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The Fluid approach to UX walkthroughs examines both heuristics and cognitive evaluations at the same time. By combining these two approaches, an evaluation gains benefits beyond just one of the evaluations in isolation.

Our aim for Fluid, "Software that works - for everyone", takes in accessibility as well as usability. Rather than having two separate inspections, we want to have a unified inspection that addresses both areas.

Overview of the Approach

When evaluating  a system using the Fluid approach, you want to keep both usability (aka. the heuristics) and accessibility (aka. cognitive concerns) in mind. A good way of thinking of the approach would be:

  • How well does a page fulfill the basic requirements for usability or accessibility?
  • How does the interface accommodate my particular user (based on a persona or demographic)?

By answering these two questions at any given moment of your evaluation, you are evaluating both the big picture and specific details at the same time.

Before you Begin: Choose your Persona and Establish your User

While traveling through a service performing the evaluation, a cognitive walkthrough is performed through a step-by-step exploration of a page to see how well a particular type of user will be able to accomplish his or her objectives. The user in mind is represented by a persona, or based on a profile of a known user demographic.

1. Choose a persona

  • which is adequate to judge what knowledge the user may plausibly be expected to have
  • which specifies the particular needs, preferences, and limitations the user may have

If you do not have a persona created, but have access to real world users of the system or demographic information of those users, you can still create a partial persona (see Personas for more information on how to create and apply personas).

Your choice of persona(s) should be documented in your evaluation.

We strongly recommend creating a persona based on real-world users, even if the persona is partially completed, as this will likely give more accurate and revealing results.

2. Specify an explicit user goal

  • A user goal - the specific result desired by the user and motivating the interaction

Note that separate walkthroughs may be needed for each persona, although some issues will likely show up in more than one walkthrough, resulting in later walkthroughs going more quickly than earlier ones.

Fluid UX Walkthrough Checklist

Checklist: Heuristic Principles for Usability 1

To conduct an heuristic evaluation of a service offered through the web, travel through the pages of the site, reflecting on each of the listed principles, and recording compliance and violations. The heuristic principles should also be kept in mind during cognitive walkthroughs.

___ Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

___ Match between system and the real world
The system should speak the user's language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

___ User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.

___ Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

___ Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

___ Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

___ Flexibility and efficiency of use
Accelerators - unseen by the novice user - may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

___ Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

___ Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

___ Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Checklist: Heuristic Principles for Accessibility

The following is an abridged version of the Simple Accessibility Walkthrough Protocol - see this document for a better understanding how these principles apply to accessibility.

___ Assess the overall layout, structure and content of the page

  • Is the page structured into logical sections?
  • Are those sections clearly labeled, and is their function apparent?
    • Do paragraphs, sections, and tables have meaningful headings?
    • Is the information in forms grouped in relevant "clumps"?
  • Is site content helpful to users of assistive technology?
    • Can headings, captions and links be understood independently of their surrounding context?
    • Does sentence structure follow writing conventions in a consistent way?
  • Are there sufficient non-visual cues to convey the overall structure? (I.e., Are there sufficient text and/or explanations on the page to understand its purpose and functionality without relying on graphic elements).
  • Are there sufficient visual cues to support page content?
    • Are visual cues recognizable without being differentiated by color?
    • Does there seem to be sufficient contrast between foreground (text) and background colors?
  • Are the most important information and navigational elements prioritized high on the page?
  • Is navigation consistent from page to page? Is the structure of content consistent from page to page?

___ Play around with the layout: enlarge the font size; change the size of the window (bigger and smaller); adjust your resolution

  • Is all the text still visible? Does it overlap?
  • Does visual context break down at large text sizes?
  • Are headers, labels, and visual cues still correctly associated with their content?
  • Do columns shift or realign correctly?

___ Use the Tab key to navigate through the entire page.

  • Do all links and controls receive focus as you tab through the page?
  • Can all controls be activated with the Enter or Space keys?
    • Is movement possible using arrow keys within the object (for example, to move around cells within a table, or within a form)?
  • Does tabbing follow a logical sequence through the page?
  • Is content easily accessible and not secondary to navigational "chrome"? Are navigation and content formats consistent from page to page?
  • Are there any areas where you get stuck and have to use the mouse?
  • Are shortcuts or skip links provided to make keyboard access quicker? Are they visible and clear?

___ Use Internet Explorer (6 or 7) or Firefox with Popup Alt Attributes Extension to check for alternative text for all images and title text for links.

