Usability is not the same as User Experience

The internet is awash with acronyms and coined phrases. In many instances this feels a bit “smoke and mirrors”; If you constantly invent terminology that no one has heard of you will always be ahead of the crowd. Nowhere is this truer than with User Experience/User Centred Design/etc.

That said, sometimes things are given different names for a reason. For example, Usability is not the same as User Experience.

I say good usability is an essential hygiene factor but UX considers the “Headology” of the user (A phrase stolen from Granny Weatherwax! Comes from reading 20 years of Terry Pratchett novels).

Let me explain:

Usability has always been fundamental to websites

We created our first website in 1995 and “Usability” was a consideration from the outset; we built sites with navigation that let users get around and gave them content that told them what to do.

It didn’t take long for users to develop a way of browsing that suited them. In turn, we had to take note and find different ways of making their journey around the internet as simple as possible.

You could say Uusability is about ensuring users can get from A to B, as quickly as possible and without fuss.

UX brings about a deeper understanding

Through User Experience we have started to consider the psychology that drives people to make decisions. We want to get to the root of the problem; we want to know what really engages them, what holds their attention, what they think and what they do.

UX is not simply about how users complete a specific task; it considers how they feel about their journey and what will drive them to interact more in future.

This has led to a great leap forward, in recent years, of building solutions that are more strategic and well thought out. Those who know how to engage with their audience no longer rely solely on one channel of communication and never assume their customer’s journey has ended.

A real-world analogy

Let’s consider a scenario where a person develops a migraine. This debilitating ailment pretty much stops them doing anything.

Medicine has found ways of combating the symptoms of migraine through the development of drugs that suppress the pain and allow the patient to complete tasks that would be impossible to do left unaided.

Usability works in the same way as medicine; fixing the problems. Usability is all about removing the barriers to task completion.

User experience on the other hand is more about the psychological factors. In the migraine sufferers case; is there something that is causing the migraines to occur? Is he under stress? Is he worrying about an issue that brings about the onset of a migraine? Can we find a way to stop this happening?

A powerful partnership

It is possible for a site to win an award for its usability without users understanding its purpose.

In the past, when testing ecommerce websites, we have asked people why they didn’t buy something and they have answered “I didn’t feel like it”. They found the basket easily and went to the checkout but for some reason they stopped.

Maybe they didn’t trust the company, maybe they didn’t feel comfortable about giving over their details, or maybe they weren’t entirely sure they were buying what they wanted. Whatever the reason, they stopped short of their goal and that is a bad thing.

Usability and User Experience then are different but we can make them work in harmony. Through Usability we can show users how to get from A to B and through UX why can give them a reason why.