What is Task Analysis?

By Tiffany Lu

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. It is an important UX Design method because it identifies what features are crucial to your product. To help us understand this method, we will apply it to a concrete example:

Imagine you’re a design student living in a flat in the Mission in San Francisco in 2015. Hectic times! You noticed that the living room walls in your apartment are in dire need of a new paint job. Maybe because the wallpaper is covered in little yellow flowers, or maybe the walls are dirty with handprints, or the color of the wall is out of fashion (pepto-bismol pink perhaps?).
In any case, you’ve decided you are going to fix this and paint the living room. How will you take on this task?

The first thing to do is to put yourself into the shoes of the design student. What would you do if you needed to repaint your apartment? In essence, you are trying to figure out what the user’s goals are and what they are trying to achieve. In this case, the student is trying to beautify his or her apartment. It is also important to identify constraints. Maybe the student has a landlord or roommates, and needs their permission. This must also be considered to achieve the goal.

Next, we want to see the steps we would take to achieve our goal. To do this, we will break our goal up into subtasks:

  1. Recognize you have ugly wallpaper and decide to fix it
  2. Get your roommate’s permission
  3. Get your landlord’s permission
  4. Find a day and time to do this project
  5. Go to the store to get your supplies
  6. Prepare your room for painting
  7. Paint the room
  8. Clean up and enjoy!

Once the subtasks have been identified, it helps to visualize the process. In this picture, I have illustrated the above process:

An illustrated task analysis (with dinosaurs of course)

Of course, each of these subtasks could be revised or further divided depending on the actual situation. However, task analysis gives us a good starting point to understand how a goal can be performed and ultimately achieved.

Resources:

  1. https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/task-analysis.html