Distinguishing between usability, UX and their impact on your business
24 May, 2019
Just like the majority of the UK, I have been taking advantage of the weather as much as possible these past few weeks and spent this past weekend out and about in the beautiful city of Bath.
I rented a car, packed a bag and set off on my weekend escape. But before leaving London, I had a look at a map and determined how best to get to Bath. Google Maps presented me with two main options:
Option 1 – Take the M4, a main road with a dual carriageway (at a minimum) with clear signage, but minimum views and scenery the entire way. It would take a little under 2 hours to get there; or
Option 2 – Utilise my excellent sense of direction, and take a combination of roads and unnecessary shortcuts (A40, A413, B4425, A433, A46) through Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds. This would take well over 3 hours to get there, but I would see the magnificent countryside along the way, not to mention getting to drive the rental car into the ground Jeremy Clarkson style.
Option number one represents a usability approach: I would achieve my goal of getting to Bath in the most efficient and effective way. Option number two, on the other hand, provides excitement and satisfaction before, during and after achieving the same goal and thus takes a user experience approach. Which option would you prefer?
Often when designing a website or application, it is a matter of balancing elements from each perspective when determining how a customer should experience your product or service – and the exact balance really depends on the product or service you offer.
In any event, this scenario highlights the difference between usability and user experience – fairly common terms that get used interchangeably, when really they shouldn’t.
While both user experience and usability are important in the overall success of a website or application, too often organisations think that if something is easy to use they have created a great user experience. Usability is really only one of the many layers that influence the overall experience.
Put simply, usability answers the question “Can the user accomplish their goal?”, removing any roadblocks that would keep people from performing the task at hand. User experience answers the question “Did the user have as delightful experience as possible?”, ensuring people have a pleasurable and highly satisfactory time engaging with your organisation.
Further, the interesting point about user experience (or lack thereof) to be noted here is how it flows over into the physical world and can impact your perception of the product or service you are purchasing.
For example, to go back to my analogy, if I took the M4 bypassing much of the countryside, would my perception of Bath be different? Would it simply seem like another English town with some history to it?
In contrast, if I followed the backroads of the Cotswolds and the idyllic landscape of rolling hills, would Bath appear as an elegant city that is the jewel of an English countryside littered with Roman relics and Georgian architecture?
Which would leave more of a lasting impression?
The later of course.
The same is true of a website or application’s user experience. While a customer may initially love the products and services you provide on your website, a poor user experience can have a supremely negative impact on their perceptions moving forward.
Take RyanAir for example. The product they offer, low-cost airfares and travel, is something in high demand by consumers and how many people like to travel – cheaply! However I know many people, myself included, who refrain from booking with RyanAir to avoid being visually tortured with unnecessary offers and banners on their website. Beyond the popups, users are challenged by a wide range of hurdles designed to pluck every last penny from their pockets. This is then followed by grave warnings of the dire consequences of your actions if you choose to deselect travel insurance, priority booking, text alerts etc. This has a detrimental effect to their brand, despite offering a product people want!
On the other hand, a profoundly amazing user experience can have immeasurable positive implications on the brand.
Take EasyJet. While I am in no way saying EasyJet’s product is any more superior than that of RyanAir, their user experience is undoubtedly better. The site design, ease at which flights can be booked, optional extras added and follow up correspondence received via email and text message result in a much, much, much, much, much better user experience. And this positive experience inevitably transfers to the product/service offered (despite essentially offering the same low-cost airfares as RyanAir).
Undoubtedly, accomplishing a great user experience takes far more effort to do well than usability. It involves understanding the motivations and rationale of your users and reflecting this influence in every aspect of your product. Who really are your customers? What makes them tick? What are they hoping to accomplish?
But the results of that planning and thought can have huge impact.
In my case of my case, I took Option 2 for my weekend away to Bath. And it was well worth it.