Critiquing three of eBay’s main features using Heuristic Evaluation

As designers one of the most important tasks is to our . However it might not always be easy to recruit participants all the time, and especially as a student or small company you also might not have a big budget to do so.

One approach to getting feedback, which I feel like gets overlooked often times, is is called heuristic evaluation or heuristic feedback. It is a strategy for critiquing designs which is extremely powerful and cost effective. You can do it with fellow designers and teammates first, before heading out and doing tests with users. That way you’ll be able to discover main problems first and save your precious participants for the nitty-gritty stuff.

Heuristic evaluation does not only provide you with some really good vocabulary to talk about design, it can also be used throughout the entire design process. It works early on with paper prototypes, and will be useful before redesigning products as well.

Originally Jacob Nielsen developed 10 heuristics which are commonly used, but you can add or remove heuristics depending on what’s important for your product. Here you can find each of them explained.

As for this article I will demonstrate an evaluation by going through three of eBay’s main features:

  • Selling an item
  • Adding items to collections
  • Contacting a seller

However I am not affiliated with eBay in any way. The website in its current state was designed based on needs and constraints that I am not aware of, so this is just an exploration of design problems and ideas for solutions.

1. Selling an item

The selling process is quite user- friendly and organized considering the many options that are available for sellers. It requires at least 10 (mini) steps to sell a product.

I‘d only eliminate the first screen that appears after clicking „Sell“ and replace it by a little pop-up to keep the amount of steps minimal. Within it you can either type in a new offer or get to a list of offers that were saved earlier (user control/ freedom).

After hitting enter the user gets to the second screen where they can check the categories.

2. Adding items to collections

When adding an item to a collection a popup appears which is good because it suggests that you don’t really leave the article page. However eBay has a lot of list making options: wish lists, watch lists and collections. This is confusing and the right list is sometimes hard to find.

If I’d to redesign it there would be no more wish lists and watch lists. Everything would be a collection to keep the list system consistent and minimal. Every collection can be set to „public“, „private“ or „followers only“ so that the user still can adjust visibility according their preferences.

To add an item to a collection the user has to click the „Add to collection“ button which is below the „buy“/ „add to cart“ buttons. After clicking on it a lightbox/pop- up appears and the article can be added to the right collection.

Collections can be easily accessed from the top navigation, which reduces the user’s memory load, letting him/her recognize the feature easily and making it easily retrievable while browsing the website. When clicking the little arrow a list of the collections shows up. This way every collection can be accessed with two clicks (efficiency of use).

I’d chose the heart icon for collections because it’s commonly used for things we want to mark as liked or that we want to remember (consistency/ standards). Also a bookmark icon would work nicely.

Contacting a seller

Showing a FAQ to the user before they’re able to contact the seller is a good way to reduce messages. However the overall „contact“ function is hard to find because it’s almost at the bottom. It would make more sense if it was somewhere near the sellers’ info.

In order to better find the contact option I’d place a mail icon next to the sellers’ name because this where the user usually expects communication options (consistency/ standards). After clicking on it the page scrolls down to the „questions and answers“ section.

As for the icon an enevelope fits very well because it’s a symbol for communication the user is familiar with from the real world (match between system and real world).


Though the results from the evaluation are qualitative, it’s important to remember that “any analysis” is better than nothing. According to Jacob Nielsen’s research one single evaluator finds about 35% of usability issues and he recommends that 3–5 evaluators will be reasonable and enough to uncover 75% of the usability issues. Ideally at least 1 or 2 of them should be UX experts and sessions should not last more than an hour.

As mentioned earlier Heuristic Evaluation is a great strategy to uncover obvious usability problems at low cost and high return, which will then lead to increased chances of uncovering more non-obvious issues during user testing.

For further reading I recommend visiting this site: It also goes a bit more in-depth about the process, documentation and ranking of issues.

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