Exposing user experience issues to elevate your metrics.

Your site or app has been live for a year or two. In some ways, it still feels brand new. However, you’ve seen your conversions stagnate despite your best efforts to add features to improve the site. You just launched a new app last week. In the rush to release, you know some parts of your app missed some polish. You’re having difficulty articulating exactly what needs attention. Meanwhile, you’re receiving tepid app store reviews, like, “Lots of potential” and “A little rough around the edges.”

You need an outside perspective.

At Ethology, we encounter situations like yours every day. We’ve come up with a quick process to review your experience to uncover those areas of friction that your users are encountering. We call it a heuristic review.

What is a heuristic?

Heuristics are simply areas that an experienced reviewer may qualitatively score something against. A heuristic for gymnastics is how well the gymnast “stuck” the landing. Our UX heuristics are adapted from the 20-year-old essay by Jakob Nielsen, “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.” While Dr. Nielsen’s heuristics are still applicable today, we wanted to focus on issues we see more often with current interface design.

10 Ethology UX heuristics


Accessibility is specifically related to issues stemming from ADA section 508 (and WCAG 2.0). Can the application be navigated and appropriately interacted with using only a keyboard? Is the website screen reader friendly (for those with vision impairments)?


When we review aesthetics from a UX perspective, we’re looking for designs devoid of extraneous elements, with good alignment and appropriate use of both imagery and type. We focus primarily on the design, as it affects the overall usability and appeal of the app or website. Does it look clean and professional?


Specifically, awareness is referring to the app’s awareness of the customer. Does the application or site use the data available to it to help the user? For example, if it knows the user’s location, it should auto-fill location into the appropriate form fields for them.


Users should be able to move around to different areas of the site easily. They should also know where they are in the site’s architecture at all times. We look for things like organized navigation menus and other wayfinding markers. Think of wayfinding like signposts at a theme park — park visitors can see where they are currently and can easily ascertain how to get where they want to go based on the signs.


Design elements should change appropriately when the user interacts with them. Furthermore, these changes should happen instantly and seamlessly. When the user hovers over something interactive, their cursor should change to a pointer finger and the element should change color or gain an underline. When a touch-device user taps on something interactive, the app or website should immediately respond to their interaction — even if that means displaying a “loading” indicator.


Text should be readable, large enough and well-spaced. Good font choice also helps with legibility. The most common issues with legibility come up when text is placed within a “busy” background, or when it doesn’t contrast enough with its background. An easy way to check if text contrast meets WCAG 2.0 standards is to run the colors through this tool.


When UX people talk about “affordance,” the conversation usually begins to revolve around door handle design. A door with good affordance shows the user how to open it and prevents the embarrassing error of pushing on a door that must be pulled, and vice versa. In digital experiences, affordance generally means that things that are interactive appear interactive in some way. It also means that interactive elements are large enough to interact with and may somehow give the user hints about how to interact with them.


Simple is the opposite of complex. Where a complex site is peppered with so much advertisement and cross-promotion that the user has difficulty making a purchase, a simple one helps the user find the best product and easily purchase it. A complex application requires a lot of work from the user to output something useful. It has redundant content and features, as well as complicated interactions. A simple one gracefully delivers useful output with minimal work from the user, while still exposing advanced features in the appropriate context.


Users should always know what to expect. Buttons should be clearly identified with labels describing their function. For example, a button to subscribe to a mailing list should say “sign up” and not “go.” Form labels should tell the user what to enter into the field and what the right format is. Help text should appear at the right time to clearly communicate what the user needs to do.

Error Handling

An ideal application actively prevents the user from making errors. The application changes user input into the required format as the user enters it. When errors occur, we look for clear help text about how to resolve the issue, as well as markers showing where the error occurred. A robust application or website has fallbacks in place for when connectivity issues occur or when a piece of hardware fails to respond.

Where can I use this?

We look at all kinds of digital experiences to make them frictionless. Everything from email templates to e-commerce platforms to mobile or desktop apps can have issues in these areas. Your new website or app might be good for now, but if you don’t resolve some of the friction in the experience, your users will eventually look elsewhere to get what they need.