The term “usability” doesn’t get the attention it deserves these days, while all the focus is on “experience”. It often takes a backseat to the more popular acronym, UX (user experience). This is a real shame because usability is at the heart of what UX is all about.
The UX goal of a product or service is to help people complete their task intuitively. This requires good usability, which is about function, enabling smooth movement from point A to point B.
Velcro (usability) or laces (experience)?
The hallmark of good usability is that it is invisible. Think about Velcro straps on shoes – they provide excellent usability. There’s minimal cognitive load when fastening your shoes with Velcro. On the other hand, laces require two hands, dexterous fingers, and some knowledge. Just ask my kids which choice they prefer!
The term “experience”, however, goes beyond mere functionality. It encompasses the emotional and psychological aspects of the user’s interaction and how they feel throughout the process.
For example, the product experience extends beyond the direct interaction itself. It includes the moments leading up to it and even what comes after. For instance, the unboxing of a product can create positive anticipation, which is then complemented by the actual quality of the product itself.
The influence of expectation
Therefore, a customer’s expectations will influence their reaction to the experience i.e., does it deliver on the promise? If people all lived a Zen-like existence, they would learn not to have expectations and accept things as they are. In such a scenario, good usability would remain invisible, and that would be enough.
But the truth is, we do have expectations. Our expectations are fuelled by branding and marketing efforts. So much so that if the overall experience falls short, we feel a sense of disappointment. For example, if you buy a luxury product and it arrives in a cheap plastic bag, or if the unboxing experience surpasses the actual quality of the product itself.
Even laces on shoes offer their own unique experience. Whilst Velcro does offer clean usability, laces can come in assorted styles, materials, and colours. Just look at TikTok, and you’ll find countless ideas on how to tie your laces in creative ways.
In conclusion, when striving to enhance your product or service, prioritising usability should be at the forefront of your efforts. A prime example of exemplary usability can be found in Gov.uk, which demonstrates a remarkable commitment to providing a seamless user experience. By ensuring usability, you lay the groundwork for a successful user journey.
However, it’s important to note that user experience encompasses more than just usability. The design of the experience itself holds the power to leave a lasting brand impact and evoke elevated feelings in users. If the Internet was full of websites that all focused on usability without experience, we wouldn’t have much to talk about in the digital landscape!
So which is it, Usability or Experience? It is crucial to strike a balance between the design of the experience and usability. My feeling is that, while an aesthetically pleasing and engaging experience can be impactful, it should never come at the expense of usability.