Researching Usability

Heuristic Evaluation and Cognitive Walk-through

Posted on: September 10, 2009

My last post said that an explanation of each methodology would be provided for those unfamiliar with the terms. As promised, details are provided below:

Heuristic Evaluation

Heuristic evaluations are well documented on the web with many authoritative resources. Instead of paraphrasing other sources I thought it would be more appropriate to provide links.

Brief definition by Usability First

Jakob Nielsen’s ‘How to’ paper provides a comprehensive guide to the methodology from when it was originally developed: http://www.useit.com/papers/heuristic/heuristic_evaluation.html

Sitepoint’s step-by-step guide provides a more detailed explanation of each heuristic which is straighforward and easy to understand: http://www.sitepoint.com/article/heuristic-evaluation-guide/

Usability.gov outlines the original heuristics in addition to subsequent variations: http://www.usability.gov/methods/heuristiceval.html

A detailed check-list of every heuristic for those conducting a heuristic evaluation: http://www.stcsig.org/usability/topics/articles/he-checklist.html

The benefits of a heuristic evaluation from Usability Net: http://www.usabilitynet.org/tools/expertheuristic.htm

Cognitive Walk-through

Short description and definition

Comprehensive outline of the method: http://www.tiresias.org/tools/cognitive_walkthrough.htm

Defining the procedure of a walk-through: http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~zwz22/CognWalk.htm

Some of the characteristics of a cognitive walk-through include the creation of personas and the detailed documentation of tasks step-by-step in order to pinpoint exactly where the interface might fail. As with a heuristic evaluation, more than one evaluator is ideal however a cognitive walk-through often includes developers in the team of evaluators as well as usability experts.

Relationship with UX2.0 project

Sitepoint’s guide suggests conducting a heuristic evaluation by using one of three approaches:

  1. Develop a set of tasks and ask your evaluators to carry them out.
  2. Provide evaluators with the goals of the system, and allow them to develop their own tasks.
  3. Ask evaluators to assess your dialogue elements.

As discussed in the previous post, the evaluation intends to follow the set of heuristics while also carrying out typical user tasks (approach 1). Therefore the evaluation will predominantly be a heuristic evaluation and not a cognitive walk-through.

The main user task of a digital library is searching for a piece of information. Specific details of the information a user might be searching for will vary according to each DL and cannot be fixed. As a result, specific details of each task will be appropriate to each site.

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