Why task analysis? 

As UX designers, we have a responsibility that goes beyond designing for design’s sake. Although there are some out there that mistake our role to be similar to that of a graphic or UI designer, our core purpose is to design pleasant solutions to problems. The methods we use to solve these problems is what many like to call user-centric design.

What is user-centric design?

Greg Hinzmann, the creative director at Greg Hinzmann Design, tells us that user-centric design does not mean you literally interpret user feedback and input, but that you understand their point of view, what their priorities are, and what they are trying to achieve. The focus should be on achieving the ideal way to meet the users’ goals and optimizing the desired outcome. 

Task analysis is a process used to achieve user-centric designs

There are many methods we can use to achieve a user-centric design such as market research, A/B testing, and user testing via interviews (to name just a few), but there is one method that should begin before we even start our designs – task analysis.

Task analysis can help us study how a user performs a series of tasks to meet the desired goal. By analyzing users’ tasks, using contextual inquiry, we can discover key issues in their existing flow and better design opportunities for a smoother experience. 

Exploring a real-world example of task analysis

An illustration of Sharon, a user who wants to shop for and cook a recipe found on Pinterest.

Let’s walk through an example of how you might analyze users’ tasks as an approach to user-centric design. In this example, we are analyzing Sharon, who loves to find and save new recipes on Pinterest. 

We are going to keep this task analysis focused on the goal of shopping for ingredients and cooking a recipe found on Pinterest. If your goal is too broad, you will have a much more difficult time identifying key issues and improving the experience.

The Goal

Shop for and cook a Maple Mustard Chicken Wings recipe previously saved on Pinterest.

Task analysis diagram

The diagram below shows a series of tasks and subtasks identified by watching Sharon meet the goal. We’ve also identified two tasks that required cognitive load (represented by a brain), which means these tasks required some added thinking to meet the goal. 

A task analysis flow chart that details the goals, requirements and steps involved in a user trying to shop for and cook a recipe found on Pinterest.

In short, you can document tasks using a simple numbered or bulleted list in this way:

  • Find the recipe on Pinterest
    1. Open Pinterest
    2. Go to saved boards
    3. Tap on “game day cooking” board
    4. Tap on the “Maple Mustard Chicken Wings” recipe
  • Review the ingredients and instructions
    1. Tap “Make it” to open the recipe web page
    2. Read through the ingredients and instructions on the web page.
  • Convert the number of servings from 9 to 18 ?Cognitive load
    1. Highlight the ingredients on the web page
    2. Open the notes app and paste the ingredients
    3. Multiple the number of each ingredient by 2
  • Create a shopping list
    1. Highlight text in the notes app and tap the “checkbox” to convert the bulleted list into a checklist.
    2. Check off the items you already have
  • Go shopping ?Cognitive load
    1. Go to your nearby grocer
    2. Wander through the aisles to search ingredients
    3. Checkoff the ingredients as you find them.
    4. Purchase ingredients and bring home.
  • Begin cooking
    1. Open pinterest
    2. Go to saved boards
    3. Tap on “game day cooking” board
    4. Tap on “Maple Mustard Chicken Wings” recipe
    5. Follow the cooking instructions
    6. Switch to the notes app to reference the correct quantity for ingredients.

By analyzing the tasks shown above, we can identify repetitive and unnecessary steps and also automate steps to decrease the cognitive load required by a user.

Identifying key areas to improve the user experience

Although Pinterest is great for discovering and saving recipes, it offers no specific features that make shopping for or cooking the recipe very easy. Sharon is instead required to jump back and forth between apps and do some dreaded math (cognitive load) to convert ingredients to match her desired serving size.

Also, when she begins the cooking process, she has to repeat her initial tasks to find this recipe again after shopping from the checklist she created in the notes app.

Task analysis takeaway

This was a real-world example task analysis performed by Chandler Horsley, the founder of Favoreats. The Favoreats app improves on this experience while achieving the same goal by syncing to your Pinterest account and offering features to automate the many steps required to shop for and cook a Pinterest recipe. Some of these features include automatically converting measurements based on servings, and automatically creating a shopping list with added details, like which aisle you will find each ingredient in.

By understanding the users and how they previously achieved their goals, Horsley was able to identify these key areas. He was able to create a product that improved upon this existing experience without taking away the experience the users already enjoyed in the process.

It’s important, before creating a new user journey for your experience, that you develop a user research methodology and analyze the existing journey to make sure you don’t miss important needed steps and that you have the right data and perspective to solve problems that actually exist.