UX Killed Usability

UX Killed Usability

UX Killed UsabilityUsability is dead (or at best on life-support and not conscious), and I’m sorry to be the one that has to tell you this, but it’s been mortally wounded by UX (aka User Experience). How do I know? Well, you see, I’m a big fan of usability. Consider my blog, Useful Usability, which has the name of usability right in it. I eat, think and sleep usability, which is why I’m so sad that UX has killed it.

Yes, I’m a big fan of usability, but I can assure you it has been killed (or at best is now on life support and comatose). And I have proof, which I’ll sadly but scientifically share with you in a moment. But for those of you who can’t wait and want to know the executive summary, here it is:

“Usability as a term is pretty much dead and has been replaced (not very well) by UX, meaning user experience.”

Now like I said, I’m sorry to be the bearer of this bad news, but if you are in the usability profession I suspect you already have an inkling of this fact.

The fact is usability will most likely be has been consumed and overwhelmed by the new catch-phrase and relatively new role of UX. The sad part however is that where most people knew what usability was (how easy things are to use, measured and tested via a scientific method), no two people exactly agree on what UX is.

Usability definition:

According to WikiPedia, the definition of usability is…

“Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with. A usability study may be conducted as a primary job function by a usability analyst or as a secondary job function by designers, technical writers, marketing personnel, and others. It is widely used in consumer electronics, communication, and knowledge transfer objects (such as a cookbook, a document or online help) and mechanical objects such as a door handle or a hammer.

Usability includes methods of measuring usability, such as Needs analysis and the study of the principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance. In human-computer interaction and computer science, usability studies the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site (web usability) is designed. Usability differs from user satisfaction insofar as the former also embraces usefulness (see Computer user satisfaction).”

Whew! That is a lot to read, much less to say. Can you see yourself saying that to your mom or dad if they were to ask you what usability is? I can’t. So, as you can tell, I’m actually not a big fan of this definition, because it’s not very user-friendly (and thus not usable) in my opinion.

I prefer my description of usability, which is…

“Usability is how easy or difficult something is to use. Usability can be measured through a scientific process focused on evaluating user critical tasks and the ability, or lack thereof, of those tasks to be completed by users . Usability includes how efficient something is, how easy it is to learn, and the ability of the item to satisfy the user.”

So like I said, usability is pretty easy to understand, once you have a usable definition.

Proof that UX killed Usability

You may ask how I know usability is dead, or at best on life-support and not conscious, what’s my proof? I’ll show you. Just like a lawyer.

Well, a lawyer that we actually like.

I’m thinking Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. He was a lawyer everyone liked. So picture me as Perry Mason and let us now examine the evidence that proves UX killed Usability.

Google Insights, Interest over Time, UX vs. Usability

UX vs. Usability per Google Insights Data

UX vs. Usability per Google Insights Data

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you the first piece of evidence that UX killed usability. Interest in UX has beaten interest in usability and is now more than double the usability interest.

The Google Insights tool provides a useful comparison of interest in subjects over time. The numbers on the graph above reflect the index of how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over that time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100.

As the above graph demonstrates, usability was at about 80% interest in 2004, but has declined ever since and is now about 20% interest. UX meanwhile was at about 75% interest, and is now at roughly 55%. Both fell, but usability fell much more than UX.

Simply put, UX interest is beating out usability interest and has been doing so since 2006. And if Google’s forecasts are accurate we can assume usability interest will continue to fall to less than 20% interest, while UX will maintain at about 50-55% interest.

User Experience Interest Growing

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I now present to you the second piece of incriminating evidence that UX killed usability.  As demonstrated by the Google Insights information, interest in user experience continues to climb, while as we saw earlier interest in usability continues to fall.

user experience interest per Google Insights data

User Experience interest per Google Insights data

I direct, ladies and gentlemen, your attention to this graph above, which clearly proves that interest in user experience has almost doubled from 2004 to 2012. Interest in 2004 was roughly 50%, but today has climbed to about 95%. This increase is in stark contrast to usability which is currently hovering around 20%.

