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Defining the users’ problems is considered a basic practice in the UX design thinking process. It is also considered the most important step as UX professionals can identify clearly and properly what the problem is and at the same time articulate problems in the user experience.

Without this step, we won’t be able to begin the process of ideating. 

This is where task analysis is useful. A task flow analysis is a simple exercise that UX designers utilize on identifying the users’ problems.

It helps not just in identifying where opportunities to improve the user experience exist, but also to generate some preliminary ideas as to how you might approach these challenges.

In this article, The Value of Task Analysis in UX, we will cover the following:

What is a task analysis?

Task analysis is the process of learning about the users through observation to understand in detail how they perform their tasks and achieve their intended goals.

Task analysis also helps identify the tasks that your website or applications support. This also helps in refining or redefining the website’s navigation or search to determine the appropriate content scope.


What is the purpose of task analysis?

One of the purposes of doing a task analysis is to provide actionable insights into user processes. This can be directly applied in designing efficient user flows that help avoid unnecessary work from the users. Instead, it delegates the tasks to the system.

Hierarchical task analysis encompasses a range of techniques from observations of the users to document their performance.

In the User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, a book written by JoAnn Hackos and Janice Redish, provided the following important questions when it comes to conducting a task analysis:

  • What are your users’ goals?

  • What are they trying to achieve?

    What do users actually do to achieve these goals?

    What experiences (personal, social, and cultural) do users bring to the tasks?

    How are users influenced by their physical environment?

  • How do users’ previous knowledge and experience influence the tasks at hand?

    How do they think about their work?

    What is the workflow they follow to perform the tasks?


What are the different approaches to user task analysis that can be useful in UX/UI design?

There are three approaches that you can do when it comes to conducting a user task analysis in UX and UI design. These are:

Contextual (User-centered model)

Contextual analysis is about obtaining a user-centered model of the task at hand or as it is currently performed in the user’s actual environment.

This enables UX designers to understand how the product is fit to the user-- the environment, needs, and other tools uses.

Let us take the example of designing for users in a chaotic environment. In this case, you will need to take these interruptions into account, including safeguards against unintentional errors, and providing options to choose the task up again after some delay (Mayhew, 2007).

The contextual task analysis is an indispensable approach when it comes to pinpointing novel business opportunities.  It answers the following questions:

  • What design technology solutions help the user do their task efficiently?

  • Is the product design seamlessly integrated into the user’s existing processes? How is easy or hard for new users to pick up and adjust to this design?

Lastly, understanding how users already interact with existing tools helps UX and UI designers create an interface that is already familiar to the users. 

Cognitive (Deeper mental process)

Cognitive task analysis is focused on understanding tasks with deeper mental processes. Examples of cognitive task analysis tasks are decision-making, attention, memory, and judgment. 

Hierarchical (User-behavior study)

Hierarchical task analysis is a study of user behavior, breaking the high-level tasks into smaller subtasks.

The information is created in a visualized form or diagram that describes the steps to be taken to achieve the defined goal.


When to Perform a Task Analysis

We recommend that you conduct the task analysis early in the design process, particularly before you begin the design work.

This is important since task analysis supports several aspects of the user-centered design process, such as the following:

  • Gathering of website requirements

  • Developing content strategy and site structure

  • Wireframing and Prototyping

  • Performing usability tests


Preparing to conduct a task analysis process

Based on the Usability professionals Courage by Redish and Wixon, the task analysis is an activity based on four core principles:

1.   An integral part of a wider analysis, which includes understanding the user and the environment

2.   It includes understanding users’ goals

3.   Although the focus, methods, granularity, and presentation of information may differ at different times, task analysis is relevant at all stages of the design and development process

4.   The practical reality is that task analysis for a given project depends on many factors.

If you break down the above principles, you will notice that the first two provide a deep understanding of the users, their environments, and their goals.

It is natural to expect that task analysis is a process that must be informed by the outputs of the previous stages such as empathizing with your users.

