Task Analysis

Painting a room

Background

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.

In their book “User and Task Analysis for Interface Design”, JoAnn Hackos and Janice Redish note that performing a task analysis helps you understand:

  • What your users’ goals are; what they are trying to achieve
  • What users actually do to achieve those goals
  • What experiences (personal, social, and cultural) users bring to the tasks
  • How users are influenced by their physical environment
  • How users’ previous knowledge and experience influence:
  • How they think about their work
  • The workflow they follow to perform their tasks

Task Analysis

So here is a breakdown of a task analysis process I did for for painting a room, with some sketches. It may seem like a simple task but in essence it still had to go through all the primary steps it would normally take for any other design job whether small or large. Here it is:

1. Target audience: In this step I came to define the target audience or the people affected by the problem. In this instance it’s a student living in a flat who is quite unhappy about his bedroom walls looking moldy and dirty. Who would wanna live there? even the cat is protesting.

2. User needs: So what are the necessary steps this person needs to take to rectify the issue of his molding walls? obviously he is very keen on painting his bedroom walls but as a tenant he cannot make this decision on his own without his landlord’s consent. Oh and let’s not forget, he is just a poor student.

3. Requirements: The student did the necessary steps to define the problem, identify needs and way forward by determining best color, tools required, budget calculations and time it takes to complete the job.

4. Stakeholders: The student then got in touch with his landlord and met onsite. Well, his flatmate is there just to provide some support.

The landlord did seem to agree that there is a serious issue with the mold, with hesitation he agreed for the student to go ahead and paint the bedroom. Of course the student did present him first with the budget calculations because that’s what the landlord seemed to be most concerned about.

5. Funding: Few days later, the landlord and the student met onsite once again to discuss the finer details, same time the landlord handed the student the sum amount required to complete the job. The student was very happy at that point, the landlord, am not so sure…

6. Preparation: The student rushed to the hardware store and collected all the things he needed for the paint job. Luckily, it was a nice sunny day.

7. Execution — part 1: With the help of his flatmate, they managed to clear the bedroom from all furniture and other obstacles, read to be painted.

8. Execution — part 2: This was the day the student started painting his bedroom and quickly the paint job worked wonders.

9. Completion: The student did a brilliant job. He was amazed what a lick of fresh paint did to his room! Oh and he didn't break his landlord’s bank account.

10. Finally: The student invited his landlord again to see the final results and hand him over all the receipts as per his request. At the point, everyone seemed pleased, even the cat.

This example was just a simplified version of how task analysis process works. It’s important to perform a task analysis early in the process, in particular prior to design work and involve all stakeholders and affected parties right from the beginning till completion.