Learning Jakob Nielsen’s heuristic principles from the environment

I’ve been doing quite a lot of these heuristic evaluations on websites, but a thought struck me. How about finding these principles from the world around me?

Heuristic principles are set guidelines that a user interface design must adhere to in order to be usable.

Here’s my curated collection of these heuristic principles mapped to the observations I’ve made from the environment.

1. Visibility of system status

Users must be informed about what is going on through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.


This sharpener has a yellow button which is flat by default and once the pencil is sharp enough, the yellow button pops up with a ‘click’ sound signifying that it is time to stop sharpening.

What I learnt

The information does not solely have to ease the discomfort users get due to uncertainty of where they are at during a process but it could also add some value to the user. This requires a cumulative understanding of the user’s environment while performing the task and also the needs that you can address in order to help them achieve their task in a better way than the one they’re doing already.

2. Match between system and the real world

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

iOS flashlight icon

Yes, that’s a perfect match between the flashlight I own in my house and the flashlight I see in the digital world ,not only in terms of the look but also the process.

What I learnt

It is an almost close to a magical experience if you’re able to capture the exact same feeling you get from the real world into the digital world. That needs more than just a looking like a match. It must even feel like a match(functionality).

3. User control and freedom

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.


An over-salted soup? Luckily, you can undo that action by using techniques such as adding potatoes or neutralizing it with some sugar and vinegar or you could also choose to redo the entire process my adding more ingredients.

What I learnt 
Every task that leads the users to achieve their goals is important, and an undo or a redo should allow them to manipulate these tasks in a way that does not alter the goal they want to achieve.

4. Consistency and standards

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.


If you closely study the evolution of a typewriter, you will notice the consistency and the standard that has been maintained here. The most widely used keyboard layout is QWERTY was produced by Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glidden in 1874 and though there have been minor changes over the past centuries, for the most part it has remained consistent.

What I learnt 
Consistency is key to avoid cognitive load for the users and certain standards are best kept as a standard but this does not have to be the case all the time. It is important to break out of existing design patterns. For example, just when you thought Facebook “likes” were the standard , Medium comes up with “claps”.

5. Recognition rather than recall

Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

Banana Peel Slip

I saw this on Pinterest and was so amused. The Banana Cone was originally inspired by the popular Nintendo 64 game Mario Kart.These specifically focus on floor safety and promotes health, safety and humor. A study proves these signs are more effective in helping users identify wet floors than the usual yellow sign boards.

What I learnt

Users often selectively disregard information due to their short attention span and the solution to this challenge is a design that is both emotionally resonating and helpful. This intrigues their mind even in that small attention span.

6. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Emergency Exit Door

What I learnt

There has to be an error prone area or a point which ideally could be misinterpreted by users depending on different mental models or various other reasons. It is crucial to identify and mark these with suitable forms of help such as diagnosis or even recovery.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Yoga Strap

This is a yoga strap that I use as a beginner to support my stretches. But these straps also cater to those experts who would like to get deeper stretches

What I learnt

A design system for a product should provide enough flexibility to cover the needs of both newbies as well as experts without causing a painful experience for them.

8. Error prevention

Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Careful Design you say? This is a Mandoline slicer which has an alternative solution to avoid slicing your fingers off. Also a stand so it can be placed at an angle and you do not lose grip while slicing.

What I learnt

What’s better than a good old error message ? A well crafted, careful design that understands your behaviour and provides an alternative solution accordingly.

9. Aesthetic and minimalist design

Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

Philips MoistureProtect Straightener

This straightener I must admit is one of the most classy of the lot. You see how this rose gold tone gives an instant luxury feel considering this product caters to women as a majority. The well spaced buttons add to the minimalist design and make the entire process of using it, feel like a breeze.

What I learnt

You have to takes cues from the environment of the target users,their needs and understandings of their goals to bring forth a product that looks uncluttered and contains just the right information further making you feel like a proud owner of it.

10. Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Look at how brief the directions are for using this product but it still captures the entire process of understanding its usage. Also, a precise documentation of exactly what this product can do is highlighted.

What I learnt 
A good design does not need a huge manual to explain its working. Help should be brief yet, on point and also maintain visual hierarchy so as to allow users to get to the solution of their problem without too much struggle.