Why User Experience Is Not Usability

What is “user experience” anyway? Often times, people confuse user experience for usability (and vice versa). Others recognize it as a buzz word, but don’t really know its meaning. If you’re one of the many who confuse it with usability (or do not understand it at all) then be confused no longer.

According to Wikipedia, “User experience involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.”

As you may have noticed from the above statement, user experience is much more than just usability. It does not merely tell you if a task can or cannot be performed correctly. It gets into the whys and helps define your user in order to best address their current and even future needs.

User experience not only deals with the product, but also what leads up to the use of the product and what happens post-use. It can include a users research of the product, purchase/acquisition, implementation or integration, usage of the product and compatibility with other products or processes and post-usage including support, maintenance, upgrades, cross-selling and marketing activities. It can include every touch point with a brand.

Usability is a subset of user experience and does have its place, as do many other subsets of user experience, including:

  • Ideation (service/mobile/web/product)
  • Concept user feedback (discussing concepts with users before development)
  • Visual and structural concept creation (information architecture, interface design, digital prototyping)
  • User testing (usability, visual and concept feedback)

An example may help illustrate the difference. User Insight worked with a client that had an adoption problem with a product associated with their core service. We performed multiple rounds of usability testing with various iterations to the design. When we finished, the product tested extremely well in lab. Yet, adoption did not go up. In fact, the new release showed adoption dropping like a rock. The client wanted to do more usability testing but ultimately we talked the client into doing user experience research. We looked at the user’s process from researching the product, purchasing, in home installation, usage and post-usage/customer support. We found two major things affecting adoption. The experience of installation of the service was so painful no one wanted to use this particular product after the core service was working. As we worked on the solution of the implementation issues, we switched gears to the post-usage support by listening in on customer service calls. We found out the new version had a code issue that did not allow the call centers to troubleshoot the service remotely without uninstalling the product. And most forgot to re-install the product once the service was working again. The client fixed both issues and, once complete, adoption skyrocketed over the next 3 months. It had nothing to do with usability. It was all about the user experience.

As you can see, user experience is “bigger” than just usability, and if done correctly, it can drastically improve your product development process, product adoption and customer satisfaction, ultimately increasing revenues or reducing support costs… or maybe both!

We recommend taking an iterative design and research approach to keep the experience honest by constantly putting it in front of users as well as performing regular internal critiques. We call this service “Applied Insights”. Our full service design and research team can take a project from concept to development while taking the time to understand your customer and apply our knowledge to create actionable results.

Interested in learning more? Take a look at our service offerings at and contact us at (770) 391 1099 or