Chroma Experience

Activity-Focused Design

Activity-focused design focuses on the actions people need or want to take to achieve a goal.
For example, if you want to design an app to control the lights in your home, an activity-focused approach will help you identify or design steps that you or a user must take to plug in or turn the lights on and off.

There are many activity-oriented approaches to UX design, including task analysis, "jobs to be done," activity theory, and activity-based design. Each of them offers a different way of looking at problems, leads to different insights, and can lead to different design decisions, but they all have one thing in common:

→ The core of the analysis is activity - what people do and how they do it to achieve a goal.

What is it about?

Below we will introduce you to task analysis, but keep in mind that this is only an activity-oriented approach. Activity-based approaches are not a substitute for human-centered design, for example; rather, they are complementary. For example, in the research phase of a human-centered design process, you can use task analysis to identify the steps a user takes to solve a problem. You can also use it later in the process to ensure that designs and prototypes support key user activities.

Before we get into task analysis, let's define some terms to avoid confusion. Please note that the following terms are working definitions for our current context, and may have slightly different names elsewhere.


A goal is an end state that a person wants to achieve, e.g. "The light bulb is connected to the mobile app" or "The light is on".
An Activity is a set of tasks that a person performs to achieve a goal, e.g., "The light bulb is connected to the app" and "The light is turned on".
A task is a single unit of action or work, e.g., "open the app" or "click the button with the light bulb icon" or "plug in the light bulb."

In task analysis, you sometimes need to use your best judgment. For example, you should choose the level of specificity that is most useful for your design goals. For example, "move your finger" or "look at light bulb" might be too specific, while "use the app" or "light up the room" might be too general.

You should also choose the type of tasks you want to analyze. If you're designing something brand new, you might want to avoid mentioning specific user interface elements, such as "click the power button" or "select the light bulb from the menu."
Instead, you could write it in an interface-independent way, such as "turn on the light bulb" or "select the light bulb." This provides more flexibility in the design phase to consider multiple ways the interface can support the task. On the other hand, if you are analyzing an existing application or system, you should include tasks that describe the existing interface, such as "use the search box to find the device." There are no right or wrong choices here - only ones that are more or less helpful to your own design process.

Task Analysis: The Process

There are many variations of task analysis - and you may develop your own! However, the focus is always on understanding the goal a person is trying to achieve. Below, we'll go over a basic version of task analysis that you can use immediately in your own design work.

Imagine that, as in the previous section, you are asked to design an app to control your lighting.

The first step of task analysis is to determine the most important goal or goals of a person using the app. Does he/she simply want to turn the lights on and off? Control them automatically according to the time of day? Connect them to a motion sensor?

The second step is to determine the tasks a person would need to perform to achieve those goals. To set the light bulb to "on" (goal), this could include the following tasks:
Plugging in the light bulb → turning on the mobile device's Bluetooth → connecting the light bulb to the app → and turning on the light bulb in the app.

There are many ways to determine these goals and objectives, such as conducting "think-aloud interviews ". This is where a person expresses what they are thinking while working towards a goal. Contextual research can also be helpful, where you observe users working in their familiar environment. If the design problem is simple and you have limited time, you can also work toward the goal yourself and record the tasks to be completed.

With your data in hand, the third step is to document the goals and tasks in a way that allows you and your team to identify gaps or opportunities to improve the design. This can take the form of a simple task analysis diagram, a hierarchical task diagram, a sequence diagram, a flowchart, or any other format that works for you and your team.

At this point, you'll have a good understanding of the steps to consider when designing your app, and a document that will help you and other stakeholders take the fourth and final step of looking for unnecessary, inefficient, or counterproductive tasks that could be removed or improved in your design. For example, if your users are using devices that are always connected via Bluetooth, the Bluetooth on task could be removed.

Occasionally, you'll find that further insight is needed. For example, if your task analysis reveals that a particular task makes people uncomfortable, a user survey might reveal the frequency of the problem, and structured interviews might uncover the root cause.

Task analysis: strengths and weaknesses

Every design approach has its strengths and weaknesses - where it sharpens our insights, but can also lead to blind spots. Here are some general thoughts on task analysis.


When the success of a design solution depends on users completing a series of tasks-especially when those tasks must be completed in a specific order-task analysis helps uncover gaps and opportunities for optimization.

If your task analysis reveals that to turn on a light bulb, users must select the light bulb icon, designate a brightness level, and click the "On" button, then the design is straightforward.


Because this approach focuses heavily on tasks and goals, task analysis does not automatically lead to insights about non-task aspects, such as users' emotional state, social constraints, or usage norms. For example, rigorous task analysis for the lighting control app cannot reveal how users feel about the impact on their energy consumption or whether they feel uncomfortable using the phone to turn on the lights in front of their friends.

In task analysis, there is a risk that the design is backward-looking. For example, it might be difficult to imagine and design a new method of lighting control if the information comes from an analysis of people's current lighting control tasks.


In activity-oriented design, the central unit of analysis is activity - what people do and how they do it to achieve a goal. Task analysis is one of many activity-oriented approaches. It includes four main steps:

1. determine a person's goal.
2. determine the tasks a person must perform to achieve those goals.
3. document the goals and tasks.
4. Analyze the goals and tasks for ways to improve outcomes.

Each design approach has strengths and weaknesses. One strength of task analysis is its ability to uncover patterns in situations where a design solution depends on task completion. Another strength is that the focus on tasks can be easily applied to the design of the user experience.

A weakness of task analysis is that it does not automatically uncover other important factors such as emotional state, social pressure, norms, etc. In addition, a weakness is that focusing on current goals and tasks can lead to backward-looking design.

Nevertheless, this approach is a very practical method, which also helps to understand the actions of a typical user and thus to design a solution that is true to reality.