Task Analysis for painting a room.

Task analysis is the process of learning about ordinary users by observing them in action to understand in detail how they perform their tasks and achieve their intended goals (Usability.gov).

Task analysis has several steps: first understanding the user’s goals, and then recording what steps do the users take to achieve these goals. We also try to understand the context in which the users perform their goals: what are the main constraining or accelerating factors for them to achieve their goals, e.g. their previous knowledge, their relationships with other people with whom they interact, their emotional state, their motivations, the physical environment, etc.

In order to conduct task analysis, one needs to break the task down into 4 or 8 subtasks. The subtask should be specified in terms of objectives, these groups should be of comparable intensity or effort. Then one makes an illustration of each of the steps in the task with enough detail, but the ones which are essential to the task at hand or the environment. Then one needs to describe all the steps and present the analysis to someone who is not involved in the project and see if it makes sense. An iteration is in place if one doesn’t.

For our project the aim was to understand which steps are necessary, if a group of people sharing a household would like to paint their walls. For this we have come up with the following diagram, divided into 8 specific steps.

Step 1. Recognize the problem: first, one needs to recognize that the Walls need painting and formulate a goal for oneself.

Step 2. Identify the needs/wants: bring the problem to the attention of other members and discuss the problem and what everyone’s idea of the final result is.

Step 3. Evaluate the possibilities: determine which resources are needed to accomplish the goal, e.g. maybe there is some paint left, whether there are brushes and a ladder, as well as how much money everyone is willing to contribute to the project.

Step 4. Collect the money. Decide on a certain sum of money to be invested, and collect this money together, to a common “bank”. It can happen over the Internet or in cash.

Step 5. Procure the missing resources. This step involves going to a construction store and procuring the necessary paint and missing tools.

Step 6. Divide the task and achieve common understanding about the process. If there are three people, everyone should be evenly involved, but as the task involves a common result that one wants to look homogenous, one needs to be clear about what needs to be painted and how.

Step 7. Do the work: use the tools to paint the walls together while listening to some good music.

Step 8. Enjoy! And laugh about it while drinking a cup of coffee.

At the first glance, it seems like an easy process, however at each stage some misunderstandings might arise that can prevent from successful completion of the task. For example, people might have completely different understanding of the final result before they actually see it, their painting skills and experience might differ, they might have different resources that they can or want to afford for this, etc. The goal of the interaction designer is to design the service in such a way that foresees all of these possible contingencies.

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