Task Analysis. How & Why?

UX design is all about iteration. Sometimes we may impress by some awesome products with longevity history. They improve their system based on users’ need. Sometimes they also solve the problem and make the dead product or brand come back to life. For an old and high reputation product, it is really hard to make a big change on the entire system even though the design team find their traffic volume are declined. However, if the design team can find a small problem of their product, it can be super helpful to changing the game to make a big turning point on their market. It is a chance to use task analysis to identify and solve a specific problem. And this method also fit to developing new product.

What Is Task Analysis?

Task analysis is the act of observing users and recording the actions they take to achieve their goals within a website or app. By using this method,  we can target user options, tools, decision points, common mistakes, inputs, outputs, frequency and importance of tasks, and risks of failure. Task analysis help us to eliminate steps or lessening users’ mental workload by understand users’ needs in the real world in order to make our product more intuitive.

Why is task analysis helpful?

  • Find new, unmet opportunities that will leapfrog your competition and dominate your market
  • Helps teams counter their biases
  • Designers and developers try to understand the current system and its information flows. It makes it possible to allocate tasks appropriately within the new system 

When to perform user task analysis?

It can be used in before creating a wireframe and prototype for a new product, or in after a product launches in a market to analyze a specific user task.

When we find that users stop to use some of the features in our products that we expect they want to use or we want to engage them to use, or we find users cannot to finish the process to reach their goal, there is a chance we can use task analysis to find and review the problem and process.

How to perform user task analysis?

Before conducting task analysis, we already have quantitative and qualitative data that we collected from previous user research, such as persona, user observation, survey, etc. We need to make sure the data show accurate results. It will influence our task analysis since creating task analysis need to consider user research results.

Based on the user research, we can start to follow these 6 step below:

  1. Identify a goal (task) to analyze
  2. Break the goal (task) into 4-8 subgoals (subtasks). Note: Make sure not to build over 8 subgoals. If you find your subgoals run over 8, that means your goal is too abstract.
  3. Observe users conducting tasks
  4. Draw a layered task diagram of each subgoals and ensure it is complete
  5. Write the story
  6. Validate your analysis


Let’s take an example to learn how the task analysis work and how it can be used to improve specific things but make a great impact to users!

Alice, a home-visit doctor, needs to update the hospital’s system with her whereabouts (i.e., that she’s left one patient to go to the next) via text message. Alice uses a custom device which appears to be a mobile phone but is tailored for use by doctors. All she needs to do is send a short SMS-like text with the words “next patient” to a certain number.

With this example, we are able to define our goal and break down the goal to total 7 sub-goals by following the 6 steps that we mentioned in the previous section:

Goal (Task):

Send a text message to hospital’s system

Subgoals (Subtasks):

1. Open the messaging application on her mobile phone.

2. Enter the hospital system’s special number.

3. Move to the text input field.

4. Type the words “next patient”.

5. Check the spelling (because it needs to be precise for the system to accept it).

6. Hit the “send” button.

7. Exit the messaging application.

Then, we draw a task diagram of each subgoals:

Author/Copyright holder: Andreas Komninos, The Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

We also need to create a scenario, a story for users to know the circumstances based on the user research results in order to observe users to do the tasks.

In the end, we can validate our analysis and combine user research data to solve the problem.

What is the difference between “Task Analysis” and “User Journey”?

Task analysis is used to determine usability issues for very specific sections, like making a purchase in an e-commerce shopping platform. The goal is to identify issues and fix them. However, user journey can include multiple tasks, like saving favorite products to personal account or browsing recommendation products. In order to creating a good experience, we can combine task analysis and user journey.