What is Usability? A Guide to Designing Exceptional User Experiences
Usability measures how well a user can use a product or design to achieve a defined goal effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily in a specific context. It is a critical component of user experience (UX) design, and designers must measure a design’s usability throughout the development process to ensure maximum usability.
According to David McQuillen, founder of Sufferfest cycling workout resources, “Usability is about human behavior. It recognizes that humans are lazy, get emotional, are not interested in putting a lot of effort into, says, getting a credit card and generally prefer things that are easy to do vs. those that are hard to do.”
Usability Elements for Exceptional Experiences
Usability is often confused with user experience and ease of use, but it is a separate component of UX design. Usability is the second level in user experience, according to the Nielsen Norman Group, a leader in the UX field. It comes after utility and before desirability and brand experience.
A design’s usability depends on how well its features accommodate users’ needs and contexts. Therefore, designers are responsible for their designs’ usability, and it should contain the following elements:
- Effectiveness: It supports users in completing actions accurately.
- Efficiency: Users can perform tasks quickly through the easiest process.
- Engagement: Users find it pleasant to use and appropriate for its industry/topic.
- Error Tolerance: It supports a range of user actions and only shows an error in genuine erroneous situations.
- Ease of Learning: New users can accomplish goals easily and even more easily on future visits.
How to Design for Optimum Usability
Designers should first focus on how well their design will flow in context. That means focusing on the design as a whole — not on its parts (e.g., individual web pages) — and making content simple. To achieve optimum usability, designers should:
- Work with a clear understanding of users’ goals and show it in their design.
- Mimic the real world regarding concepts, icons, and language.
- Present instantly understandable, jargon-free messages and actions users can take—one chief action per screen.
- Limit options to give a strong information scent on an uncluttered display — show essential information for completing tasks.
- Keep content consistent.
- Follow established norms regarding function and layout (e.g., logo positioning, tippable buttons).
- Use proper font size, color, contrast, whitespace, etc., to combine aesthetic appeal with scanning readability, present a clear, logical information hierarchy, and design for accessibility.
- Use chunking and emphasize essential information at the beginning and end of interactive sequences.
- Offer informative feedback about the system status.
- Include helpful navigation systems and search functionality.
- Allow for customizable controls, including shortcuts.
- Avoid disruptions — e.g., forced logins/pop-ups.
- Make forms easy to complete.
- Include warnings and autocorrect features to minimize errors.
- Make errors easy to diagnose.
- Offer easy-to-understand help documentation.
- Show clear contact options.
- Provide a back button to undo actions.
- Include ALT tags to show more information about images.
- Consider server abilities regarding page-loading time and downtime.
- Beware of in-app browsers and restrictions (e.g., scrolling) in mobile design.
- Make links active.
- Describe links accurately.
- Use user personas.
- Do thorough usability testing.
In conclusion, usability is an essential component of UX design. Designers must measure usability throughout the development process and ensure their design accommodates users’ needs and contexts. To achieve optimum usability, designers should focus on the design as a whole and make content simple