Cognitive Walkthrough


Applicable stages: design, code, test, and deployment.
Personnel needed for the evaluation:
Usability experts: 1-4
Software developers: 0-2
Users: 0
Usability issues covered:
Can be conducted remotely: No Can obtain quantitative data: No


Cognitive walkthrough involves one or a group of evaluators inspecting a user interface by going through a set of tasks and evaluate its understandability and ease of learning. The user interface is often presented in the form of a paper mock-up or a working prototype, but it can also be a fully developed interface. The input to the walkthrough also include the user profile, especially the users' knowledge of the task domain and of the interface, and the task cases. The evaluators may include human factors engineers, software developers, or people from marketing, documentation, etc. This technique is best used in the design stage of development. But it can also be applied during the code, test, and deployment stages.

Defining the Input to the Walkthrough

Walking Through the Actions

The analysis phase consists of examining each action in the solution path and attempting to tell a credible story as to why the expected users would choose that action. Credible stories are based on assumptions about the user's background knowledge and goals, and on an understanding of the problem-solving process that enables a user to guess the correct action.

As the walkthrough proceeds, the evaluators ask the following four questions:

The evaluator(s) will try to construct a success story for each step in the task case(s). General conditions where a success story can be told is given next in "common features of success". When a success story cannot be told, construct a failure story, providing the criterion (one or more of the four questions above) and the reason why the user may fail.

Common Features of Success

Users may know "what effect to achieve": Users may know "an action is available": Users may know "an action is appropriate" for the effect they are trying to achieve: Users may know "things are going OK" after an action:

  1. C. Wharton et. al. "The cognitive walkthrough method: a practitioner's guide" in J. Nielsen & R. Mack "Usability Inspection Methods" pp. 105-140.