Usability expert review instructions

Instruction statement

This instruction provides best practice techniques for user experience professionals to quickly determine the top usability issues with a website or application.



Instruction steps and actions


Expert reviews are conducted by one or more user experience professionals to quickly determine the top usability issues with a website or application. This process is primarily written for the Web Service and Information Policy group.

Expert reviews are ideal for situations where:

  • an initial review is required to help scope further user research
  • a paper prototype needs to be reviewed
  • potential improvements need to be identified rather than opportunities for innovation or transformation
  • design is in progress and an external perspective is required for interim feedback
  • there isn’t the time or budget to engage representative users for usability testing

Ideally three to five evaluators will perform the review to increase the number and range of issues discovered.

An expert review will use widely published and accepted usability heuristics or principles to evaluate a website. Variations of expert reviews include:

  • walking through the site as a user and determining how well typical tasks are supported (often called a cognitive walkthrough)
  • assessing how well the site achieves business objectives

This hybrid approach can yield more instructive findings and recommendations for the stakeholders.

Step 1: Set the usability heuristics and scope of the review

  • Identify the people who will be performing the review and the review’s stakeholders.
  • Familiarise yourself with the website or application, its purpose and any special domain knowledge required to use it. To remain unbiased, ignore any existing research or preconceived usability issues or strengths.
  • Understand the target user groups and their core tasks.
  • Set the scope of content pages and functionality to review if its not the whole site.
  • Identify which heuristics will be used for the review.
  • Agree on a note taking format that allows the individual notes to be easily collated, such as a spreadsheet table duplicated across multiple sheets for each reviewer.

Step 2: Conduct the review

  • Methodically work through each page of the website and perform the core user tasks, independently without conferring with the other evaluators.
  • Consider a checklist of usability heuristics for each page and determine how it performs.
  • Take notes that detail the issues encountered and principles ignored.
  • Ideally take two passes of the interface so that the wider context of the whole site can be taken into consideration.

Step 3: Collate results

  • Synthesise the findings by completing your notes and summarising findings.
  • Link each usability issue to one or more specific heuristics and rate the usability issues, for example:
    • Catastrophic problems
    • Serious problems
    • Minor problems

Step 4: Create recommendations

  • Describe the usability issues by outlining its rating, and how quickly users may learn and recover from the issue.
  • Generate suggestions for improvement. The suggested fix might be described, sketched or mocked up.
  • Prioritise the overall findings and write an executive summary outlining the top 5 to 10 issues.

Step 5: Document the findings and recommendations

  • Consider the intended audiences for the findings and devise a communication plan to share the results with them. This may entail creating reports, presentations or other artifacts in a variety of formats to ensure suitability.
  • Share the results as widely as possible.

Work with stakeholders to create an action plan to implement the recommendations.

[Next: Supporting documents and information]