Cognitive walkthrough

The cognitive walkthrough is a method used to evaluate how easy to learn a product is. The accompanying unit of measure is called learnability.

Updated on May 11th, 2023


Unlike other research methods, the cognitive walkthrough does not require users but instead has user experience experts (also called reviewers) perform the walkthrough.

Experts need to walk through a task and assess its design from a new user's point of view.

Why conduct a cognitive walkthrough?

First of all, cognitive walkthroughs help the design team evaluate the usability of a product and find issues that require fixing. It helps to improve the overall user experience and brings a monetary advantage to the business (by improving the conversion rate, for example).

Another advantage is that it requires experts to take the user's perspective when evaluating the product. It helps experts learn about the user, which is very valuable for the team.

In addition, cognitive walkthroughs can save time compared to other research methods because you eliminate the time-consuming step of finding users for your research.

Remember that it is not recommended to use the cognitive walkthrough to replace research involving users. However, if well conducted, it will give you insights to improve the product you're working on.

Difference between cognitive walkthrough and heuristic evaluation

The cognitive walkthrough and heuristic evaluation are two techniques that are often mixed up.

While they both highlight usability problems by taking the user's point of view, the heuristic evaluation focuses more on the whole product. On the other hand, a cognitive walkthrough focuses on a single task at a time.

How to perform a cognitive walkthrough

Now that you know what a cognitive walkthrough is, we will focus on how to perform one. Here's a step-by-step approach.

Identify the user goals

As a UX designer, you should always start with your user's goals in mind. The cognitive walkthrough is no different. Usually, the user goal is big and does not include step-by-step tasks.

For the walkthrough to work, you will need to divide the overall user goal into smaller chunks. Here's an example.

"As a user, I want to be able to set my job preferences so that I can find a job that I like."

In the example above, the overall goal for the user is to find a job. For the cognitive walkthrough, you'll focus on setting job preferences.

It's important to evaluate each individual goal or task through separate walkthroughs. Doing so helps you to make sure the issues you discover belong to the right task.

Document the experience

Ideally, you should have a template or document that all the experts will use to document the experience with the product. Consistency is key here.

After completing each step ask and reflect on the following questions.

  • Will users understand how to start the task?

  • Will users notice that the correct action is available?

  • Will users associate the correct action with the result they're trying to achieve?

  • After the action is performed, will users see that progress is made toward the goal?

After each step of the task, the reviewers discuss the above questions and determine if the user can complete the task. After evaluating all the steps, the group summarizes fail points and discusses what to do next.

Useful resources

How to Conduct a Cognitive Walkthrough Workshop - NN Group

Evaluate Interface Learnability with Cognitive Walkthroughs - NN Group

How A Cognitive Walkthrough Can Improve Website Usability and Conversions - Invesp

A Simple Guide to Cognitive Walkthrough - UX Tweak



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