Painting the Living Room: A Practice in the Task Analysis Method

When I was a young, new project manager, a trainer in my Project Management Fundamentals course stated simply that “all work can be defined as a project and broken down into smaller, manageable tasks.” The example he gave was making a sandwich and while we as a class did a good job of defining the tasks related to that project, we only did that so that we could practice organizing the tasks, creating dependencies, and calculating the critical path. Why were we not spending more time figuring out what the tasks should be, examining ways of doing that, and relating it back to the design of a product? Because, as project managers, that wasn’t our job.

Fast forward a few years and I’m working towards a career change from project management into UX/UI design. In this process, I find myself in class once more. Only this time, instead working with the tasks to create a product, we’re focused on ways of defining the steps for the use of a product. Essentially, how will the user do ‘x’?

The current method we’re working with is called the Task Analysis Method. This method is used when designers and researchers want to understand how a person, without help or guidance, completes a task. Essentially asking “how would you _?” One technique to facilitate this method is to place paper and pencil in front of a person and ask them to draw you pictures of their process. There are, of course, other ways of doing this like shadowing someone if a version of the process or product is in use today but for our class, we’re attempting to follow the storyboarding technique.

Now, the process-oriented, type-a side of me is going: “WHAT? I hope you gave them a time limit!” While the more open-minded, curios side of me is saying: “SHHHHHHHHHHH! Here comes the good part!” And both are correct. You can’t leave this completely open ended. A time limit must be put in place but you also can’t rush someone who is giving you invaluable, real-world user data.

For our example, let’s take an hour and use the example of painting a sorely out of date living room. For good measure, let’s say you are renting it.

Now, I may have an unfair advantage in this since I’ve been through the real-world example and had personal experience to draw from but… here is the process I created:

My living room painting storyboard attempt.

1. Get fed up and decide to paint the darn room. All projects have a genesis point. Either an idea comes to someone with enough gumption to get the proverbial ball rolling, a regulatory change occurs that you must comply with, or your boss walks up and says: “here’s your next assignment.”

2. Talk to your roommate. Having had a couple terrible roommates in my time, it’s always important to talk to them first. They may feel the same way you do and want to help contribute or they may kill the idea before you go any further. However, if you talk to the landlord before the roommate, you run the risk of upsetting household politics. And, since you live with this person, it’s best to mitigate this risk by taking this step second.

3. Talk to the landlord. (This is where my experience comes in to play.) I’ve lived in apartments where the lease actually stipulates that any painting must be approved by the landlord and must be a certain color. Failure to comply could risk your coveted security deposit. So, talking to the landlord is a must before you even take a trip to the local paint store.

4. Agree a color. Now that everyone is in on the project, it’s time to start making some decisions and one of the most important is the color. Not everyone likes the same color and some people see color differently than others. So, take your roomie (the other one who will be living with this decision for the remainder of the lease term) to the paint store and work together to figure out what color to paint the room. Another benefit to talking to the landlord before you do this is that if they have certain stipulations you can use those as constraints to this step.

5. Buy the paint and supplies. Don’t forget the tarps! At this step, you get to walk up to the counter and be amazed a computer turns ordinary white paint into your chosen hue. However, don’t forget all the other stuff you will need such as: paint brushes, rollers, tarps, etc.

6. Prepare the room. This step could go quickly or take a ton of time depending on the room. Got lots of furniture and pictures on the walls? You must move everything and take everything off the walls. Make sure to tarp anything you would rather not get paint on (like the couch) if it is staying in the room while you paint and fill in all of the little holes, nicks, and gouges in the wall. If you have a tough to cover color on the wall, now is the point in which to prime the wall with primer. If you have wallpaper on the wall, take it down.

7. Paint the room. Now is when the rubber meets the road… Or rather, the paint meets the wall.

8. Let it dry. This will take time and depends on a multitude of factors such as time of year, humidity, airflow in the room, etc. So, give it ample time to dry before you begin un-tarping and setting the room back to normal.

There you have it, my attempt at using the Task Analysis Method for defining how you would paint your living room in an apartment you are renting. From here, a UX Designer would take my storyboard and compare it to others. This analysis would then be used to inform the design of some new product or an enhancement to a product.