Physical Design: A perfect set of 77 UX Heuristics

Last Modified: Sep 5th, 2022 - Category: Freebies, Physical UX, UX Research
physical ux design cover

Physical design, especially industrial design, has many different ways of measuring products. However, there is a need for a unified method to perform heuristic analysis for physical design.

Heuristic analysis is a fundamental part of a set of UX research methodologies. There are a variety of measurements that can be used and applied in the field of physical design, especially when used in conjunction with digital design and IoT. These overlaps also require their own methods, so having a predefined starting point to measure at least part of the project is invaluable.

It should be noted that the field UX seems to leave the field from which it actually originated: Ergonomics and Human Factors. For this reason, the common heuristics (such as the 8 golden rules of Shneiderman, Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics, ISO 9241 and others less known such as those of Weinschenk and Barker, Bastien & Scapin, etc.) are mainly focused on digital design, UI design, web design and the like.

A set of guidelines for physical product design (in addition to rules such as Fitt’s Law, Hick’s Law, Apple’s HIG, and the like) is therefore urgently needed by both researchers and designers.

In this article, we present a set of 77 UX heuristics that can be used in physical design and product design in general. These heuristics are the result of research by Seda McKilligan of Iowa State University and Shanna Daly, Colleen M. Seifert, and Richard Gonzalez from University of Michigan.

The paper, titled “Evidence-based design heuristics for idea generation,” looks at some conceptual techniques for developing new ideas for physical product design.

However, one of the most interesting aspects of this paper is that it provides a list of 77 UX heuristics that can be used in testing physical design with users.

Introduction to Physical Design Testing

The authors of the paper have a clear intention to deal in depth with methodology, which is very common (and appreciated) in academic papers. Although the paper itself contains many citations and references to external resources that elaborate on each point, it is possible to read it without these links.

They introduce the paper as follows:

How do designers successfully create novel product concepts? One suggested approach is to first generate a wide range of concepts to consider. This requires the ability to create a large number of concepts that differ from each other so that the set of concepts covers the space of possible designs. Logically, the idea generation process benefits from considering as many different concepts as possible. However, generating a diverse set of concepts can be challenging because designers tend to fixate on specific design specifications, which leads them to generate more concepts with similar features.

A number of approaches for facilitating idea generation during the early phases of conceptual design have been proposed. One approach distills knowledge about specific designs into an intermediate-level knowledge base by constructing composites from multiple examples. In Alexander’s pattern language, and Krippendorf’s design discourses, patterns common in successful design solutions are identified at a component level linking the designer to a broad range of helpful guidance. This composite knowledge about design has been referred to as heuristic knowledge. Heuristics are described as ‘mental shortcuts’ that capture cognitive strategies that may lead to solutions (though not necessarily the best one), and are ubiquitous in human reasoning. Heuristics capture important features of problem situations and solutions that tend to reoccur in experiences

Yilmaz, S., et al., Evidence-based design heuristics for idea generation, Design Studies (2016),

77 Heuristics to measure product design

As mentioned earlier, this set of heuristics includes 77 parameters. These parameters were extracted from the findings of four different studies. While the list may seem somewhat extensive and cumbersome, it is possible to extract smaller clusters of data to create heuristics that meet our needs. Moreover, the authors do this in their own list: The original list contains only 70 heuristics, but there are seven additional ones that subdivide one of the previous 70.

Again, you don’t have to follow ALL this heuristic (and you probably won’t). Just think of this list as a tool to create a well-defined set of parameters against which you can measure your product’s usability, ergonomics, innovation, and other factors you may need to consider.

Product Design Heuristics

  1. Add levels
  2. Add motion
  3. Add natural features esplit from
  4. Add to existing product
  5. Adjust function through movement
  6. Adjust functions for specific users
  7. Align components around center
  8. Allow user to assemble
  9. Allow user to customize esplit from
  10. Allow user to rearrange esplit from
  11. Allow user to reorient
  12. Animate
  13. Apply mechanism in new way
  14. Attach independent functional components
  15. Attach product to user
  16. Bend
  17. Build user community
  18. Change direction of access
  19. Change flexibility
  20. Change geometry
  21. Change product lifetime
  22. Change surface properties
  23. Compartmentalize
  24. Contextualize
  25. Convert 2-D material to 3-D object
  26. Convert for second function
  27. Cover or wrap
  28. Create service esplit from
  29. Create system
  30. Divide continuous surface
  31. Elevate or lower
  32. Expand or collapse
  33. Expose interior
  34. Extend surface
  35. Flatten
  36. Fold
  37. Hollow out
  38. Impose hierarchy on functions
  39. Incorporate environment
  40. Incorporate user input
  41. Layer esplit from
  42. Make components attach/detachable
  43. Make multifunctional
  44. Make product recyclable esplit from
  45. Merge surfaces
  46. Mimic natural mechanisms
  47. Mirror or array
  48. Nest
  49. Offer optional components
  50. Provide sensory feedback
  51. Reconfigure
  52. Redefine joints
  53. Reduce material
  54. Repeat 0
  55. Repurpose packaging
  56. Roll
  57. Rotate
  58. Scale up or down
  59. Separate functions esplit from
  60. Simplify
  61. Slide
  62. Stack
  63. Substitute way of achieving function
  64. Synthesize functions
  65. Telescope
  66. Twist
  67. Unify
  68. Use common base for components
  69. Use continuous material
  70. Use different energy source
  71. Use human-generated power
  72. Use multiple components in one function
  73. Use packaging as functional component
  74. Use repurposed or recycled materials
  75. Utilize inner space
  76. Utilize opposite surface
  77. Visually distinguish functions

The heuristics in visual format

The authors have created a monochrome image series that serves as a visual aid and includes a longer explanation of each of the previous guidelines.

You can click on the images to enlarge them.


We think that a proper set of guidelines for product and physical design was a great need. Heuristic analysis is the parameters that guides usability testing. And as such, it must be part of any good UX researcher’s toolbox.

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