List of usability guidelines for help, feedback and error tolerance
- The FAQ or on-line help provides step-by-step instructions to help users carry out the most important tasks.
- It is easy to get help in the right form and at the right time.
- Prompts are brief and unambiguous.
- The user does not need to consult user manuals or other external information to use the site.
- The site uses a customised 404 page, which includes tips on how to find the missing page and links to "Home" and Search.
- The site provides good feedback (e.g. progress indicators or messages) when needed (e.g. during checkout).
- Users are given help in choosing products.
- User confirmation is required before carrying out potentially "dangerous" actions (e.g. deleting something).
- Confirmation pages are clear.
- Error messages contain clear instructions on what to do next.
- Immediately prior to committing to the purchase, the site shows the user a clear summary page and this will not be confused with a purchase confirmation page.
- When the user needs to choose between different options (such as in a dialog box), the options are obvious.
- The site keeps users informed about unavoidable delays in the site's response time (e.g. when authorising a credit card transaction).
- Error messages are written in a non-derisory tone and do not blame the user for the error.
- Pages load quickly (5 seconds or less).
- The site provides immediate feedback on user input or actions.
- The user is warned about large, slow-loading pages (e.g. "Please wait…"), and the most important information appears first.
- Where tool tips are used, they provide useful additional help and do not simply duplicate text in the icon, link or field label.
- When giving instructions, pages tell users what to do rather than what to avoid doing.
- The site shows users how to do common tasks where appropriate (e.g. with demonstrations of the site's functionality).
- The site provides feedback (e.g. "Did you know?") that helps the user learn how to use the site.
- The site provides context sensitive help.
- Help is clear and direct and simply expressed in plain English, free from jargon and buzzwords.
- The site provides clear feedback when a task has been completed successfully.
- Important instructions remain on the screen while needed, and there are no hasty time outs requiring the user to write down information.
- Fitts' Law is followed (the distance between controls and the size of the controls is appropriate, with size proportional to distance).
- There is sufficient space between targets to prevent the user from hitting multiple or incorrect targets.
- There is a line space of at least 2 pixels between clickable items.
- The site makes it obvious when and where an error has occurred (e.g. when a form is incomplete, highlighting the missing fields).
- The site uses appropriate selection methods (e.g. pull-down menus) as an alternative to typing.
- The site does a good job of preventing the user from making errors.
- The site prompts the user before correcting erroneous input (e.g. Google's "Did you mean…?").
- The site ensures that work is not lost (either by the user or site error).
- Error messages are written in plain language with sufficient explanation of the problem.
- When relevant, the user can defer fixing errors until later in the task.
- The site can provide more detail about error messages if required.
- It is easy to "undo" (or "cancel") and "redo" actions.
You can also download translated versions of this checklist.
How to use these guidelines
Work through each of the items in the list and mark your site as either conforming or not conforming to the guideline.
Remember that all guidelines are context specific. If you feel that a guideline does not apply to your site, it's OK to ignore it.
These guidelines are purposefully expressed as positive statements, so that when you feed the results back to the design team you can identify some strengths of the design before you launch into the problems.
About the author
Dr. David Travis (@userfocus on Twitter) is a User Experience Strategist. He has worked in the fields of human factors, usability and user experience since 1989 and has published two books on usability. David helps both large firms and start ups connect with their customers and bring business ideas to market. If you like his articles, why not join the thousands of other people taking his free online user experience course?