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Cognitive walkthrough

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What is it?

The cognitive walkthrough is an approach to evaluating a website or application interface based upon a group of stakeholders breaking down and analysing the tasks and actions that a user must perform in order to use the system to achieve a particular (series of) goal(s).


The cognitive walkthrough method is rooted in the notion that users typically prefer to learn a system by using it to accomplish tasks rather than by, for example, studying a manual.

A cognitive walkthrough starts with a task analysis that specifies the sequence of steps or actions required by a user to accomplish a task, and the system responses to those actions.

The designers and developers of the software then "walkthrough" the steps as a group, asking themselves a set of questions at each step. Data is gathered during the walkthrough, and afterwards a report of potential issues is compiled. Finally the software is redesigned to address the issues identified.

What's it for?

The cognitive walkthrough method is used to identify usability issues in an interaction application, focusing on how easy it is for new users to accomplish tasks with the system.

How to do a cognitive walkthrough
A cognitive walkthrough is a formidable sounding term for a simple activity. It's best performed on a wireframe or other design document, paper or interactive prototype or working application by a group of project stakeholders - including designers and developers - using the following four steps:

  1. Identify users and goals - thinking particularly about their knowledge of the task domain
  2. Identify the test cases to be evaluated - these are the documented sequences of actions that a user will perform to achieve a particular goal. There may be one or more test cases in a single walkthrough.
  3. Step through the tasks - using the following four questions:
    • Will the users try to achieve the right effect?
    • Will the user notice that the correct action is available?
    • Will the user associate the correct action with the effect to be achieved?
    • If the correct action is performed, will the user see that progress is being made toward solution of the task?
  4. Capture usability findings - and document them

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