Clearly user experience interest is growing at the expense of usability interest.

Google Indexed Pages, UX vs. Usability

And now ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to show you the next piece of evidence in the case of UX against usability, which is the number of pages Google has indexed, or attributed, to a certain term. UX has yet again beaten usability, in this case a severe beating, by having over double the number of pages indexed.

Number of Google's indexed pages for UsabilityAccording to Google, there are about 57,300,000 pages that have something to do with the term ‘usability.’ That’s not bad. However, that doesn’t hold a candle to UX.

Number of Google indexed pages for UXAccording to Google, there are over 130,000,000 pages that pertain to UX. That’s more than double the usability total. And ladies and gentlemen of the jury, just in case you were thinking there are other uses of the term UX that may be inflating these numbers, I present to you this corroborating piece of evidence. The term ‘user experience’ has far more number of pages indexed than either UX or usability.

Number of Google indexed pages for user experienceThere are over 236,000,000 pages that are indexed by Google for the term ‘user experience.’ Compared to the 57,300,000 pages that index for usability, clearly user experience has far more content, by a factor of almost four to one. This proves that user experience, and UX, are overwhelming usability.

Monster job postings, UX vs. Usability

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I now turn your attention to the next piece of evidence that UX has killed usability, the number of jobs posted that pertain to usability vs UX. Note the number of jobs that appear when a search for usability is conducted on Monster as demonstrated below. You’ll clearly see ladies and gentlemen that there are 19 jobs for the term usability.

Number of usability jobs on Monster is 19But now ladies and gentlemen I call attention to the following result for the term UX. When you type in UX into Monster you see a whopping 1,000+ jobs appear in the results. This completely overwhelms usability and its feeble 19 jobs. And should you assume that these may be jobs that only have a slight bearing on the terms of UX I would like you to note that in both searches the search term (usability or UX) is required to be in the title, as demonstrated by the checked box for the Title selection.

There are over 1,000 UX jobs on Monster

Austin Chapter of the UPA Meetings

Finally, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, witness the relatively small interest in usability at the local level. As president of the Austin Chapter of the UPA I’ve been struggling for two years now on trying to expand the interest and activity in usability and user-centered design in the Austin, Texas community.

I love doing this, as I feel my volunteering with the UPA is my way to give back to the community and in some small way help our world to be a better place to live. But I will confide with you and tell you it has been a struggle to grow membership. At best, our meetings average about 20 people (as demonstrated below). Our FaceBook page has 102 Friends and we have 56 Followers on Twitter. Not too bad.

A typical Austin chapter of the UPA meeting with about 20 attendees

A typical AustinUPA chapter meeting with about 20 attendees

However, as shown below and just as a reference point the recent Austin IxDA meeting had almost 100 people in attendance (not counting me although I was there). In addition, they have 296 Followers on Twitter, which is pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Austin IxDA and a happy member. I just bring this up to point out the size discrepancies between a group focused on interaction design and UX, and a group focused on usability.

A typical Austin IXDA meeting with about 100 attendees

A typical Austin IXDA meeting with about 100 attendees

In addition, I asked several members at the recent Austin IxDA meeting as well as other places such as SXSW about their feelings for the local UPA chapter. Here’s what they said in a paraphrased form…

“Yeah, I like the Austin UPA and all, but usability is just focused on research, and that’s just a small part of everything I have to do as a UX practitioner.”

This now makes sense to me, especially when you look at the job posting descriptions for “UX Designers” or related terms.

A typical UX designer job postingNote that most of the time the job posting is a mixture of part IA, part usability researcher, part designer, and part coder. No wonder usability is now only a minor part of the UX world!

Conclusion: UX killed Usability

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, clearly the evidence is overwhelming, UX has killed usability. True, usability is not completely dead, it lies in a slowly decaying world of interest and roles, now relegated to a minor part of someone’s very large and growing list of responsibilities as a UX designer. Whether the term usability will continue to survive in this world is a matter of conjecture.

