A deep dive into the UX criteria, rating scales, and evaluation templates our design team uses to improve the NeuroFlow user experience
At NeuroFlow, the user experience is everything. Consumers today have so many choices when it comes to mental health tools; therefore, designing an intuitive, engaging, and inclusive experience will continue to be a big driver to engaging initial users and keeping people coming back week after week.
And when you empower people to participate in their healthcare on a regular basis, more people use digital health platforms more often, and everyone wins.
So to highlight the importance of user experience (UX) design, we want to kick off the new year by sharing some of the recent steps we’ve taken to improve the usability and overall design of NeuroFlow with a behind-the-scenes look at the process and results of our recent heuristic evaluation of the platform. Plus, we’ll explore how we use heuristic evaluation to inform our product roadmap. This final point is key. A designer may have a long list of UX updates he or she would like to implement, but determining priorities can be a challenge. A heuristic evaluation can help identify what features have the biggest impact on users and help designers build, and prioritize a strong product roadmap.
In this post we’ll share:
- How we evaluated the usability features of the NeuroFlow platform
- How we created our detailed 6-point evaluation template
- How to rate usability issues (our 5-point scale)
- How we prioritize usability initiatives in our roadmap
- Why improving the UX design and usability of our app matters so much to the future of NeuroFlow
But before we share the findings of our evaluation, it’s important to quickly define what a heuristic evaluation is, a few heuristic evaluation best practices, how to create your own UX evaluation template, and why focusing on how people use our app is so essential to the future of NeuroFlow and the expansion and adoption of digital health tools.
What is a Heuristic Evaluation?
Simply put, a heuristic evaluation is a detailed look at the usability features of an app or website. This is done using a set of usability principles (aka “heuristics”) to find any possible issues a user might encounter. This typically includes hundreds of features from the size of the text on each page, to the color and placement of buttons, or how easy it is to recover a forgotten password.
Basically, the goal of a heuristic evaluation is for a UX expert to test whether a website or app is user-friendly and prioritize new features and updates in the product roadmap.
The main difference between a heuristic evaluation and traditional user testing is that a heuristic evaluation involves UX design experts, not everyday users. This is also one of the biggest strengths of a heuristic evaluation because it allows your team of UX professionals to create a customizable and comprehensive list of every possible action or feature a user might encounter and quickly make improvements to that experience. And in our case, the end result is a better behavioral health resource that’s more intuitive, effective, and accessible for more people.
How to Conduct a Heuristic Evaluation
Obviously, every heuristic evaluation is different because products, goals, and budgets will vary across industries. But the first step of any heuristic evaluation is to decide which features you want to evaluate. For the NeuroFlow product design team, creating our list of criteria was a collaborative and iterative process that helped us talk through our personal values as product designers and revealed a lot about how we can best champion our users’ needs.
Some team members preferred very detailed, specific criteria while others wanted to leave things more open-ended. There are advantages to either approach. The former allows for easier comparison across features and less subjective variation, while the latter is more flexible. The main values that emerged during the planning process were “empathy for end-users, honesty and transparency, inclusivity and accessibility, and the fact that consistency builds trust,” according to Director of Product Design, Justin Rossi.
“The value of accessible design, while more difficult to achieve, can’t be understated,” said Rossi. “—especially, in the mental healthcare space where accessing quality care and fighting the stigmas around mental health still persist.”
In the end, we went with more specificity, basing our list of qualities on UX pioneer Jakob Nielson’s Five Qualities of a Usable Product, with the key addition of a sixth quality — Accessibility — which our team felt was a core UX value for NeuroFlow given the crucial need on making mental health accessible for everyone.
NeuroFlow’s Six Heuristic Evaluation Criteria
According to our evaluation template, a usable product is always:
- Understandable: Users can easily figure out how to use every feature in the app, even if it’s their first time.
- Effective: Users can achieve their goals easily, and the app sends quick, helpful feedback and the right information at the right time in plain jargon-free language.
