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Heuristic Review v Usability Testing

Laura Martin
Reading Time:
7 minutes

Here at Dock9 we are often asked the difference between heuristic reviews and usability testing, along with which method is best to use.

What is the difference?

Heuristic reviews are where usability experts will review a website to identify any common usability issues. Each review is evaluated against a set of usability best practice principles for consistency.

Usability testing is taking a target audience to evaluate a product whilst performing specific tasks. This usually takes place in a purpose built usability lab.

Which method is best?

Heuristic reviews are more common than usability testing, as they’re much cheaper and a lot quicker to complete - typically it will only take a few days to complete the review and write a report.

This method doesn’t require the recruitment of users and hiring of a purpose built usability lab, which makes it significantly cheaper to complete and also a preferred option when time and budget are being pushed.

Heuristic Review - Advantages & Disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages

Turnaround time

Typically it will only take a few days to complete a review and write a report.

Issues will be missed

This type of review is not designed to be used alone. When paired with usability testing, issues can be validated and uncover further issues not found in the review.


Costs are significantly cheaper as there is no need for recruitment of target users or hiring of purpose built usability labs.

False Alarms

Heuristic reviews tend to uncover a lot of potential issues to the reviewer. The problem is, they might not actually be issues to a user.

Early feedback

Reviews can be completed during early stages of design, even before users are involved to help remove any potential usability issues.

Some heuristics don’t apply to your website

When the review is being evaluated from a set of usability best practice principles, you might find not all heuristics will apply to your product.

Usability testing is used to determine what users actually do, analysing their behaviours to identify opportunities for improvement or issues. This method comes at a cost, as target audiences need to be recruited and purpose built labs need to be used.

This method of testing is unique, being able to watch target users interact with the product is what sets it apart from any other form of research.

Usability Testing - Advantages & Disadvantages:

Advantages Disadvantages

Target Audience

Determine what target users actually do, rather than what they say they do - allowing in depth information about users’ behaviour.


The cost of usability testing is greater than heuristic reviews due to hiring of usability labs, incentives and staff time.

Internal Debates

Being able to remove any internal debates and hypnosis with real life feedback from target users.

Turnaround time

Reviewing and documenting usability testing results generally involves a significant time commitment.

Minimising product failure

Determining and surfacing issues early in the design process which is more efficient and less costly.


Usability testing is typically qualitative, which does not provide the large samples of users, but the feedback can be accurate and insightful.


Both heuristic reviews and usability testing have their time and place. People often conduct heuristic reviews in preparation for usability testing.

Ultimately it’s important to understand that heuristic reviews and usability are different processes, but when paired together are very effective.

Want to know more?

We’ve helped a wide range of clients optimise and improve the user experience across complex and challenging products. If you want to know more, we’re always happy to talk about how we could help. Feel free to contact our UX Team or stop by the Dock9 office for a coffee.

Laura Martin
Laura Martin is Event Manager at Dock9, having previously worked in the financial sector for 15 years including at the Bank of England, Northern Trust and BNP Paribas