However, I suspect that if you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, dust off your usability interest, evaluate the true meaning of usability, which is the extent to which things can be made to work better, and work on educating the world and your part in it about the importance of usability, it won’t truly die.

It’s up to you. Only you can determine if UX will be allowed to kill usability, or if you will use usability and enable it to continue to play a role in the new world of UX and user experience.

So, do you agree that UX killed usability? Are you ready to convict? And if you see usability having less significance, what do you propose, if anything, to do about it?

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30 Responses to UX Killed Usability

  1. Robert says:

    UX is bigger than usability, so it does not replace it – it includes it.

    Imo it’s simple;
    User Experience = functionality + usability + bling

  2. juliebooth says:

    I don’t know about UX killing Usability. I am actually happy that we are getting a seat at the table during ideation — rather than being the “usability” people who come in and test it to see if people can use it before we ship — and then not fix anything….

    That being said, I have been beating this drum — Usability, IxD, and User Research are all components of what we generically refer to as “UX” in my job. I like to explain that we “solve user problems”, “understand user goals and the way then work”, and “validate that the interface is easy to use or at least easy to learn to use”.

    http://uxsuccess.com/2009/10/28/agile-ux-hat-switching/

  3. Paul Schantz says:

    The real reason that the term “UX” has gained (stolen?) mind share is because it has an X in it. Everyone knows that the letter X makes things cooler, more mysterious, and more technical-sounding. In fact, the letter X is evocative of techno-wizardry in general. As a member of Generation X, I feel I have a kindred spirit in UX.

    But seriously, “User Experience” SOUNDS like a more expansive term and suggests a broader scope of responsibility. You clearly point this out in the job postings. In my opinion, UX is such a broad term, it kinda means everything and nothing at the same time. My suspicion is that a lot of the term’s popularity comes from practitioners, especially green freelancers. I’ve been in several meetings with “UX experts” recently who’ve thrown the term around an awful lot. Now, I’m used to artificially inflated language being used like this in meetings…that’s something I can deal with. However, this term is usually delivered with a smug “I know more than you do” look. It’s all I can do to NOT reach across the table and slap said expert. I haven’t slapped anyone yet, but one of these days…

    Usability is something that can be objectively measured. In mission-critical environments (say, an airliner flight deck), I hope that usability studies have been performed on the instruments and flight controls. In non-mission critical environments (say, the passenger seating area on the same airliner), user experience studies have their place in cabin decorating aesthetics, but I’d argue that usability studies count for just as much here.

    In my mind, comparing usability and user experience is like comparing the questions “what does it do?” to “how does it make you feel?” They’re both valid questions, but they have different specificity. I think the term “UX” has its place, but not as a title for an individual…perhaps it would make a great title for a group or department?

    Keep fighting the good fight, Craig. Who knows, maybe you still have a chance to convict UX. With all those pages and job postings though, I think UX is gonna tie you up in appeals…

  4. craig says:

    Thanks for your comments Paul, Julie and Robert!

    I never thought of the “X” Factor Paul, (wait, there’s a U.S. TV show by that name too!). There are a whole bunch of other hot “X” terms out there as well, including Customer Experience (CX) and more. Most of them are just as ill-defined as UX.

    I agree with you Julie, it’s a problem trying to define to non-UX folk what UX actually is. I like the “solve user problems” and the rest. However, if that’s the definition of UX, isn’t it also the exact same definition of usability (which is in theory just a component of UX?)

    Robert, I agree with you, and I think most people do, that UX is bigger. Not sure what the “bling” is, and also isn’t functionality directly linked to usability? How are the two separate?

