What is Usability

First let’s make it clear what usability is and is not.

Usability is about people and how they understand and use products or systems, including websites, software, devices, or applications. It refers to the quality of a user’s experience, and assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.

Jakob Nielsen, a usability guru, defines usability by five quality components:
Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?
― from Jakob Nielsen’s Usability 101

What usability is not

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Right, usability is not the same thing as user experience (UX).

UX is the wider perspective and usability is a part of UX. There is a trend to look at this relationship by subdividing UX into utility, usability, desirability and brand experience, as illustrated below.
ux-circle-v2 -edited2This topic is rather controversial, and there’s a lot of debate on it. Here are some links if you are interested:
Is UX the same as Usability?
The Difference Between UX And Usability

If you have a contrary opinion, feel free to share your thoughts in comments! I’d love to know what “usability” means to you 🙂

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3 thoughts on “What is Usability

  1. This is a great summary! I love that you found Nielsen’s page about usability. There are different ways to define usability, and Nielsen does a good job with this. I think his first four points are the most important components of usability.

    1. Learnability- how easily can you learn the software the first time you use it?
    2. Efficiency- can you do real tasks with the system?
    3. Memorability- can you use the software again after a few days or a week?
    4. Errors- how does it deal with errors?

    I think his fifth point (Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?) is closer to User Experience (UX) than usability.

    The core idea is that real people use software to do real tasks, and they want to get it done in a reasonable amount of time. So that means a system that has good usability allows real people to do real tasks in a reasonable amount of time.

    I also like this definition from ‘A Practical Guide to Usability Testing’ (rev. ed., Dumas and Redish, 1999). Dumas and Redish use four points to their definition:

    1. Usability means focusing on users
    2. People use products to be productive
    3. Users are busy people trying to accomplish tasks
    4. Users decide when a product is easy to use

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also liked your description of user experience. You are right; usability is not the same thing as user experience.

    Usability and user experience are related, but different. Usability is about getting something done; user experience is about the user’s emotional impression. Lots of things can affect the emotional experience of a program. Colors, fonts, location of elements, and window decorations are just some of the things that can influence how a person feels about using software. That’s the user experience.

    Usability focuses on the user. The general rule about usability is that people use programs to be productive, and they are busy people who are trying to get things done. Through usability testing, the user decides when a product is easy to use. Because if a program is hard to use, no one will want to use it. And if they don’t use the software, then they won’t have an emotional experience about it.

    So I believe that usability and user experience go hand-in-hand. Programs need to be pleasant (user experience) but people need to be able to use them, too (usability).

    It’s generally true that a program with good usability also has a good user experience, and a program with poor usability generally has a poor user experience. But that’s not always the case.

    Like

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