Usability and User Experience – How they Fit Together

Usability and user experience are not the same thing. I know, shocking, right? This is one of those situations where there are a lot of shared concerns (and shared personnel in practice), as well as a similar naming theme. As a result, the natural human tendency to lump similar, similarly-named things together as a single entity just … happens. It shouldn’t, though, because as I said, they’re not the same thing.

However, usability and user experience do fit together inseparably, and you need to focus on both if you want your web or software design to actually engage your demographics. So, we’re going to look a little bit today at how they work together, when applied properly, to ensure that not only does a web or software construct serve the purpose intended, but does so in a manner that lets users make avail of this.

First, though, let’s do a very quick definition of the two terms. Usability is the science of designing the interface, presentation, navigation patterns and so forth in a way that makes sense to the user, and is convenient and efficient for them as well. User experience, however, is a summary science that includes usability, aesthetics, human-computer interaction and all other user-affecting aspects in total.

This is kind of like how UI (user interface) isn’t usability or user experience, but it is entirely one of the components of them.

Well, in defining these terms, we already have an inkling of how and why they fit together so critically, don’t we? But, let’s actually work through this, so we can really cement this.

A user experience is affected by how easy, visually pleasant and responsive an interface is. There’s a lot of debate, or rather challenge of balance, to how much aesthetic effort versus minimalism will result in the better outcome, or which layout templates and navigation patterns work the best, but ultimately, the choices in these, and how they work together will result in either a positive or negative user experience.

In order to ensure that these work properly together, usability comes into play. The goals of usability are multiple. The first goal, and the overarching one, is to design the interface and logic behind interacting with the design in a way that looks professional, and complies with eye tracking (the order in which the human eye and mind spot and recognize things when multiple things are seen spontaneously). Instant recognition of controls and, therefore, their basic functions is important. Along with this, usability also has the goal of making navigation patterns and orders of operation as simple as possible. Basically, this can be simplified in terms of “doing the most possible from the least buttons clicked and fields filled out”. In other words, it’s the goal of usability to make a process quick to physically call upon, and not tiresome to use repeatedly.

In order to make the best choices for these sorts of dilemmas, designers must think above the immediate terms of usability, and factor in that summary user experience. This refers to things such as the mindset of a user as they perform this or that, what they may infer from what is put in front of them, the various scenarios (and emotional and mental states accompanying them) leading into the need to perform this or that task at any given moment, and so forth … from there, they consider these factors when crafting the usability aspect.

So, while usability and user experience aren’t the same exact thing … you simply cannot have one without the other. If you want to design websites, web services or any form of software or game, you need to have a serious grasp of both, and how they intermingle. Otherwise … well … good luck?


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.