What is Task and Context in UX?

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. Task-centered design is an essential approach that all good UX must follow. Why? Because Task is King! But remember that tasks live within contexts. That’s why Context is Queen!

In UX ‘Task is King’ and ‘Context is Queen’- Frank Spillers, CEO Experience Dynamics, pictured below

UX Training with Frank Spillers in action

Tasks, or “jobs to be done” (JTBD), 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 priority in UX Design. It is critical because, without solving the right problem (task), you will be stuck in a feature frenzy. 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.

It is important to understand your user’s mental model, 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 represent the right task in your user interface (UI)?

Context shows us where all those tasks occur and under what conditions. Conditions include time or temporal constraints, social constraints (called sociability) and emotional value. Time may be embedded in any of these contextual scenarios. 

See Understanding Context of Use- possibly the most important thing you do in UX

How do we discover what the task and context is in UX?

Tasks and context are interlinked. To understand user tasks, we explore the Context of Use. This is also called the ‘problem space’ instead of the solution space, where tasks get translated into UI solutions.

All good UX Designers know: Stop and define the right tasks before designing anything

Context of use means understanding where, how, why, when, and under what conditions (environmental, physical, social, temporal, emotional) your product, service, or interface will be experienced or used. The following analogy of a suggestion, “Work from anywhere,” does not match the focus required for productivity or its opposite relaxation. 

Mobile work office on the beach
The popular “work remotely from the beach” meme (used for years in the early mobile smartphone advertising industry) was just plain misleading and wrong. Sand in your laptop? Salt, sand, and water damage to your phone? Stress while trying to take in the beach view? On your phone solving work tasks while your child tries to play with you? The context does not support the task! Beaches are for relaxing and enjoying yourself, your family, or nature– they are not for working, especially with a laptop. 
p.s. I should know I have tried ‘beach productivity’ many times—Trust me, don’t do it, or even pretend to do it! 


The ‘beach productivity’ meme is a good reminder that understanding the context of your task dictates how you understand the experience. Only then can you model it properly with Interaction Design

So, context is critical to understand because it shapes experience. Context is the container that lives around your tasks. Try to support a user task without supporting its rightful context, and you may end up missing the “supporting cast” or features that make the task a complete solution for the user.

Context research (field studies, ethnography, contextual inquiry) is where innovation in UX comes from. The grandfather of Human Centered Design, Don Norman, once said, ‘Ease of use is the easy part; it’s desirability that really matters’. Desirability refers to getting the right tasks–user motivational and needs— then making those tasks easy to use.

Understanding desirability comes from understanding context of use. What does somebody need, under what contextual conditions, to support the task?

Ask these 12 Questions to tease out Tasks and Context

But first, get evidence-based answers via User Research (real-world insights, observations, and data). That’s Ethnography first, user testing later. 

See The Power of Rapid Ethnography

Next, measure your success based on how well your design supports and satisfies the tasks and context. Again user testing can determine this easily.  


  1. What is the user’s task?
  2. Is this the right task?
  3. What about other users? (And: Who are those users or personas?)
  4. Do we know if the tasks we are designing for are based on actual user motivations/pain points/ needs?
  5. How do users do this today?
  6. When do they perform this task? (In the flow or at a time/place)
  7. Where do users perform this task?
  8. With whom do users perform this task?
  9. What are users trying to do, when they perform this task?
  10. What do they need while they are performing this task?
  11. How do users currently problem-solve this task?
  12. Why are users doing things one way or another?


First, tasks or JTBD 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. Next, context is equally vital and dictates the proper direction of task-oriented design. A task must support its context of use. 

Check out Lewis and Rieman’s epic ebook on Task-oriented design. Start here: Getting to Know Users & their Tasks

See the MasterClass is User Research (online & in-person UX research). Ask to have this taught at your company. 

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