Step 3) Create the user task matrix – PART 4

“I can do this all day” says Captain America, while getting beaten up by the villain, Johann Schmidt / Red Skull. Comes in a curt reply of the villain, “Yes, but I am tight on schedule!” :).

Got the point? How many times, you are going to do the same things all over again? How many days in a week? How many days a year – doing same things, keeping your anxiety in check, pardoning mistakes and delivering the expected results.

Imagine the massive amount of data that goes into an airplane pilot’s memory when he/she sees the plane cockpit.



Through training, through books/manual support and with the help of telecommunication crew, the pilots learn to fly the plane and ensure the safety of everyone on-board. Imagine the number of tasks the pilots do in a 14-hour flight – e.g. to put the plane in ‘auto-pilot’ mode is also a task :).

With great interfaces, systems and controls, comes a great responsibility for the pilots :).

It is an interesting subject to read how pilots use the controls and how do they communicate to the ground control systems in case of emergency situations. More curious readers can pick up  ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell to understand the erroneous situation that lands the pilots into crashes. It’s a digression, but a worthy one.

Okay, let’s do a recap.

In the first post of the user task matrix we saw how important it is to ‘know’ someone. Not on the surface, but real deep.

In post #2, we saw different examples that lead to gathering user insights – real life case studies that made some products a success, and some a failure.

The last post summarized all the points in how to go about gathering your user data – what to look for, how to probe, defining goals and tasks and understanding the user aspirations.

What’s next?

Walk to the whiteboard with your design team and arrive towards creating the user task matrix.

Take a look at a sample user task matrix:

User Goal: Booking an airline ticket
How many times the user performs this task (Frequency): Never, Rare, Multiple

Task Matrix for "Booking a Ticket"

Task Matrix for “Booking a Ticket”

Supplement this task matrix with numbers – e.g. assume that there are 10000 casual tourists, 500 travel agents and 100 frequent fliers.

A different design direction will emerge if the numbers are like these: 10000 casual tourists, 10000 travel agents and 5000 frequent fliers.

The task matrix will help you to find what is the critical part of the user experience – things that should not be compromised. If you look at the above task matrix (booking a ticket) the most important task that emerges is ‘searching travel routes’. From all the user journeys this part of the solution has to be crafted very carefully.

Your task matrix also determines the emphasis your design solution would be – e.g. if the travel guide will not be used by 2 out of 3 users, would the travel guide be ‘discoverable’ or will it be shown as an explicit link (secondary menu) or will be included as a part of ‘self-help’.

Imagine another user goal – troubleshoot a ticket booking problem on the website.  Lets break up this goal into tasks. Your user study may produce the following task matrix:

Task Matrix - Troubleshooting

Task Matrix – Troubleshooting

When you encounter situations like these, apply the numbers. Sit with the business analysis team, portal development team and CxOs of the organization to share your task matrix – your data might change the course of customer experience.

Let’s say that the airline company wants to keep the cost of Helpdesk calls to the minimum or reduce Helpdesk calls’ cost to 25%.

You have done your math (number of users, their task frequencies and all). As a designer you have to achieve the balance – how to justify the users immediate and latent needs vis-à-vis the organizational goal.

The task matrix will tell you half the picture – what users do. Get the other story too – what business wants.

In this situation, your design solution could be to have an intelligent search and directory-wise listing of help topics. If the users do not find solution with search and listing, expose the customer help channels in the following order: 1) Email your problem to the Helpdesk 2) Online chat with the customer agent 3) Toll-free number with wait times.

I visit travel websites often. Two websites that recently caught my attention are Superfly and Joobili.



Superfly simplifies the travel experience – archiving your past travel data, consolidating travel miles and giving great travel options and rewards.



Joobili steers away from the conventional travel approach – booking flights and hotels. It presents the places you can visit in a given timeframe, e.g. if you are in London it will tell you great places to visit – related to arts, music, sports, shopping, etc. For any tourist, this site offers plenty of places to explore.

Examples like these make you think about the overall business goal, the user aspirations and chosen design strategy. I assume that the task matrix for these websites must have opened a new directions for the stakeholders – i.e.. aggregate the travel experience of different airlines (Superfly) and leave aside the booking aspect and concentrate on the places & events in cities (Joobili).

