Ten Usability Heuristics

In Applied Design on November 2, 2009 at 1:02 am


In my not-too-long retail career, I’ve used two vastly different retail inventory management systems. The old one was UNIX based and was replaced by a Windows-based program called Retail Pro. It was supposed to be easier but I didn’t necessarily find that to be the case.

1. Visibility of system status
If I were to be reading the screen all the time, yes, this system always tells me what’s going on on the screen. However, when I’m busy scanning the purchase items and interacting with the customer at the same time, I find myself relying heavily on the audio feedback from the system. This is where I get frustrated because the system beeps the same way every time I scan something, even if I’ve forgotten to log into the system in the first place. This also happens if the mouse cursor happens to be in the “wrong” place and the scanned SKU got entered into a field that doesn’t make any sense. Then, when I’m done scanning try to check on the total purchase amount only to find out that nothing really has been scanned, I’d have to restart the entire process. Not only is that frustrating to me, it’s also frustrating to the customer because of the necessary delay.

2. Match between system and the real world
This program is not strong in this either. Whenever there is a discount involved, the total purchase shown on one screen can be different from the “final” screen because the system calculates discounts differently at different places.

3. User control and freedom
Exiting at the last minute is actually quite easy, just click the back up button, but the back up button doesn’t say back up on it, it says “Retail Pro 8.” So, at the beginning, it was kind of odd, but once I got used to it, it became intuitive. There’s also a feature for reversing any transactions easily, which I find quite useful.

4. Consistency and standards
Here, again, the system calculates discount differently from one place to another…quite inconsistent. Also, depending what the original amount is, sometimes, if I enter 15% discount, it may show up on the receipt as 14.55% because of the way that the system rounds the percentages, but it does not look very professional.

5. Error prevention
As mentioned in number 1, this system doesn’t give a distinguishing “beep” when SKU’s are scanning into the wrong field, error prevention really isn’t its thing.

6. Recognition rather than recall
Perhaps they’re never enabled, but I don’t recall ever seeing any tooltips popping up anywhere in this program. The names on the buttons are not always named intuitively; and certain transactions seem to be more complicated than they should be. One simple need to remember which button to push when.

7. Flexibility and efficiency for use
There are many keyboard shortcuts available and they are shown on the buttons on the screen. Perhaps, someday I’ll remember them all, but I still find it not very efficient because I have to constantly move between the mouse and the keyboard.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
The interface of this program is like many old Windows-based program, buttons and different fields everywhere. In terms of aesthetics, it’s definitely dated. All the buttons and fields, although not used all the time, do have their respective functions, so, it probably can’t get too much more minimalistic than it is.

9. Help users diagnose and recover from errors
I’ve seen error messages that, normally, should raise a red flag. For example, the customer has exceeded his/her charge card limit. However, I have been told to ignore these messages and proceed with the transaction. I’m not sure if this is an issue within this system or, perhaps, the system was not set up appropriately in the first place.

10. Help documentation
There is a Help button on every screen, but I don’t find the documentation very helpful.


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