- Efficient: Users can work accurately and quickly within the application. Tedious or repetitive actions are limited and autofill is used whenever possible.
- Forgiving: Errors and mistakes are prevented or easy to spot and fix if they happen.
- Engaging: The app is pleasant, satisfying, and interesting to use thanks to things like a clear visual hierarchy, a conversational tone, and consistent design elements and color schemes. Animation can even be used.
- Accessible: Users with disabilities, situational impairments, or socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed can effectively use the application. Videos have captions and transcriptions, text color has adequate contrast, and if a user loses connection while using the app their progress is saved.
Using this list as our guide, our team of product designers built off of work from the Nielsen Norman Group, Microsoft Design, the W3C, and The A11Y Project among others to compile a detailed checklist of over 30 core features and user flows. Then we rated each on a 5-point usability scale against our six core qualities to identify the most urgent user issues while building a backlog of future improvements.
Heuristic Evaluation Rating Scale & Process
Each feature we looked at was rated for each of the 6 criteria based on the following scale:
- Strongly disagree
- Strongly agree
- N/A – Not Applicable
If a question scored a 1-3, the product designer had to include a text explanation to provide further information for the lower score.
Heuristic Evaluation Example: Password Reset
A quick example of one feature we evaluated was how easily a mobile user could retrieve their forgotten password. This is a core feature for most apps, not only from a usability standpoint, but also with regard to security. So a smooth experience is paramount to long-term engagement on NeuroFlow.
During the evaluation we looked at how many actions they had to take to retrieve their password, how long it took for users to get the password reset email, and things like how well browser autofill worked on mobile, with special attention to triggers in required fields to prevent errors and frustration.
For example, if a user enters their phone number that isn’t associated with their account, the app will tell them the error, and prompt them to try their email instead.
During the evaluation of the password recovery process we uncovered an inconsistency with our buttons. The button in the password reset field was green (the old NeuroFlow app design) instead of salmon colored like the new look.
If the color or wording for buttons is the same across the app users can easily understand when to take action (#1) and it makes the app more effective (#2) and accurate (#3). If errors on required fields are flagged with jargon-free prompts that tell you what’s missing it makes the app more forgiving (#4), and engaging (#5). And when you make sure that every feature is accessible (#6), you get an app that’s more useful for everyone.
It may seem minor, fixing something as simple as an inconsistent button color, but it can make a big impact. These types of updates can go a long way toward making NeuroFlow more usable, engaging, and ultimately effective.
But it’s always a work in progress, because no matter how detailed you get, a heuristic evaluation is never really done.
Lessons from Our Heuristic Evaluation
The goal with a heuristic evaluation isn’t to fix every issue or to create a perfect product. It doesn’t matter how many templates or rating scales you use; no team is going to catch every UX issue.
The more realistic intent of a heuristic evaluation should be to identify as many problems as possible, while noting the severity of each problem. Then you can use your limited time and resources to make your product better for users in ways that directly impact their experience.
While people love using NeuroFlow, we know that there’s always room to grow. NeuroFlow’s product design team itself was in the process of expanding during the evaluation, and that growth allowed us to hone our product to further reflect our goal of serving an ever expanding user base.
The Benefits of a Heuristic Evaluation
We chose to do a heuristic evaluation for a number of reasons. We wanted to create a standardized, measurable way to evaluate what was working and what wasn’t so we could improve the app, and heuristic evaluations are great at providing data. Our team was also growing, so we finally had the time and expertise to pause and reevaluate our app to take it to the next level, using the heuristic evaluation to prioritize usability initiatives in our product roadmap.
But the most important reason for the evaluation was that we wanted to update and improve the user experience of NeuroFlow to make it easier and more enjoyable and ultimately help our partners combat the mental health crisis while improving the well-being of our users.
Want to learn more about how to prioritize intuitive and inclusive design? Have any thoughts or feedback about our approach to heuristic evaluation? Curious to see the latest NeuroFlow app? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!