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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

Usability VS. User Experience

Updated: Mar 23, 2018

Usability and User experience are two aspects to evaluate a product or service. Some people may think they are the same or aligned, however, that is not always the case.

UX designers quite often will conduct usability testings, and will use the usability testing result to evaluate their design concepts. So, some people by default will think usability equals to user experience; a product/service with good usability will have good user experience as well. But, that is not exactly right.

1. Usability is more about the product, while UX is more about the person.

By definition, usability is about if it is usable or functional; UX (user experience) is more about how the people/user/customer feels and like. So an usability testing is to TEST the product/service, if it is functional or not; while an UX evaluation is to study the people/user, if they enjoy the product/service or not.

2. Usability is more objective, while UX is more subjective.

Usability is more based on hard facts, that is why it is more objective; while User experience is more refer to people's personal perspectives, hence it is more subjective. Usability means low physical efforts, quick response time, no bugs or system error, more powerful, and son on. UX may includes colors moods, trust, emotional effects, etc. Objective and subjective are opposites; but that does not mean usability and UX are opposites. Most time, good usability product will bring people with good user experience; so they can be aligned. But, not always. Sometimes, even one same feature with same usability may bring totally different experiences to two different individuals.

3. Usability is measurable, while UX is difficult to measure.

Usability sticks to the facts of a product/service; while UX refer to personal feelings and opinions. As a result, it is much easier to measure usability, while kind difficult to evaluate UX. Usability normally has very clear goals for us to achieve. For example, the loading time of a webpage is always the less the better; battery life is always the longer the better. Usability has clear metrics to achieve, and it is much easier to analyze how to get a good result. On the contrary, UX is more about people's satisfaction and happiness, which are touchy feeling kind of things, and can hardly be accurately analyzed. Same temperature of tea may be hot for some person, while warm to some others. Same color combination of a web layout may be elegant for some person, while boring to some others.

4. Usability and UX can be a conflict in some cases.

In some cases, usability and UX may even become conflict. When we are designing highway road, for usability wise, we will want it to be broad and flat; but, for some wild riders or drivers, they just love the feeling of being up and down, sharp turns and bumping around. They would not be a fan of such road. Another example, before minimalism become a mainstream, manufacturers of radios and cassette music players used to design the control panel to be very complicated just like from a spaceship, by doing that to make buyers feel that they are using high-tech product, to satisfy their self-esteem needs, but have to rely on heavy user menu to learn how to use it. Which means, they were scarifying the usability to earn users' psychological satisfaction.

5. UX has a higher priority than usability.

I know not everyone will agree with me on this statement. I believe that UX has a higher priority than usability when we are designing a product/service for target users. Because we really want the customers happy, rather than trying to meet all the usability standard. For example, I am a Harley-Davison rider, and I heard some people said, "if you like bike, then you get a Harley-Davidson; but if you really like to ride, then choose some other brands". For so many years, Harley-Davidson has gain loyal customers and created their own culture, which even represents American culture. But as for easy to control and flexibility for different road conditions, Harley-Davidson can not compete with many other brands. But who cares? We just love the feeling of riding on a heavy HD bike, and the feeling of belonging to, and love the famous potato-potato-potato sound of the Harley-Davidson V-Twin motor.

Usability is concerned with the “effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments” (ISO 9241-11) whilst user experience is concerned with “all aspects of the user’s experience when interacting with the product, service, environment or facility” (ISO 9241-210)
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