How to Conduct a Cognitive Walkthrough

cognitive walkthrough

A cognitive walkthrough is essentially a trial of the product design, prototype or working system that tests specific tasks and sequences for their usability, comprehensibility, intuitive feel and so on. It is a cheap, easy and often very effective way of testing a design and product structure to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to and delivering the results that users need and want.

Because of the simplicity and nature of the cognitive walkthrough process, pretty much anyone can participate in the test. There are some advantages and disadvantages to who you actually get to do it. If you use someone who knows the product you get speed, cost-effectiveness and the ability to repeat and retest aspects. The downside to this is that the user has pre-knowledge and preconceptions and might not be good at spotting defects and shortcomings. You can still use someone else in your organisation who is not familiar with the product and retain the benefits without compromising the test with prior experience.

Probably the most reliable and useful method is to engage external users to do the walkthrough but this is slower, more complex and more expensive – and might not be necessary if the trial is properly constructed and the internal testers primed but not directed or over-informed.

What questions should you ask during a cognitive walkthrough?

There are four issues that you as a tester should be looking at in a cognitive walkthrough:

  1. Has the user realised what outcome is designed and attempt to accomplish it?
  2. How easy is it for the user to appreciate what actions are available and which is the correct one?
  3. Is there a sufficiently obvious link between the action and the outcome for the user to understand that making the choice will lead to the specific result?
  4. If the correct step is taken will the user realise and appreciate that this is progress towards the desired objective?

The first step in designing the walkthrough is to break tasks down into the necessary steps to accomplish them. This might be just a few simple decisions or a more complex decision tree but it has to accurately reflect the minimum amount of actions for the user in an ideal situation. You should get the testers to record their problems and thoughts as they proceed so you are able to gauge their level of initial understanding of the task and objective and how they proceed and deal with the options and steps they are faced with as they progress. Where there is confusion you, as the assessor, need to understand where this is originating and either what assumptions have been made that are not accurate or what elements in the system are unclear or even obscured or misleading.

Cognitive walkthrough can be a very valuable and efficient tool for testing design structure and content. If you would like to know more about the process and its uses, why not ring us on +44(0)800 0246247 or email us at

Related Posts