UX audits: Analysis for better usability

Carla Biegert
June 28th, 2024

two people working on computer

To get an initial overview of the UX of a website or app, a UX audit is often recommended. But what is a UX audit anyway?

What is a UX audit?

A UX audit is a procedure used in the UX field in which one or more UX professionals use documented usability heuristics to evaluate the user interface of an app or website with regard to processes or execution.

The aim of a UX audit is to find out whether all ergonomic qualities are present according to the current state of knowledge (i.e. standards and industry norms). A UX audit can identify weaknesses in a system regarding its user-friendliness or usability and find answers to the following questions:

  • Can important information be found?
  • Which terms cause difficulties?
  • Does the software help users to complete their tasks?
  • In which areas of the software are there inconsistencies and are general UX rules violated?
  • Are the layout, structure and presentation in line with expectations and generally easy to use?

The resulting list of deficiencies then provides a source of information on what the focus and prioritization of a project should be.

Ideally, a UX audit is only one component of the UX evaluation. End users should always be involved, e.g. in the form of usability tests.

The method of choice for UX audits is usually a combination of heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthrough. In heuristic evaluation, the UX professionals evaluate the application based on the 10 usability heuristics developed by Jakob Nielsen, for example. Heuristics describe generally recognized rules of thumb that apply to every interface and should be taken into account to ensure good usability. The heuristics according to Nielsen are described below.

10 usability heuristics by Jakob Nielsen

Visibility of System StatusThe system should always inform users in a timely and appropriate manner about what is happening.
Match Between the System and the Real WorldThe system should speak the language of the user, i.e. familiar words, phrases and concepts. It should follow real-world conventions so that information appears in its natural and logical order.
User Control and FreedomUsers often carry out actions unintentionally. There needs to be clearly labeled ways out, such as "Undo", "Redo" or "Esc".
Consistency and StandardsUsers should not have to think about whether different words, situations and actions mean the same thing. Conventions of the platform or the industry are adhered to.
Error PreventionA design that prevents errors from occurring in the first place is better than any good error message. The system should avoid error-prone situations or warn users and let them confirm the action.
Recognition Rather than RecallVisible elements, actions and options mean that users need to remember less. Information that is required to use the system should be visible or easily retrievable when needed.
Flexibility and Efficiency of UseShortcuts (e.g. short commands) - hidden for inexperienced users - can speed up interaction for experienced users. Frequent actions should be customizable.
Aesthetic and Minimalist DesignInterfaces should not contain any superfluous or rarely used information. Any additional information competes with relevant information and thus reduces its visibility.
Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from ErrorsError messages should be formulated in simple language (no error codes), describe the problem precisely and suggest a constructive solution.
Help and DocumentationAt best, the system should not require any additional explanations. Nevertheless, it may be necessary to provide documentation. Information is then easy to find and focuses on the user's task.

The topic of accessibility is now also included in the heuristic evaluation. For example, accessibility testing tools based on the WCAG 2.1 criteria can be used to evaluate the accessibility factors of a website or app. Digital accessibility is rightly moving more and more into the spotlight and is not only important because there will be mandatory EU directives from 2025.

In a cognitive walkthrough, the UX professional takes on the role of a user and runs through a predefined scenario in the application. The UX professional assesses whether and how easily a task can be achieved, which problems could potentially arise and checks the fulfillment of the usability criteria from the user’s perspective. For example: Can the task be completed satisfactorily without detours? Does the application provide sufficient hints and feedback to recognize progress and next steps?

Heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthrough are the two main methods used in the audit. However, the experience of the experts is also incorporated, as experience from other projects shapes and expands one’s own perspective.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of a UX audit?

UX audits offer an opportunity to obtain quick, cost-effective feedback and uncover usability problems. The status quo in terms of usability and UX can be determined. An audit offers a high degree of objectivity through comparison with standardized heuristics. External experts can look at an application objectively, whereas internal people often become blind and, in the worst case, can no longer evaluate an application objectively. Experts are guided by suitable usage scenarios and thus also examine the fit with the users’ mental models. In a UX audit, an application is also evaluated holistically, i.e. not only UX, but also UI components. The results can be used quickly to improve quality and indications can be derived regarding the scope of any necessary improvements.

