Usability heuristics are each hailed as irrefutably true. They function our shared vocabulary for expressing why an interface is sweet or bad, and as an efficient tool for teaching people about interactive design. In isolation, each heuristic presents an obvious path towards creating an optimal design. Showing feedback is best than not showing feedback, providing access to assist is healthier than not providing access to help, and preventing an error is healthier than not preventing an error.
On the surface, usability heuristics provide an effortless checklist for making any interface perfect. But what’s fascinating about them is the level to which all the heuristics at the moment are in direct opposition to every other, the level to which they’re geographic and temporal, and the level to which they expose the designer’s underlying political beliefs (no less than within the domain of items digital). Usability heuristics present a zero-sum game with inherent tradeoffs, and it’s simply impossible to reach all the heuristics simultaneously.