How do you do a thing? How do you go from the state of having the idea to do a thing, all the way through to the state of having completed that thing?
The study of this — the study of how a person goes about completing an intended action, or goal, or task — this is what we call Task Analysis. And why are you and I talking about Task Analysis today, well, because it's one of the cornerstones of product and UX design.
“Why” I hear your frantically cry “is Task Analysis so important?”
Consider for a moment about what we’re trying to do in UX design — we’re trying to design a great User Experience. But users use a product in order to do something or — as is more often the case — many things.
Users use a thing in order to do a thing.
I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds (and how poorly it reads) but there is a kernel of insight here and it’s worth extrapolating.
Imagine you just got the job as a UX designer at a great company (congratulations by the way!) and you’ve been asked design a feature. For our example’s sake, let’s say it’s a checkout process. Now, whether there’s already a checkout and you’re just building upon it, or it’s a whole new build from scratch, it’s hard to understand what users want from a great checkout experience (or how you should design one) without first understanding all the steps they take in order to conduct a checkout to completion.
This is where Task Analysis steps in.
Paint by numbers
Take for example the task of painting a wall. How would you go about it?
As a scenario, imagine you’re renting an apartment, you have two other flatmates, and one of the walls is ugly and you want to take it upon yourself repaint it.
Think about all the steps you would need to take in order achieve this.
Break each one down, consider constraints, barriers, and enablers. Which resources you would use, which you would not. Consider might speed up the process, what might make it drag on. The more you prosecute each consideration, inevitably further dropdown considerations appear, but for this exercise try to just stick with the major issues and not go down the rabbit hole.
Now, order and map the process you’ve decided to go with.
By doing this, you’re now into Task Analysis Mapping.
I decided to try this very exercise for myself, here’s how it went:
Tasks ain’t Taxing
“But that’s so obvious!” I hear you say.
And you’re right, it is.
But the simplest of concepts often provides enormously valuable insights, and Task Analysis is a prime example of this.
Task Analysis isn’t complicated, it’s not meant to be, in fact it shouldn’t be.
Our role as designers is to simplify, and Task Analysis — and Task Analysis Mapping — is a fantastic tool to help us understand our users, streamline in-product processes, and simplify our designs all so that our user’s experiences — and their goal achievement — are as wonderful they deserve them to be.