I am certainly a pragmatist, if anything. My educational background is in engineering, product design, and human factors. I do not care for overly academic books or papers; like most practitioners, I usually have a specific job at hand and need a solution.
From that practical perspective, Diaper & Stanton’s Handbook of Task Analysis for Human-Computer Interaction (which builds upon Diaper’s popular, but now out of print, Task Analysis for Human-Computer Interaction) is a mixed bag. It is certainly less applied than Kirwan and Ainsworth’s Guide to Task Analysis, the "Bible" of the field. Kirwan & Ainsworth’s book is a solid "how-to" guide that focuses on the major methods of task analysis and provides a variety of case studies. Diaper and Stanton’s book is more of a review of current trends and issues in task analysis with examples, and it does very well in this role. Although it does devote significant sections to the major methods of task analysis, it is not a digest of available task analysis methods and does not attempt to list or categorize methods by possible use.
The above is not meant to imply that this new handbook doesn’t have a place on the practitioner’s bookshelf. To the contrary, it is a highly useful resource. Just before reading it, I was asked to survey the latest issues and methods in task analysis. This book was a perfect resource for my task, providing a thorough discussion of the state-of-the-art in task analysis. The authors have thoughtfully divided the book into five sections, roughly: what task analysis is, practical applications in industry, underpinnings from psychology, use in software development, and problems, and future of task analysis.
Reading it front to back provided an excellent review of what task analysis is today, which is impressive, given that most say there are as many definitions of task analysis as there are practitioners! It also discussed how task analysis is being applied, and what some of the future challenges and directions are for the field. As a practitioner conversant in task analysis, it was exactly what I needed. It was made even more useful by the excellent section summaries and the searchable full-text CD provided in the book.
Academics will feel comfortable with the writing style of many of the contributors, and there is plenty of theory and side argument to go around. While the content is worthwhile, this book will not be an easy read for most practitioners; at 650 pages it is also not a short read. But don’t let that put you offin between the academic discussions there are chapters that focus on the application of task analysis to real business problems. The editors even prefaced Section 2 with the slightly humorous disclaimer, "This part is not for the faint-hearted. We can imagine many academics screaming at the liberties that have been taken in the name of the twin commercial pressures of finance and time" (p175).
In summary, this new Handbook of Task Analysis is not a reference for the uninitiated (although Section 1 provides a pretty good overview for the beginner). Instead, it should serve as the second task analysis book on your shelf, giving an excellent and otherwise unavailable summary of the approach as it stands today. I highly recommend it to the mid-level human factors practitioner.
John G. Milanski
Micro Analysis & Design, Boulder, Colorado
About the Reviewer
John G. Milanski is a human factors engineer for Micro Analysis & Design in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in ethnographic field research. John has performed field studies for the Army’s MANPRINT program, Lockheed, AT&T, Philips Electronics, and Accenture. He holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering and a Masters in Human-Centered Product Design.
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