Monthly Archives: March 2006

Task modelling

This morning, I attended a demo and discussion on the latest and greatest version of Task Modeler, a software application developed at IBM Warwick to help user interface designers and technical writers to model users’ goals using electronic sticky notes.*

The earliest incarnation (aptly known as ‘V1’) was a Java application that had the sole purpose of supporting human factors people (a.k.a. user-centred designers) to represent the hierarchical breakdown of tasks that a user performs when trying to achieve a goal. The best-loved/loathed example of Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA) is that of making a cup of tea and the steps that you must perform to achieve that goal. A nice but slightly more complex example of HTA that I found online is in the design docs of the Dance-O-Matic.

So, anyway, at some point during the subsequent V2/V3, it was discovered that it might be useful for structuring the navigation tree in hypertext-style software documentation (a la much of IBM’s software documentation now). Bringing us neatly to V4 (the aforementioned ‘latest and greatest’) which is closely tied in with IBM’s Open Source XML documentation format, DITA. You can, for example, use Task Modeler to develop ditamaps (navigation trees) and relationship tables (something clever to do with managing links between topics) in DITA. You can also, of course, still use Task Modeler for doing HTA work if you’re more interested in HCI (human-computer interaction), user interface design, and human factors.

Despite having successfully installed Task Modeler V4 on my Thinkpad in time for this morning’s session, I have not yet had chance to play with it. I will say, though, having seen a demo, that the new Eclipse interface and funky icons that it has acquired are really rather pretty and it all looks much nicer to interact with than V1. When I’ve done some playing, I’ll hopefully be able to report more.

If you’re into human factors work or technical writing (especially with DITA), you can now download Task Modeler from IBM’s Alphaworks website.

* At this point, I must admit that I have had no hand in developing Task Modeler. I do, however, work as a Technical Writer for IBM United Kingdom Ltd at the Hursley Software Laboratories so I’m not an entirely independent observer but I should point out that the views in this post, in this whole website in fact, are entirely mine and are in no way intended to represent IBM.