In this step, you should have already conducted user interviews and collected data through observation to better understand the users and build empathy with them. In short, expect that you will have engaged in some UX research that results in several outputs. These outputs could be user personas, scenarios, and storyboards. All of these pieces of information are essential for task analysis, as you will base your work according to these outputs.

But of course, collecting data is not enough for any user research. If you want to conduct a task analysis, you must have a well-made and focused data collection.

UX consultant Larry Marine recommends that any user research should focus on collecting the following five types of data during the task analysis phase. These are:

Trigger 

The thing that prompts users to start the task

Desired Outcome

When users will know the task is complete

Base Knowledge

What users expect to know when starting the task

Required Knowledge

What users actually need to know in order to complete the task

Artifacts

The tools or information that users utilize during the course of the task


Steps in task analysis

After you have gathered all the important data and insights during the empathy phase, you can now start to sketch out how a user goes on with their daily life through mapping the sequence of activities required to achieve a goal.

Before you begin, it’s important to have an overview of the process or method and its steps, so you can better prepare.

The process of task analysis can be broken down into the following steps/tasks:

Identify the task for analysis

You can begin by picking a persona and a scenario for user research. Then repeat the task analysis process for each one. Do not forget to answer this question: What are that user’s goal and motivation for trying to achieve it?

Break the high-level tasks into subtasks

Prepare at least 4 to 8 subtasks after this process. If you have more, then it means that your identified goal is too high-level or too abstract, which can be a challenge.

Thus, try breaking high-level subtasks down into smaller subtasks to achieve your goal. Each subtask should be specified by its objectives flow. These objectives should cover the whole area of interest when placed together.

Draw a layered task diagram

You need to draw a layered task diagram of each subtask and ensure it is complete.

Since there is no standard for the diagram, you can use any notation you like.

Try to write a story when a diagram is not enough. Many of the nuances, motivations, and reasons behind each action are simply lost in the diagrams. All these simply because they depict more about the actions and not the reasons behind them. When writing a story, make sure you accompany your diagrams with a full narrative that focuses the diagram on the whys.

Validation of analysis

Once you are completed and are happy with your work, we recommend that you review the analysis with a person who was not involved in the decomposition but knows the task flow well enough to check for consistency.

This person can be someone from another team working on the same project. You could also enlist the help of actual users and stakeholders for this purpose.

Bonus step: Conduct a parallel task analysis

A trick you might want to consider is utilizing parallel task analysis or getting more than one person on the UX design team to undertake the system process simultaneously.

This way, you can later compare your outputs and merge them into one final deliverable. This is very helpful if you are working internationally, or where multiple personas have to be considered for the same goal.


An example of a task analysis

To make it easier for you to understand the system process involved in task analysis below is a quick walk-through of a simple UX task analysis example.

In this example, we will analyze a user who loves to shop online and wants to buy a new pair of shoes for summer.

What is the goal?

Purchase a pair of shoes in an online app store

What are the tasks involved to achieve the goal?

Subtask 1: Find the shoes on the mobile app

  • Open the app

  • Go to the shoe section

  • Find the shoes on the category page

Subtask 2: Add the shoes to the shopping cart

  • Click on the product detail page

  • Choose the size

  • Click “add to cart”

Subtask 3: Proceed to checkout

  • Go to the “shopping cart” page

  • Click “checkout”

  • Register/log in or choose guest checkout option

Subtasks 4: Checkout

  • Enter delivery info

  • Choose the payment method

  • Enter billing info and card number

  • Review the purchase and pay


The takeaway

Learning the value of conducting a task analysis will help us achieve a better user experience for our users on how they interact with the product design.

In this article, we have learned how task analysis is able to help us design a better human-centric product to help users achieve the intended goal not only in an easy and hassle-free experience, but a good overall experience with the interface of the website, product, system, or app that we have designed for them.

Among many other things, conducting a task analysis during the first stages (and even before the design phase) of UX research will help UX and UI designers better understand or analyze their users. As a result: a better product design output.

Remember that the entire objective of doing task analysis is to improve the user experience. Conducting a task Analysis certainly is beneficial for understanding the steps and tasks involved in completing tasks, including all the pain points for the user.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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