As a UX audit often only highlights shortcomings, it can be perceived as overly critical, so positive points should always be included in the evaluation. Without involving users, it is unclear whether assumed scenarios correspond to the actual workflow. Depending on the application, a practical challenge may be to create an appropriate test environment for the UX audit and to create access for the experts. A UX audit only provides an overview of usability problems; it is difficult to assess the technical accuracy of complex content. This is another reason why it is highly recommended to (additionally) include the user perspective with real end users.

How do we at Centigrade conduct a UX audit?

At Centigrade, we always start a UX audit with a scoping workshop. Together with the client, we define at least two user groups (in the form of personas) and several (usage) scenarios. This is essential in order to provide the relevant context and make a cognitive walkthrough from the user’s perspective possible in the first place. The scenarios each describe a realistic workflow in the system to be analyzed, which is why there are usually several scenarios per user group.

We recently implemented a UX audit for PLUSCARD. In a previous project, we had conducted a customer satisfaction survey for PLUSCARD (link to success story), which revealed that some areas of the website were not intuitive to use. PLUSCARD took this as an opportunity to carry out an audit. Here, too, we first held a scoping workshop in which we defined two personas and seven scenarios. The number of scenarios was partly due to the large number of target groups on the website and different areas, such as a login area.

In a UX audit, we work according to the four-eyes principle, i.e. two researchers divide up the scenarios and evaluate them in the cognitive walkthrough and heuristic analysis. Many problem areas crop up again and again in the scenarios. This procedure is intended to prevent certain patterns from being overlooked. During the PLUSCARD audit, two colleagues clicked through the application using the scenarios and carried out the individual steps in the context of the scenario in the system. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Documentation of the identified deficiency
  2. Assignment to one or more violated heuristics (according to Nielsen’s ten heuristics)
  3. Assignment of a degree of severity
    1. Slight: concerns aesthetics, designations, sizes and deviations therefrom
    2. Medium: concerns readability, recognizability, implementation of UI elements, inconsistent use, use of symbols
    3. Severe: concerns use of UI elements, non-compliance with standards and/or platform, violation of self-descriptiveness, conduciveness to learning, conformity to expectations, fault tolerance

We compile this information in a template that provides us with a descriptive evaluation: How many problems occurred in total? Which heuristics were violated most frequently? What is the proportion of severity levels among the defects?

In addition to the documentation, high-level recommendations for action are also formulated that can lead to the defect being rectified.

Here are two examples from our UX audit for PLUSCARD:

Description of the defectHeuristics violatedSeverityRecommendation
There was no page navigation (e.g. in the form of a breadcrumb) on a service page of the website -> Users cannot return to the previous page-Match Between the System and the Real World
-User Control and Freedom
-Consistency and Standards
-Flexibility and Efficiency of Use
SevereCheck layout and consistency, revise navigation concept
When checking a scenario with a smartphone, it was noticed that the headings were cut off when scrolling through the content of the homepage at 320xp width.Aesthetics and Minimalist DesignSlightOptimization for mobile devices

After conducting the UX audit, we prepare a presentation in which we sort the most serious problems by topic and present them.

And what happened next? Based on the problems identified, PLUSCARD decided to revise the concept and design of the website and put it on a new footing. In order to test the first drafts, they consulted end users and carried out usability tests. This is the ideal case because, as mentioned above, users should always be involved as well – a UX audit is always just one component.


A UX audit provides a thorough review and evaluation of the usability and UX of a website or application. The aim is to identify strengths and weaknesses and develop suggestions for improvement. Experts look at an application from the user’s perspective and proven standards using heuristic evaluation and a cognitive walkthrough. The example of the UX audit at PLUSCARD shows how useful the UX audit is, but also that it is in no way a substitute for tests with real users. Overall, it provides valuable insights for optimizing the user experience.


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