The Real World: Usability Heuristic #2

Staff will have to adjust to use the system. But there is no need to make it as difficult as possible.

Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s second guideline for creating user-friendly technology is meant to try and address a common problem: the gap between system creators and system users.

Match Between the System and the Real World

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
– Dr. Jakob Nielsen, 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design

There is a lot to unpack with that statement, but the main issue it is trying to address is something that I have frequently pointed out as a problem in current technology: Software and systems are designed by programmers and techies, who design it in ways that are easiest for them on the back end. But for users on the front end, this kind of a backwards design strategy leads to unintelligible fields, a baffling order of operations to complete a task and an overall structure that seems to be trying its best to hinder workflow, rather than help it.


If users are looking at your software like this, you may have a problem with Heuristic #2.

Let’s take it a piece at a time: A system should “…speak a user’s language”. That means it shouldn’t take knowledge of coding or fluency in robot to be able to know what the text on the screen is asking you to do. That’s not saying the language should be dumbed-down to the point that a kindergartner could understand it…any system designed for a specific industry is going to use industry-specific terminology that may be complex for outsiders. But it does mean that rather than saying that a field is the Computation Method you should instead opt for something less arcane; something like Calculation or Formula.

The second piece is that a system should “…follow real world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.” The key factor here is that it should be logical for the user…not for the creator. If a nurse is updating patient information during a routine visit, the information that is commonly asked should be grouped together for ease of workflow. Things like birth date, vitals, and current medications should be grouped together and easy to access. It makes no sense to require the nurse to open up separate screens, tabs or headings to access this information. The goal is to make the system meld with common workflow as much as possible. This increases productivity, keeps users happier with the system and has the added bonus of making it easy to enter information correctly. Make it difficult to do it right, and you shouldn’t be surprised when people do it wrong (or not at all).

Any system will have its limitations, and it is impossible for one system to be cookie-cutter enough to be able to accommodate every type of workflow in existence. Staff will have to adjust to use the system. But there is no need to make it as difficult as possible; attempting to find common ground at the outside will save you all time and headaches later, and it’s good for business too.


  1. […] Report! Usability Heuristic #1 The Real World: Usability Heuristic #2 I Didn’t Mean It! Usability Heuristic #3 Consistency is Key: Usability Heuristic #4 User, […]



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