a Great Flex UX: Part 5 – Review Usability Best Practices


EDIT: This post was substantially updated after attending Day 3 of lectures, which featured Heuristic Evaluation.


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