  • Do images have text alternatives for visual content?
  • Are descriptions short (around 20 characters maximum) and using the alt attribute?
  • Are decorative or meaningless images such as spacer graphics using empty alt text (alt="") so they will be ignored by screen readers?
  • If a description cannot be adequately provided with 20 characters, does a graphic have a supplemental longdesc attribute?
  • Is title text specified for links? When link text cannot be made descriptive enough by itself, more of an explanation can be provided through the use of the title attribute.

1 The above section lists the original Nielsen and Molich heuristics, as refined by Nielsen.

Protocol: Cognitive Walkthrough

Along side the Heuristic evaluation, cognitive walkthroughs are performed to give specific information for the selected persona accomplishing their particular task.

___ Adopt a Persona

  • Choose a persona to use for this walkthrough. See "Before you Begin" above.

___ Define the task

  • Determine the sequence of steps the user/persona should go through to accomplish their goal. (Their goal is defined under "Before you Begin" above).

___ User Direction

  • For each step in accomplishing the task, will the user know what to do at this step?
  • Is complex problem solving needed to figure out what to do?

___ Task Progress

  • If the user does the right thing, will they know that they did the right thing, and are making progress towards their goal?
  • Is complex problem solving needed to interpret the feedback?

Protocol: Cognitive Walkthrough with Accessibility

In an accessibility walkthrough, the main consideration is how low vision, blindness, impaired hearing, motor control limitations, or cognitive issues affect the use of websites or software. This is identical to the above protocol, but with emphasis on accessible cues.

___ Preparation

  1. Assess the overall layout and structure of each page.
  2. Play around with the layout: enlarge the font size; change the size of the window (bigger and smaller); adjust the resolution.
  3. Use the Tab key to traverse the entire page.

___ Adopt a Persona

  • Choose a persona to use for this walkthrough. See "Before you Begin" above.

___ Define the task

  • Determine the sequence of steps the user/persona should go through to accomplish their goal. (Their goal is defined under "Before you Begin" above).

___ User Direction
For each step in accomplishing the task:

  • Will the user know what to do at this step?
  • Is complex problem solving needed to figure out what to do?
  • Are the cues provided accessible to the user?
  • Can the cues be understood by someone who doesn't process text well?
  • Can the cues be found by someone who can't scan the screen easily?

___ Performing Actions

  • Will the user be able to carry out the required action?
  • Can it be performed easily by a keyboard-only persona?
  • Can it be performed without visual monitoring?

___ Task Progress

  • If the user does the right thing, will they know that they did the right thing, and are making progress towards their goal?
  • Is complex problem solving needed to interpret the feedback?
  • Is complex problem solving needed to interpret the feedback?
  • Is the feedback accessible to the user, and can they find it (as for cues)?

For example:

  • Blind persons and some persons with limited motor control need keyboard-only operation
  • Persons with cognitive issues need visuals that reinforce text
  • Persons with low vision must enlarge page content; deaf people require video captioning and visual, rather than auditory, prompts.
  • You also must consider the assistive technology the user will use. Examples include screen magnifiers such as ZoomText, screen readers such as JAWS, or combination screen readers/enlargers such as Kurzweil 3000.

To conduct an actual accessibility walkthrough and assessment, it is recommended that the reviewer select a persona to adopt and then follow one the detailed protocols listed in the section on heuristics (above):

(warning) I don't particularly like this last paragraph. How should incorporate the accessibility protocols into this document? -JH

Reference

More detail on each of the heuristic principles can be found in be found in an expanded list from Deniese Pierotti of Xerox, which itemizes specific things to look for when evaluating a system with Nielsen's Heuristics. See Heuristic Evaluation - A System Checklist.

The Fluid UX Accessibility Working Group has created a set of protocols for assessing accessibility:

  • Simple Accessibility Walkthrough Protocol: This is a set of simple heuristics for evaluating the general accessibility of a web application without need for complex assistive technologies. It provides a simple technique that anyone can learn while doing UX Walkthroughs.

A paper from Claire Paddison and Paul Englefield provides a list of nine heuristic principles for accessibility evaluations:

  • Applying Heuristics to Perform a Rigorous Accessibility Inspection in a Commercial Context
    (Click on the Full Text PDF link and view pages 129-130.)

Paddison and Englefield include in their paper a general discussion of the heuristic approach. This is recommended reading for all reviewers.

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