An Incomplete List of My UX Heuristics

I realized I don’t have a central reference for all of my UX heuristics, so here they are. I’ll be adding to this list over time.

Some are mine, many are borrowed.

Disclaimer: The validity of these heuristics is entirely dependent upon context. Know why and when to use them.

  1. Breadcrumbs not Banquets
    Too much information - especially new information - is paralyzing. Rather than giving people a “banquet” of information to gorge on, give them breadcrumbs: just enough so that they have the confidence and knowledge to proceed to the next step in the process.

  2. Communicate the Benefit
    Per this great essay from User Onboarding. I see this one broken often.

  3. One Request At A Time
    Don’t overload them. Make a single, simple request at a time: whether it’s asking them to sign up, complete an onboarding, subscribe/upgrade, invite a friend.

  4. Perform a favor before asking for one
    Selectively choose when to ask a user to do you a favor. This might be an App Store review, inviting friend(s) or subscribing. Always seek to position your requests immediately after providing demonstrable value to them.

  5. Three Steps to an Outcome
    Where possible, never make a user ‘travel’ more than three steps to achieve an outcome or milestone. This heuristic encourages you to consider it as an architectural structure: can you distribute, say, your onboarding throughout the app, so your 6 steps are broken into two 3-step flows?

This may not always be possible. Fintech is one area with a lot of regulation, which may require several verification steps that force this rule to be broken.

  1. Minimization of Output Energy
    All biological life seek to minimize their output energy. This is fundamental to survival: the less energy you expend, the less scarce food you need to find to recharge. In society we judge this behavior and call it laziness. Someone who has discovered your company or product for the first time is going to be less inclined to expend the energy necessary to determine if it does the job they need. Seek to reduce this fundamental biological impulse where possible. Reduce friction.

  2. Make Sequentially Greater Asks
    This continues on from #6. Most people will be wary of investing a lot of time & energy into an activity with an unproven reward. How do they know your product can deliver? To adapt around this behavior, start by making small asks and sequentially increasing them as you continue to prove yourself.

Don’t ask for a referral before you’ve got them signed up. Don’t ask them to pay until you’ve proven value. Etc.

  1. Metaphors Make Understanding Seek metaphors to improve people’s comprehension of your product, what it does, and how it functions. Metaphors are an effective tool to allow people to decipher unknown concepts by extrapolating from known ones.

The history of computing is littered with metaphors: Desktop computers. Files and folders. The World Wide Web. Password Keys. If Lakoff is right, and metaphor is the root of cognition, then this only adds to its effectiveness as a kind of “cognitive conceptual translator.”

  1. Consider the Second Order Effects Contemporary design discourse doesn’t wade into this territory much, but we are designing within and amongst complex systems. Emergent -unexpected - outcomes are an inherent property of these systems. Look at Airbnb’s effect on neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Look at Facebook’s effect on the accuracy of information and its capability to shape and manipulate opinion.

Even the simplest products have second order effects on human cognition, habit, and social behaviors. Do your best to map them out.

  1. Fools Emerge from Frictionless Experiences The current obsession with frictionless experiences is a troubling one. It appears predicated on an incentive structure that encourages ever higher DAUs.

Frictionless experiences can undermine people’s behavior, encourage their worst impulses, and lead to negative outcomes. Friction - struggle - is central to the human condition. We grow from our trials. What friction can you put into your product that improves your users behaviors and habits? That makes them stronger?

More to come.


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