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#1: Visibility of system status

The design should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable amount of time.

When users know the current system status, they learn the outcome of their prior interactions and determine next steps. Predictable interactions create trust in the product as well as the brand.

Usability Heuristic #1: Man beside “You Are Here” indicators on a mall maps to show him where he currently is.
Example of Usability Heuristic #1:
“You Are Here” indicators on mall maps have to show people where they currently are, to help them understand where to go next.


  • Communicate clearly to users what the system’s state is — no action with consequences to users should be taken without informing them.
  • Present feedback to the user as quickly as possible (ideally, immediately).
  • Build trust through open and continuous communication.

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#2: Match between system and the real world

The design should speak the users' language. Use words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than internal jargon. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

The way you should design depends very much on your specific users. Terms, concepts, icons, and images that seem perfectly clear to you and your colleagues may be unfamiliar or confusing to your users.

When a design’s controls follow real-world conventions and correspond to desired outcomes (called natural mapping), it’s easier for users to learn and remember how the interface works. This helps to build an experience that feels intuitive.

Usability Heuristic #2: A stovetop that has controls that match the layout of the heating elements.
Example of Usability Heuristic #2:
When stovetop controls match the layout of heating elements, users can quickly understand which control maps to which heating element.


  • Ensure users can understand meaning without having to go look up a word’s definition.
  • Never assume your understanding of words or concepts will match those of your users.
  • User research will help you uncover your users' familiar terminology, as well as their mental models around important concepts.

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#3: User control and freedom

Users often perform actions by mistake. They need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted action without having to go through an extended process.

When it's easy for people to back out of a process or undo an action, it fosters a sense of freedom and confidence. Exits allow users to remain in control of the system and avoid getting stuck and feeling frustrated.

Usability Heuristic #3: A door with a light-up emergency exit above it.
Example of Usability Heuristic #3:
Digital spaces need quick “emergency exits,” just like physical spaces do. 


  • Support Undo and Redo.
  • Show a clear way to exit the current interaction, like a Cancel button.
  • Make sure the exit is clearly labeled and discoverable.

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#4: Consistency and standards

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

Jakob's Law states that people spend most of their time using digital products other than yours. Users’ experiences with those other products set their expectations. Failing to maintain consistency may increase the users'cognitive load by forcing them to learn something new.

Usability Heuristic #4: A hotel check-in counter at that is always located at the front of a hotel.
Example of Usability Heuristic #4:
Check-in counters are usually located at the front of hotels. This consistency meets customers’ expectations.


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#5: Error prevention

Good error messages are important, but the best designs carefully prevent problems 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.

There are two types of errors: slips and mistakes. Slips are unconscious errors caused by inattention. Mistakes are conscious errors based on a mismatch between the user’s mental model and the design.

Usability Heuristic #5: A highway that has guard rails so a driver can't drive off the side.
Example of Usability Heuristic #5:
​​​​Guard rails on curvy mountain roads prevent drivers from falling off cliffs. 


  • Prioritize your effort: Prevent high-cost errors first, then little frustrations.
  • Avoid slips by providing helpful constraints and good defaults.
  • Prevent mistakes by removing memory burdens, supporting undo, and warning your users.

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#6: Recognition rather than recall

Minimize the user's memory load by making elements, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the interface to another. Information required to use the design (e.g. field labels or menu items) should be visible or easily retrievable when needed.

Humans have limited short-term memories. Interfaces that promote recognition reduce the amount of cognitive effort required from users.

Usability Heuristic #6: A castle that represents Lisbon. It is easier for people to hear the capital and place it's country, rather than name a capital outright.
Example of Usability Heuristic #6:
It’s easier for most people to recognize the capitals of countries, instead of having to remember them. People are more likely to correctly answer the question Is Lisbon the capital of Portugal? rather than What’s the capital of Portugal?


  • Let people recognize information in the interface, rather than having to remember (“recall”) it.
  • Offer help in context, instead of giving users a long tutorial to memorize.
  • Reduce the information that users have to remember.

