Graphics Interface Conference 2023

Task-Centric Application Switching

How and Why Knowledge Workers Switch Software Applications for a Single Task

Taxonomy of reasons for task-centric application switching, divided into four primary categories (Tool, User, Workflow, and Content), each with sub-categories (listed below the bubbles, sized according to the number of responses).


Knowledge workers often have to switch between multiple software tools to complete a single task, which can deter productivity. Previous literature has established the high incidence of application switching that comes with the cost of converting and transferring data or getting distracted and wasting time to re-focus. This research explores why knowledge workers deliberately switch between many applications despite potential drawbacks. We interviewed 15 knowledge workers and five product teams to understand why users switch between separate tools to complete tasks. From our results, we synthesize an initial taxonomy of reasons for application switching, illustrate the role of collaboration and external forces, and detail the challenges caused by application switching. We offer design implications for how task-centric application switching can be better supported by promoting multi-tool learning, designing interfaces that enable users to reflect on their application-switching behavior, and application switching analytics.

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