Defining the users’ problem is at the heart of the design thinking process in all of its shapes or versions. To be able to devise experiences that answer true users needs, we must understand what the users try to achieve and help them get into their goal in the best and most efficient way. To do that, we can use the process of task analysis as part of our user experience design to identify real problems and help eliminate unnecessary steps or decisions to take from the users’ journey.

In this post I will explain this process, how to use that, and give some real life examples to show the potential of including it as part of your tools in the user experience design process.

The article is divided into 4 parts:

  1. What is task analysis?
  2. Task analysis is beneficial for the ux process
  3. How do we conduct a task analysis?
  4. Examples of task analysis process

What is task analysis?

Task analysis is the process of breaking down a task into steps from the user perspective. Unlike a use-case, in the task analysis we are not concerned with the usage of current available technology, and are trying to better understand the users perspective, the steps they need to perform and the decisions they need to make that will enable them to move from whatever triggered the task, to its outcome.

This prevent us from thinking about the goal of the user from the system point of view and free us from the constraints and limitation of the current technology or product, hence providing real value that can separate our business from the competition.

Task analysis is beneficial for the ux process

One of the main benefits of performing a task analysis is that it can help us identify the real problems users having.

Often time product teams are convinced that they know exactly what is the users’ problem. The issue is that these problems are backed only by assumptions and data coming from the usage of current technology or product.

Without having the users perspective of the steps that need to be taken and decisions that need to be made we are taking a risk with a design that may not provide the necessary information users will need in order to make an accurate decision, or tasks that are not optimized based on the users’ knowledge.

Task optimization

Once we identify the key steps user need to perform for completing a task, we can work to optimize those by eliminating unnecessary steps or providing the required information users need in order to make a decision.

By taking the time to analyze the user task and defining those key points where they need to make a decision, we can ensure that we are not relying only on the knowledge of users, and aid them at those points with the needed information or tools to guarantee the accuracy of the decision.

How do you conduct a task analysis?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

According to Larry Marin, a user experience expert: The best way to truly understand the nature of the users problem is by getting the user perspective while conducting a users research that can help us observe five key things:

  • The trigger – What initiate the task
  • The outcome – How users know if the task is done
  • Base knowledge – What is the information the users are expected to know when they begin the task
  • Require knowledge – What kind of information the users are actually need to know so they could successfully complete the task.
  • Artifacts – What information or tools are being used by the users while they are performing the task

Larry also recommend conducting those researches with users that are not currently using the product or system from the reason that existing users tend to be biased towards the current design.

After the observation is completed, we can use our notes to create a flow diagram from the the tasks and subtasks we have observed.

Moving in a top down process that start with the high level tasks and break those down into details, we can begin to see how users currently solve their problem.

However our real goal with the task analysis is to find better ways of how users could solve their problem, and we can do that by automating some of the steps or completely eliminate those.

The process of analysing a user task can be broken into 5 steps:

  1. Select a persona and scenario from the user research and identify the task that we want to analyze. What is the user motivation for this task? what is the goal they wish to achieve?
  2. Take this high level task and break it down into smaller subtasks steps with an objective for each
  3. Draw a flow diagram for each of the subtasks
  4. Write a separate narrative that tells the full story of this task to make sure all the nuances are captured
  5. Validate your task analysis with someone who was not part of the process of analyzing it (a member of the team, or a user)

An example of task analysis

Photo by Chloe Leis on Unsplash

Let’s look at a real life example of a user task and how can we analyze it into subtasks.

Imagine that you are a user experience designer for a large coffee chain looking for enhancing the experience of your customers.

You have identified one of the tasks your users have to take, which is simply getting a cup of coffee. You done your user research, and you have observed the following subtasks:

Goal: Buy a coffee

  1. Enter a coffee shop
  2. Go to the counter
  3. Wait in line
  4. Get greeted by the barista and asked for your order
  5. Choose the type of coffee from the menu
  6. Wait for the barista to take the order
  7. Pay for the coffee
  8. Wait for the coffee in the waiting section
  9. Pick up the coffee

Now that we have the task broken into smaller subtasks that need to be completed before users can achieve their goal, let’s consider how can we optimize this task even further.

Perhaps we could develop an app that allow users to order their coffee before even entering the shop. That way we save them a few extra steps and some time before they arrive to our coffee shop (In this specific case we need to consider the user persona however, as some users might actually enjoy the steps of interacting with the barista, and won’t appreciate the removal of these subtasks).

**This is a actually a real problem that has been solved by Starbucks

The idea here is to find those steps or points of decision that we can remove from the process of completing the task and provide an enhanced user experience.

The takeaway

The main thing we need to remember when we design experiences is that users have no intention to interact with our tools or features. What they do have is a goal or need in mind that they need to accomplish or satisfy.
And so when we build and design product, it is important to look for the users perspective through users research and identify the real problem we try to solve by observing the how user currently complete the task from their point of view.
With the data we gather, we can then work to optimize the task by elimination or enhancing some of the steps or points of decision users need to take on their way to achieving their goal with our product or service.

Nahum Yamin

A user experience designer living and working at Bangkok, Thailand. A coffee lover who likes to read and wonder about design business and technology, life and everything in between.

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