The cognitive walkthrough is a usability evaluation method in which one or more evaluators work through a series of tasks and ask a set of questions from the perspective of the user. The focus of the cognitive walkthrough is on understanding the system’s learnability for new or infrequent users.
The cognitive walkthrough was originally designed as a tool to evaluate walk-up-and-use systems like postal kiosks, automated teller machines (ATMs), and interactive exhibits in museums where users would have little or no training. However, the cognitive walkthrough has been employed successfully with more complex systems like CAD software and software development tools to understand the first experience of new users.
- This is a usability inspection method that evaluates a system’s anticipated ease-of-use without instruction, coaching, or training.
- Each step of the interaction with the system can be assessed as a step that either moves the individual closer to or further from their goal.
- Evaluators ask four questions for each step in the sequence:
- Will users want to produce whatever effect the action has?
- Will users see the control (button, menu, label, etc.) for the action?
- Will users recognize that the control will produce the effect that they want?
- Will users understand the feedback they get, so they can confidently continue on to the next action?
- It should be used with usability testing to uncover different classes of design issues and problems.
Tasks Become Processes
Tasks are then divided up into a simple process to follow. So, for example, the login process on a website might look like this:
- Open browser
- Navigate to site
- Click login button
- Enter the user name in the user name field
- Enter the password in the password field
- Click the login button
If the task is too complex to write in a list format – a diagram can be used instead.
The Four Questions to be Asked during a Cognitive Walkthrough
Blackmon, Polson, et al. in 2002 in their paper “Cognitive walkthrough for the Web” offer four questions to be used by an assessor during a cognitive walkthrough:
- Will the user try and achieve the right outcome?
- Will the user notice that the correct action is available to them?
- Will the user associate the correct action with the outcome they expect to achieve?
- If the correct action is performed; will the user see that progress is being made towards their intended outcome?
More in details through IDF.
- May be done without first-hand access to users.
- Unlike some usability inspection methods, takes explicit account of the user’s task.
- Provides suggestions on how to improves learnability of the system
- Can be applied during any phase of development.
- Is quick and inexpensive to apply if done in a streamlined form.
- The value of the data is limited by the skills of the evaluators.
- Tends to yield a relatively superficial and narrow analysis that focuses on the words and graphics used on the screen.
- The method does not provide an estimate of the frequency or severity of identified problems.
- Following the method exactly as outlined in the research is labour-intensive.