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#7: Flexibility and efficiency of use

Shortcuts — hidden from novice users — may speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the design can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Flexible processes can be carried out in different ways, so that people can pick whichever method works for them.

Usability Heuristic #7: A picture of a map with 2 routes. The first is a regular route, the second is a shortcut.
Example of Usability Heuristic #7:
Regular routes are listed on maps, but locals with more knowledge of the area can take shortcuts. 


  • Provide accelerators like keyboard shortcuts and touch gestures.
  • Provide personalization by tailoring content and functionality for individual users.
  • Allow for customization, so users can make selections about how they want the product to work.

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#8: Aesthetic and minimalist design

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

This heuristic doesn't mean you have to use a flat design — it's about making sure you're keeping the content and visual design focused on the essentials. Ensure that the visual elements of the interface support the user's primary goals.

Usability Heuristic #8: Two teapots side by side. One basic and straightforward, the other ornate with a fancy handle and curvy spout.
Example of Usability Heuristic #8:
​​​​​​An ornate teapot may have excessive decorative elements that can interfere with usability, like an uncomfortable handle or hard to wash nozzle. 


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#9: Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

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

These error messages should also be presented with visual treatments that will help users notice and recognize them.

Usability Heuristic #9: A picture of a road with a wrong way sign to the right that would warn drivers not to enter.
Example of Usability Heuristic #9:
Wrong way signs on the road remind drivers that they are heading in the wrong direction and ask them to stop. 


  • Use traditional error message visuals, like bold, red text.
  • Tell users what went wrong in language they will understand — avoid technical jargon.
  • Offer users a solution, like a shortcut that can solve the error immediately.

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#10: Help and documentation

It’s best if the system doesn’t need any additional explanation. However, it may be necessary to provide documentation to help users understand how to complete their tasks.

Help and documentation content should be easy to search and focused on the user's task. Keep it concise, and list concrete steps that need to be carried out.

Example of Usability Heuristic #10:
Information kiosks at airports are easily recognizable and solve customers’ problems in context and immediately. 


  • Ensure that the help documentation is easy to search.
  • Whenever possible, present the documentation in context right at the moment that the user requires it.
  • List concrete steps to be carried out.

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Note from Jakob

I originally developed the heuristics for heuristic evaluation in collaboration with Rolf Molich in 1990 [Molich and Nielsen 1990; Nielsen and Molich 1990]. Four years later, I refined the heuristics based on a factor analysis of 249 usability problems [Nielsen 1994a] to derive a set of heuristics with maximum explanatory power, resulting in this revised set of heuristics [Nielsen 1994b].

In 2020, we updated this article, adding more explanation, examples, and related links. While we slightly refined the language of the definitions, the 10 heuristics themselves have remained relevant and unchanged since 1994. When something has remained true for 26 years, it will likely apply to future generations of user interfaces as well.

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Download a free poster of Jakob’s 10 Usability Heuristics at the bottom of this article under Downloads. You can download the summary poster in 3 sizes: full poster size, A4, and letter. You can also download the full set of 11 posters (10 Usability Heuristics and the summary poster.

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See Also


Checklists & Guidelines


  • Molich, R., and Nielsen, J. (1990). Improving a human-computer dialogue, Communications of the ACM 33, 3 (March), 338-348.
  • Nielsen, J., and Molich, R. (1990). Heuristic evaluation of user interfaces, Proc. ACM CHI'90 Conf. (Seattle, WA, 1-5 April), 249-256.
  • Nielsen, J. (1994a). Enhancing the explanatory power of usability heuristics. Proc. ACM CHI'94 Conf. (Boston, MA, April 24-28), 152-158.
  • Nielsen, J. (1994b). Heuristic evaluation. In Nielsen, J., and Mack, R.L. (Eds.), Usability Inspection Methods, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

Many people ask if they can use these heuristics in their own work. Yes, but please credit Jakob Nielsen and provide the address for this page [] or cite the paper above [Nielsen 1994a]. If you want to print copies of this page or reproduce the content online, however, please see our copyright info for details. Copyright © by Jakob Nielsen.ISSN 1548-5552