Usability is not UX

Usability is not UX

Jun 22, 2019

These two terms are very close to each other in the product design sphere. They have ties in methods and the same intention to make users happy during the interaction with the application, website etc. So, what is the difference?

Probably there is no single definition with strict points as to what is Usability. Some articles even attribute certain features from the User Experience to the Usability, but anyway all of them claim that the UX is more complicated.

As Wikipedia says:

Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object such as a tool or device. In software development, Usability is the degree to which software can be used by specified consumers to achieve quantified objectives with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a quantified context of use.


User Experience (UX) refers to a person's emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. User Experience may be considered subjective in nature to the degree that it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system.



According to the ISO definition, User Experience includes all the users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use. The ISO also lists three factors that influence User Experience: system, user and the context of use.

Note 3 of the standard hints that Usability addresses aspects of User Experience, e.g. "Usability criteria can be used to assess aspects of User Experience". The standard does not go further in clarifying the relation between User Experience and Usability. Clearly, the two are overlapping concepts, with Usability including pragmatic aspects (getting a task done) and User Experience focusing on users’ feelings stemming both from pragmatic and hedonic aspects of the system.

Most likely, regular people won't see a sharp difference, but designers do. Let’s express our vision of it in a nutshell.

What’s in common?

Spheres of design, development approaches or designer skills can be considered as common. Also, they have the same purpose - to reach goals easily, and to enjoy using a product.

What’s the difference?

Generally speaking, the Usability is an instant interaction. It’s a common practice of a regular user who expects from the product the right position of elements, predictable behaviour, fast recognition and anticipated results. The UX has a wider meaning. It also comprises the prediction of users needs, possible wishes, and how the product responds before, during and after interactions. Digging deeper, the UX may touch other branches of the product and influence marketing, sales, technical support, all the while depending on the contact points with the customers or users.

Usability helps the user to solve certain tasks. Moreover, UX cares about the issues that the user can miss before taking on a task. UX offers additional options after its completion or gives another approach while performing the task, even if the user didn't expect he would need it.

Usability is a set of rules and design laws that have been formed through many years of research and design practice. UX is an approach that is used to check the hypothesis for a certain product and for a certain group of people in specific cases. It’s a set of several research studies, surveys, or interviews to collect and analyze data. This helps to prepare options, test them and apply the most suitable solutions.

Both the Usability and User Experience refer to the User interface; however, the UX also deals with background and service outside of the software.

On the basis of our expertise, we would refer the Usability to all users, and the UX to the target audience only. It’s clear that the first one is a part of the last one, so the Usability can be appreciated the most by the users that use software for the first time (or rarely use it), or even if they’re not involved in the sphere of applying. All other aspects of the UX are designed for people that regularly use a product. It carries small pleasant “surprises” to those users who work very frequently or are involved in the sphere of business, which makes a product more valuable. UX is also the balance of the target audience needs. A goal directed design helps to pick the right set of features for the major group of users (core).

Usability always means usefulness for the user. UX is the balance between user needs and business goals which intends to satisfy both sides.

One last thought: the Usability is a mandatory skill for UI and UX designers as it is one of the UX aspects. User Experience isn't the responsibility of a regular UI designer, but the basic knowledge would be an advantage to the designer.

So, to sum thing up, these two terms are the core of the design sphere, the reason for  our job, and exciting words for our happy users. They are the key factors of a successful product, and the understanding of the difference between them gives insight into where to search for solutions, how to apply them, and who can do it.

For those, who want to dig deeper, we recommend to read the following articles by prominent authors:



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