Summary: Understanding and getting the right tasks represented in your design is critical to all UX. Usability and ease of use are measured by successful task completion. Supporting context of use is equally as critical because tasks live within user contexts of use.
Why 'Task is King' and 'Context is Queen'
Tasks, or "jobs" are those aspects of use that dictate how users interact with systems. They are behaviors, actions, and interactions ultimately. Discovering the right task for your user is the first priority in User Experience Design. It is primary because, without the right task, nothing else matters. Without user motivation and needs represented in your interface or experience-- you end up trying to educate, train or coax a user into your model of the world, not theirs. So it is important to understand your user's model of the world, what problems they are trying to solve, and what makes sense to them. These are their tasks.
Tasks are also how we measure success with product or service usability. Usability testing ("user testing") is the most common way to assess system usability. The primary metric is, you guessed it, successful task completion. Can users complete their tasks? (Capture: Yes, No, Partial success)
So it is for these reasons that Task is King! The next logical question is, how do you discover that you are representing the right task in your user interface (UI)?
How do we discover tasks?
The popular "work remotely from the beach" meme (used for years in the early mobile smartphone advertising industry) is just plain misleading and wrong. Sand in your laptop? Salt, sand and water damage to your phone? Stressing out while trying to take in the beach view? On your phone solving work tasks while your child tries to play with you? Beaches are for relaxing and enjoying yourself, your family, or nature-- they are not for working especially with a laptop. I should know I have tried it many times---don't do it, or even pretend to do it!
12 Key Questions to ask around Tasks and Context
Good UX projects start with these 12 key questions, find evidence-based answers (real-world insights, observations, and data) and measure success based on how well a design supports and satisfies them:
- What is the user's task?
- Is this the right task?
- What about other users? (And: Who are those users or personas "roles"?-- while we're on that...)
- Do we know if the tasks we are designing for are based on actual user motivations/pain points/ needs?
- How do users do this today?
- When do they perform this task? (In the flow or at a time/place)
- Where do users perform this task?
- With whom do users perform this task?
- What are users trying to do, when they perform this task?
- What do they need while they are performing this task?
- How do users currently problem-solve this task?
- Why are users doing things one way or another?
In summary, tasks are very important in UX decisions, including evaluating the experience of a product or service. Tasks are those behaviors we are supporting, designing for, and influencing with UI elements, features, and functionality. Tasks rule UX. Good UX means user tasks were understood by designers, product managers, and developers and represented with an appropriate and easy to use interface. Context is equally vital and dictates the proper direction of task-centered design (see this classic piece by Lewis & Rieman) or jump to chapter 2 Getting to Know Users & their Tasks). Task-centered design is an essential approach that all good UX follows and must follow. Why? Because Task is King! Just remember tasks live within contexts.
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Note: The topic of the October 2020 UX Inner Circle monthly meet-up live MasterClass is User Research (online & in-person UX research).