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Task Analysis

Do you stop and think about how to tie your shoe-lace? Do you remember the first time you tied your laces? The first time required a lot of cognitive effort and assistance from someone who was an expert. And now you can do it without even looking at it, even while having a conversation with someone.

Once we become an expert at using a product, we can almost do it subconsciously. We require little or no effort at all to carry out tasks to accomplish our goals. When designing a product, service or system, we often start thinking from our level of expertise. We forget that what is easy for us, may be difficult to extremely challenging for someone else. This is where Task Analysis comes in.

Task analysis is the logical breakdown of the actions and cognitive processes the user must go through to achieve his/her goal while using a product, system or service. It requires carrying out proper user research through interviews or observing the user while they use the product, system or service.

Why Task Analysis is done?

To find out –

  • What are the users’ goals? What is he/she trying to achieve?
  • What steps will he/she take to reach the goal
  • What factors in the physical environment is affecting his/her behavior
  • How past experiences are affecting his/her task flow

When do we carry out a Task Analysis?

It is usually done before starting the design process or at the early stages of the iteration cycle. The earlier it is done, the better as the results of the analysis will in turn affect the content strategy, wire framing, prototyping and usability testing of the product.

Task Analysis is done first by observing a competent individual, secondly by observing an expert and lastly, by observing someone who is a new user. The steps they use are documented and later used as a reference.

Common methods of Task Analysis

Two methods of Task Analysis are most commonly used. They are:
1. Cognitive Task Analysis – This method is more focused on understanding the tasks that requires the users to take decisions, solve problems and needs memory, attention and judgment.

2. Hierarchical Task Analysis – This method is a more structured approach. User’s tasks are decomposed into sub-tasks to create a task flow.

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