This short insight is from of our Methods series: A discussion of useful working practices and ideas for better ideation and execution.  We discuss what each method is, why they are useful, and how to utilize them.

What.

An evaluation method where people work through a set of tasks, asking questions about the tasks as they go.

Why.

To quickly assess whether a design is easy and/or performs as intended for a new or an infrequent user. It dissects why it is or isn't easy. This exercise helps identify big issues at any stage throughout the process when you don't have access to real users... but it is worth noting it is not an exact substitute for user evaluation.

How.

  1. Identify the specific features for new or infrequent users that you wish to evaluate.
  2. Develop a set of tasks that address features that are new or infrequently used.
  3. Assign a member of the design team to play the role of a user.
  4. Ask the user to accomplish their goal using either a printed or an interactive prototype. As the user progresses through the tasks, ask them what they are attempting to do or how they are attempting to do it.
  5. Don't lead the user through the tasks; instead, follow their journey and encourage them to stay focused on the task that they're intending to complete.
  6. Pay careful attention to the outcomes and how quickly or easily your participant is able to perform each task.
  7. Analyze the results and identify areas of struggles—for future improvements.

Further Discussion.

A related methodology to Cognitive Walkthrough is Heuristic Evaluation. On the surface both Cognitive Walkthrough and Heuristic Evaluations appear very similar; however, one seeks to understand how certain features would be perceived and interacted by new and infrequent users' while the other seeks to understand usability issues measured against common heuristics. With this in mind, it's important to note that both Cognitive Walkthrough and Heuristic Evaluation are not substitutes for User Evaluation that measures actual users' perspectives.

Heuristic Evaluation.
We discuss a useful method to discover large usability problems at speed without additional research.