User Experience and/vs Usability


Lets accept that both the terms are new to this market. So it’s not a surprise that people get confused and mix these 2 terms. Although both are linked conceptually there is a distinction on a broader level
In simple terms-

Usability is the measure of ease with which users can use the product, interface, or any other man-made object to achieve the assigned goal

User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the brand, its services, and its products as explained by UX guru Neilson Norman
So, from these definitions one can arguably say that Usability is part of the overall User Experience.

Let’s see an example:
You are planning to order a camera from a local e-commerce website. The ease (or difficulty) with which you are able to use their website to find the product, get the information, place an order and pay online is Usability.
Now, add to this… whether your order reaches on time, its packaging, response from their call centre executive, after sale support and all other communication points build the overall user experience about the brand.

Here’s another example:
You are not able to understand the instructions and interface of the new washing machine you have bought is the matter of usability but the way you bought it, the way it washes cloths, customer service support is the overall User Experience.

Now, you can see that Usability of a product is just a small part of the overall User Experience.
Although there is a science to all this but ultimately it comes down to highly logical common-sense.
Usability of any product, interface or physical environment can be then put down to these 5 components

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Errors (Prevention and correction)
  • Satisfaction

The usability of the product, site/app (or any other interface) involves only those people who directly influence the design of it.  Whereas to get all elements right in the overall User Experience is much more difficult and pain staking.  It involves people from all over the organisation, including those people dictating how the operations are designed and implemented.
But just like any other bigger change, positive User Experience results have far better impact.

Let’s make it relevant for this region now.

Both terms are new here to most people and thus we should look at easy wins, which in my view is fixing the Usability issues and then get on to the boarder User Experience problems.

Suddenly in last few years there is an internet boom and many e-commerce businesses have come up in the region and I wonder how many of them know the importance of usability and user experience? Even if they have remotely done something about the issue, how are they measuring it? In terms of e-commerce usability there are few quick checkpoints.

1 – Conversions: Sites spend lot of money in bringing people to the site but in most cases they do not monitor the conversions from the homepage to the actual transactions and the steps where users dropout and most importantly, the reason behind this dropout.
2 – Conversation: Successful e-commerce site creates a bond with the user by talking to them in their language. For all the errors, messages, instructions and everything that is written on the site.
3 – Checkout your checkout: Data shows that most users dropout at the checkout stage. It could be because of many reasons. Payment options, Difficulty in filling out the registration form or the fact of an account to order, number of fields, error prevention or correction methods or just the navigation of the shopping cart.
4 – Don’t develop the site, Design it: Most are developed by programmers. With due respect to these people one should understand that designing an interface is a specialised task. Let alone programmers even your print graphic designers or creative directors are not fully eligible to design an interface. Get professionals!
5 – Effective product search and filters: If the user knows exactly what they’re looking for, they will opt to use a search instead of browsing through categories and filters. The search feature on your site should enable them to reach to the desired location and should have all relevant filters to let them refine their results and give more controls/freedom.

Apart from these there are other things like Good Customer Service/Support (online), Product images and description go a long way to ensure better Usability of the site.

If you take a broader look at digital, overall in this region we feel the most important issue is undelivered brand promise: Agencies and brands are very good in creating a brand and its personality with the whole communication around it. They create a perception about the brand with their services, products, physical environments, etc which in most cases is true to the brand promise. What they neglect or fail to deliver on are their digital interfaces. Their website, mobile app, OOH interfaces (ATM/kiosk, etc) lack the same personality and promise with fundamental design and usability problems.

Amol Kadam
Amol Kadam
Amol is one of the co-founders of RBBI agency- For over 20 years, Amol has conceptualised, designed and managed the production of many digital projects for a wide range of clients involving online branding & strategy, usability, information architecture, UX, interaction design, and online & offline interactive media.

Leave a Reply