man with glasses reviews task list on whiteboard

Summary: How well you get your customers to their destinations with your design, and help users do what they need to do, is the difference that makes a difference in customer experience. If you are not doing it well, you are guaranteed that your competitors are or are trying to find a way to. In this post, we cover 5 strategic patterns that you need to lead the pack.

What is Task-Centered Design?

Task-Centered Design or Task-Oriented Design is a technique used to design user interfaces with a high degree of usability. The approach follows a user's natural and intuitive workflow, rhythm and expectation. Screens are organized around what user's want and need to do. As a result confusion is minimized, errors are prevented and users feel more in control of the user experience.

Task-Centered Design is a competitive differentiation design approach used by Fortune 500 usability and User Centered Design teams, including Centers of Excellence across a wide range of industry verticals. How do I know? Because I teach regular in-house usability training at Experience Dynamics (usability consultancy) to numerous organizations and teams trying to reach the next level of usability mastery.

Task-Centered Design constitutes the ‘nuts and bolts’ of  customer experience. It is a tactical design technique and approach that is used in conjunction with other User Centered Design methods, such as field studies, usability testing etc.

Task-Centered Design is important because usability is measured by how well user’s are able to successfully complete their tasks. Usability testing measures how well user’s complete their tasks. Usability reviews (expert reviews aka Heuristic Evaluations) evaluate how well user’s are likely to complete their tasks based on guidelines and known issues.

5 design patterns you can use to out-smart competitors


1. Interfaces and their tasks are apparent.

Screens are intuitive, no understanding is required. Interaction Designers should design tasks so they are evident to the user. Users will be able to easily notice, with little effort, what they need to do on each screen. Think dashboard for sales executives.

2. Interfaces and their tasks pace expectation.

Screens follow the flow of user's workflow. Information Architects should design features to appear when user’s expect them to, logical sequences follow reasonable and implicit behaviors or actions required by the user to complete their tasks. User’s will feel delighted that what they need to do appears spontaneously and just in time. Think TurboTax form filing logic.

3. Interfaces and their tasks surround context of use.

Screens are designed to provide comfort to context of use. Context reflects the “fit” to the physical, cultural, social, emotional, and cognitive environment. Information Architects design features that mesh with the sensitivities and constraints or opportunities unique to the user’s environment. Users will feel reliability and loyalty stemming from the transfer of social and emotional intelligence from the design. Think’s ‘trusted advisor’ experience.

4. Interfaces and their tasks accommodate scenario usage.

Screens reflect a deep understanding of the scenarios users are likely to attempt in approaching tasks, solving problems etc. Information Architects should carefully assess the probability of usage scenarios (over what-if’s). Direction for design decisions comes from ethnographic study (field studies). Users will feel accommodated and satisfied as the interface caters to their every need. Think for travel planning.

5. Interfaces and their tasks aid and assist successful task completion.

Screens help users quickly or thoroughly complete the things they set out to do with the design. Information Architects think about where they can help the user to more efficiently and delightfully reach success. Users feel like they are able to interact with the design without barriers, mistakes or bad feelings about the experience. Think purchase and checkout.

Measuring Task Success

Successful task completion is measured by success/failure rates as well as by # of errors, # of confusions. We designed our usability testing software to capture task success rate, time on task, errors, confusions and highlights. These are the most common metrics used to gauge ease of use. The #1 usability metric for measuring ease of use is success rate (#5 above).

Competitor task success rate can be determined one of two ways:

1) Competitive Usability Testing: Users are asked to complete tasks on your website, application, or product and that of your competitors. Metrics for difficulty, efficiency, and satisfaction are captured and a Task Performance Scorecard of competitor task performance reveals weaknesses and strengths. Alternatively, each design is ranked independently without users comparing between designs.

2) Competitive Expert Review: Competitor tasks are evaluated against your website, application or product. Tasks are scored for difficulty, efficiency and satisfaction among other factors. The expert review (heuristic evaluation) ranks strengths and weaknesses relative to your competitors.

Establishing metrics for task performance is crucial if your design is to retain a competitive lead. Task success is core to influencing loyalty and is how your Net Promoter Score (NPS) is measured relative to customer experience. Conducting competitive usability analysis is necessary for benchmarking, in the same way, that NPS requires a benchmark of loyalty ratings compared to competitors (not just whether customers will recommend your brand based on your company alone).

Establishing a strong interface design discipline with a Task-Centered Design approach will help you sustain a competitive lead in ease of use- a key influencer to loyalty and competitive advantage. 

Best Wishes,

Frank Spillers, MS