What is Usability

Today, I answer the question of, what is usability? People throw this word around a lot in design and software circles and they give it a lot of weight. I fear it may have become a bit of a buzzword and I can’t allow that kind of thing to persist. So, what is usability? It has a definite true meaning to its core, and it does deserve the weight people give it, but we must truly appreciate what it is for that weight to mean anything. 


Usability encompasses UX, just as UX encompasses UI, but that does not mean that usability is all UX, any more than UX is all UI. Usability is in essence the complexity and flexibility of a design over a period of time. I’ve talked a bit about UX attrition in the past and the reasons for it, as well as some basic tenets for how to prevent it. Well, that’s actually more of a usability issue. Usability designers and specialists work to ensure that these potential, increasingly involved tasks on a user interface never become impossible to do. This is a very important aspect in usability, because it fights attrition, extends the lifespan of a product, and ensures that higher, increasing functionality can continue in the future.

Usability also addresses the level of learning complexity for adopting a new structure. For example, usability will classify a complex program such as a CAD program differently from an easy-to-pick up design like most social network apps and web interfaces, given the amount of training needed to do the simplest useful thing being much higher. This is an important factor to keep your eyes on, and have experts working around, because the more difficult a program is to learn to use, the more this will affect ideal demographics and marketability, as well as realms of application to a high extent.

Usability is also about figuring out the most efficient ways to design the procedures and the methodologies behind how a program is used, to get the most out of the fewest actions, which in turn affects the UX and UI in cascading order as well. Finally, one of the biggest issues usability addresses is contingencies for where help will be needed the most and how to accurately deliver it on call. A large portion of usability teams’ time on a design is working out what help topics to address and how, which is incredibly important, especially with more difficult software.

So, what is usability? Usability is addressing durability of a user experience over a period of time with added demand projections, as well as working out efficiency and difficulty of learning classification, and addressing said difficulty in the appropriate way.

Rachel Quinn