The Value of Task Analysis in Interaction Design
by Arnout Bruins, CIBIT, PO Box 19210, 3501 DE Utrecht, Netherlands - firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Arnout Bruins is a consultant at CIBIT. His main area of expertise is Human-Computer
Interaction. As a consultant he has made style guides, interface audits and built
interface prototypes, for both Windows and Web-based applications.
In cooperation with Middlesex University CIBIT offers several Master of Science
courses. Mr. Bruins covers the subjects of Human-Computer Interaction and the development
of Graphical User Interfaces in these courses.
One of the major problems in HCI is to analyse the user task and translate this into a
usable interface. In this position paper I will address that problem.
My position on this subject is:
The outcome of a GUI development project depends on the quality of the task analysis.
- A task analysis is a necessary component of a development process; and
- A task analysis is the most important component in that process.
I make the assumption that one uses an iterative methodology.
Components of the Solution
At CIBIT we use a combination of Graphical User Interface Design and Evaluation
(GUIDE[*]) and Unified Modelling Language (UML[*]) as our methodology. The user objects
and their relations are modelled using UML, while for the task analysis use cases
serve as structured descriptions. Fitted together the user objects and use cases produce object
interaction diagrams. This kind of task analysis provides the development team insight
in the user tasks. From there the team has a much better chance in delivering a usable
interface. In the next sections I will highlight the components.
A use case is a description of the task of the user. A use case shows the actors, a
short name for the task, user objects to interact with and a more detailed description of
the task as a list of actions.
In the object model the classes and their relations are shown. This part is very
important for the IT department to build the actual system.
Object Interaction Diagrams
The object model and the use cases are integrated in object interaction diagrams.
In an object interaction diagram arrows represent events and information. Arrows flow
from user to object, from object to object and back from object to user. The interface is
shown as a thick vertical bar which divides the internal objects from the user. Of course,
the interface itself is a container for the interface objects (like buttons). The internal
objects are depicted by thin vertical bars. User (through the interface objects) and
objects initiate events which are handled by the object or are passed to another object.
Each event or request has an answer, hence the two directions of the arrows.
From Task Analysis to User Interface
From each arrow a view is made. For each view a name and control is added.
For example: name, with a drop down list.
The views are grouped together in groupboxes.
The groupboxes are combined in windows. To the windows controls are added, e.g. Cancel
The navigation between the windows is decided upon.
Then for each window the proper visualisation is made, e.g. by using the Gestalt laws.
The result is a pen-and-paper prototype. The usergroup can give comments on this.
This feedback will results in a prototype, without implementing the entire
functionality. The usergroup also comments this.
By using this methodology you have: user participation, iterative design, combination
with Object Orientation and a form of task analysis.
In practise this method works: our customers are satisfied with the results.
- how to follow this process with entire new tasks, e.g. BPR;
- how to involve creativity, because use cases are describing the current situation, not
the future situation;