By Michael Heraghty on November 24th, 2011
People sometimes ask, “what’s the difference between user experience (UX) and usability?”. Let me try to explain, by borrowing from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Let us assume that the user of any software has three hierarchical types of needs:
1. The software must work; it must be functional. This is the user’s most basic need.
Making sure software works is a prerequisite to good usability and a good user experience.
2. The software should be easy to use. Over the last decade, websites in particular have become more user-friendly, thanks partly to the spread of usability concepts (see Jakob Neilsen), but moreso to the pressures of competition.
When a software tool has no competitors, users will tolerate bad usability, so long as the software is functional. But when there is a choice, users will plump for the tool that is easier to use. Usability is concerned with software’s intuitiveness, its ease of use.
3. The software should be pleasurable to use. When competition is fierce, the software that wins is not only easy to use, but also enjoyable to use.
Steve Jobs recognised this. Donald Norman, usability pioneer, recognised this in his book Emotional Design. Norman argues that software was more effective when users found it aesthetically appealing, or when they formed an other emotional connection to the software, e.g. when they found it aesthetically appealing. As he put it, “attractive things work better”.
User experience concerns designing software to be usable AND pleasurable or otherwise emotionally engaging for users.