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The Difference Between a Heuristic Evaluation and an Expert Review

Summary
Heuristic evaluations and expert review have the same goal- to evaluate the usability of the product. While the goal of these usability evaluation methods is the same, the methods are different.

It is common to hear people people using these terms interchangeably. An expert review is termed as a heuristic evaluation when in actuality the evaluators evaluated the usability of the product referring to their own knowledge of right and wrong rather than explicitly referencing against a set of heuristics.

This article explains the difference between a Heuristic Evaluation and an Expert Review and tells you when to apply which method.

What is a Heuristic Evaluation?

A heuristic evaluation is the evaluation of the usability of a product against a set of heuristics. Issues are found and reported and recommendations are made explicitly referencing this set of heuristics.

What is an Expert Review?

An expert review is the evaluation of the usability of a product by an expert in the usability domain and preferably in the domain the product applies to. An expert may or may not directly refer to a set of heuristics during the evaluation and while reporting issues and recommendations. Besides this, an expert will evaluate the usability of the product against what the expert has learned throughout their
experience of working on usability of products- through data yielded on their own or accessed from existing research.

When to Use a Heuristic Evaluation and When to Use an Expert Review?

It would be safe to say that higher the expertise of the evaluator performing a heuristic evaluation or an expert review, the higher are your chances of yielding useful results. Also, an expert review will yield better results as compared to a heuristic evaluation when performed by experts since this incorporates knowledge about the domain and their own experience which in most cases may go beyond what a set of heuristics might help one find.

However, in the case a usability evaluation has to be done by a group of evaluators that do not have much experience in usability or the domain the product applies to, a heuristic evaluation will have higher chances of yielding better results than an expert review, since these evaluators will have a set of heuristics (rules of thumb) to refer to, as opposed to utilizing their own experience to make judgments which in this case will be very limited and may yield a considerable number of ‘false alarms’.