Users and Tasks, What’s the Point?

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Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

You can look at user and task analysis in many ways. In this article, I present the point of view that when doing user and task analysis we should take some insight from market segmentation to categorise users.

At one point, I was faced with the comment “This user analysis only leads to categorising the users as beginners and experts, but we have to document the tasks regardless of the experience level of the users.” This comment led me to think that we should actually separate the user analysis from the task analysis to a certain extent.

Task analysis shows us the tasks that users perform. When we write instructions, we can then compare those tasks to the features of our product. Many user groups, which may have very different backgrounds, can perform a single task, but regardless of those differences, we still need to have, for example, installation instructions available. So, task analysis gives us information on what to write.

We need to analyze our users because many user groups who have different preferences, work in different conditions, or have different means for getting information can perform tasks. Or, there may even be tasks that only a single user group performs. The user analysis tells us whether the user groups have access to the Internet to read our documentation on the Web, or if they are experts who understand the technical domain so well that we can use a lot of jargon, or if, in situations where they have no means of accessing any kind of online documentation, they prefer to have the information in paper instead. In summary, user analysis gives us information on how to write and deliver the information.

If you look at only the job titles that people have and what tasks they perform, you may end up with so many different user groups that writing for each group separately is not possible, and you may wonder what is the point in having so many user groups. Is there really a difference between “Switch network planner” and “Broadband network planner” in regards to how they want to receive the information? How do you select which user groups to address? Marketing uses a set of criteria to clearly develop segments so that they can effectively create different marketing efforts for the different segments. We can apply the principles of their criteria to user analysis as well.

First, the criteria must explain the differences in user behaviour (for example, how they prefer to receive information). You may easily use criteria like age, sex, or even job title to categorise your users, but if the criteria does not explain why the users have certain preferences or limitations for using information, the criteria is not relevant.

Second, the criteria must effectively separate the different users among the various groups. For example, how are their preferences or working environments different and what does that mean from a documentation point of view?

Third, the criteria must keep the segments large enough so that providing the users with different kinds of information or media is worth the effort. If there is only one person in a segment, although the segment is clearly different from all the others, it may or may not be reasonable to address the segment separately, depending on the business situation.

So, task analysis tells you what to write, user analysis tells you how to write and what media to use, and these types of analysis must be combined to understand what tasks are most likely to be done by what segment. Then, you can write accordingly. People in multiple segments may perform one task, but then you must decide whether or not you need to provide the information in multiple ways.


This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia.

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