There are some variations to the task matrix, in terms of representation. Consider this version of a task matrix, for a causal tourist user:

Task Matrix - different representation for a Casual Tourist user

Task Matrix – different representation for a Casual Tourist user

The severity ratings of the task-matrix can be further explained as:

Severity Ratings

Severity Ratings

As said earlier, the task matrix brings in the clarity and puts you on the path to design. Keep this task matrix as a yardstick if the design solution is deviating from the requirements.

  • Design for the lowest common denominator – the most frequent user with the most basic needs, who has the least sophisticated level of taste, sensibility, or opinion among a group of people. Keep in mind that these users are bound to fail in performing the tasks; they will need support and training.
  • Design for an intermediate skilled user – users that learn to adjust with the system by learning but fall short of performing complex tasks without aid.
  • Design for the expert user too – who uses shortcuts and jumps over the lines to finish the task in a fast track.

Look at the ‘ribbon’ options offered by Microsoft Word. Is it helping the users or is it overwhelming? Think about the task matrix for a tool like Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word

Imagine some one in real-life saying “I do this all day” and does a specific task, e.g. creating Chapati / Roti (Indian bread) in a street-side restaurant.

Watch this video: Making Chapati very fast – India. Thanks Florian Bachmann for this video.

That sums up the STEP 3 of creating user task matrix.

In coming posts, we will see how to start sketching on the paper, conceptualizing your digital products, keeping in mind the target devices.

Step 3) Create the user task matrix – PART 1

“I don’t know who I am!” screams Jason Bourne in the first installment of the Bourne series, who is struggling to recall his memories, forgotten his name and forgotten his identity.

We don’t go through the same circumstances as Bourne does :). Strange but true, we can have opinions about our friends and family members. But when it comes to defining your self, it is not an easy thing to do. There might be an inherent feeling about your abilities, your emotions and your actions, but we often rely on others to define our persona.

When I was at NID (National Institute of Design), the first semester involved many exercises centered around discovering me as a person – what I like & dislike, what are things I cherish the most, what are my escape routes, what do I value and don’t value, etc. Most of my student friends had given up these kinds of exercises – their argument was that they already know how they are as a person and there was little delight they were deriving from the exercises.

The faculty member presented us this rationale– unless you don’t know who you are, you will find it difficult to understand who / what/ why / how the other person is. The objective of those exercises was to probe deeper into yourself and understand the person you are – your background, your value system, your aspirations and perhaps your fears too.

If someone told you that are emotional person, take it in your stride. Perhaps that’s a compliment someone paid you, free of cost :).Being a designer you need that skill, to imbibe the world around you and come out with the best possible design.

As you may recall in our older posts, you can understand another person (i.e. a user of any product or service) by employing various techniques – observing the user, talking to the user, doing desk research, seeking opinions of the experts, etc. There are always different schools of thought – is it user-centered design or is it user-inspired design or is it user-assisted design or is it business-centered design? Very rarely will be products designed in a genius-driven mode, as Dan Saffer explains in his book “Designing For Interaction”.

Without getting into the debate – let’s stick to a stand: every product that is designed has users’ needs reference. Let’s not worry over the semantics.

Having a keen eye to capture context data (where the user works, how he works, what time he/she has lunch, etc.) will help you a lot. Examples of keen eye: Hope you recall the chase sequence in the movie ‘The Dark Knight’ where the Joker is aiming for Harvey Dent’s bulletproof car with a bazooka gun – the Joker is riding a trailer and he slides the trailer door to reveal something written in big typo on the door. It says “Slaughter is the best medicine” :). One who understands the psyche of the Joker has done a great job – the production designer.

One more example: The last minutes of the movie ‘Despicable Me’- the Minions are arranging the dance performance of Margo, Edith and Agnes. In a very short frame of time, you might notice the Blu ray player to be named as “Gru-ray player” :). An animator / designer who has imbibed the ‘ecosystem’ around him/her can only create this kind of work.

So you might have found out who you are, for some it’s still work-in-progress.

Ultimately, it is all about the discovery.