The Difference Between User Experience and Usability: What Matters and What Works

For me, user experience is about answering the question “Does it matter?” and usability is about answering the question “Does it work?” Great products and services come about when the answer to both questions is yes. However, a product can be successful when it does something users really care about even if usability is not very good. Remember the first generation cell phone? Compared to a land line, usability was terrible: poor call quality, giant form factor, limited calling range, no battery life, etc. But the service mattered so much—make or receive calls from anywhere—that consumers were willing to overlook the usability problems and the first generation of cell phones were successful products.

The converse, however, is not true. A product or service will not be successful if it has great usability but does not do something users care about. Such products quickly fade away in the consumer marketplace, but tend to live long lives in the corporate IT environment. I have worked in corporations where the business was run on applications that were perfectly usable but failed to support even basic business tasks. Typically these applications had not kept up with changing business practices or had been designed for a business practice that existed only in the minds of subject matter experts or other non-users who were tapped to represent what real users need. As users of business applications continue to demand more ‘consumer like’ features and functionalities, and organizations strive to improve business processes and seek competitive advantage, it’s no surprise that the question “does it matter?” is being addressed by forward-thinking companies.

User-centered design, as practiced by TandemSeven, can deliver great user experience and great usability by employing contextual user research to discover what really matters followed by iterative user interface design to deliver meaningful functionality in a way that is proven to work. Read my next post: Discovering “What Matters” and Validating “What Works” to Deliver Great Usability and a Great User Experience

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