    Far more of a concern to me these days is what we are going to do to define, and call together our discipline from a professional standpoint. The old “Usability Professionals Association” (UPA) is still around, I’ve been a proud member for a long time. And, there’s SIG Chi and the IXDA and the rest, but they don’t focus strictly on testing and optimizing. However, my worry is that by linking the UPA with a term that clearly is being used less and less, they will become dinosaurs. Just like another association I used to belong to, which is now long gone: The Association For Multi Image (AMI) of which the only thing I can find is an old slide from their Gold Tour of 1982. Yikes! I’m dating myself! I hope the UPA doesn’t go the way of the AMI.

  5. Michelle says:

    I agree with Paul’s comment, “I think the term ‘UX’ has its place, but not as a title for an individual…perhaps it would make a great title for a group or department?” I’ve been part of the “User Experience/UX” discipline since 2001, and even in 2001 we were the UX group. Whenever I’ve work in large companies, our group or department was either called the UX group or something very similar. But within that group we had specialists: interaction designers, ethnographers/user researchers, usability analysts/engineers, graphic/visual designers, information architects, even sometimes UI devs and prototypers.

    But if you work at a small company or a company that is just beginning to find value in our discipline, it’s highly likely that the “UX department” is actually “you.” And yes, you probably have to do all of those things listed in Craig’s job posting … and more.

    Like most professions, there are generalists and there are specialists. The extent to which you get to be a specialist is very much dictated by the needs of the environment you’re in.

  6. Jim Ross says:

    UX is innocent. It did not kill usability, it asked usability to join UX and work together under the name “UX”. Usability agreed and stopped being a sole proprietor and started working as part of UX.

    Usability is as important as ever and it always will be, but it’s only one aspect of UX.

  7. craig says:

    OK, that’s a vote for innocent. Thanks for your comment Jim,

    But, and this is my pet peeve, how can “usability be as important as ever” if it is only one aspect of UX? Seems to me that the user experience someone has with an application or website is all about functionality, learnability and satisfaction. Which is oddly enough the description for usability. So what extra elements does UX add? And if it does, are they not subservient to usability? After all, if you can’t use it, who cares about the rest of the user experience?

    Riddle me that!
    :-)

  8. Eddie James says:

    This discussion reminds me of all the talk about the future of information architecture. So many IAs were worried about the term as more people started calling themselves UX this or that. But information architecture is still just as important as it always was. It’s just now very few IAs label themselves an IA. I was just at the IA Summit in New Orleans, which had it’s biggest turnout ever, and I only met one or two people who had IA in their title. Everyone was a UXer. But every UXer there was interested in IA (as well as a wide range of other topics!).

    In the end, it’s just a label; the discipline and craft don’t go away, unless it wasn’t that essential to begin with.

    If anything, usability is becoming more expected and noticed by users. I’ve seen their tolerance of bad usability go down a lot in this age of ipads, iphones, smartphones, and facebook. They may still use a “bad” product, but they notice and complain much more when the important stuff doesn’t work. Look at the app store or Google market. Are you going to download a badly reviewed app? Probably not. Usability and usefulness are big parts of why an app gets a bad review. Companies are hiring VPs of UX now to insure great user experiences which results in better usability of their products.

    Usability is important and will remain important. Our job titles may change and usability may be done by different people on the team, but it’s definitely not going anywhere.

  9. Eddie James says:

    Jim Ross is correct. Usability is a part of UX, but UX is larger.

    UX is not totally about a particular application or website. It’s about how that application or website fits into a user’s life and how that application or website fits into that user’s interaction with an organization.

    A terrible company can build a great app, but having one great usable app doesn’t necessary create a great user experience. What if I paid my bill via that highly usable app and later logged into the company’s website. I expect the website to know my bill was paid. If it does not, then I have a bad experience because I’m not sure if the company really got my payment. That could result in me calling, being on hold, and wasting my and the company’s time. Not a good user experience.

    In the multi-screen device world we live in, user experience often goes beyond one project or product. Usability is usually applied to each product separately. UX looks at the spaces between products that often are the areas that create bad user experiences.

  10. Loren Baxter says:

    Usability isn’t the end goal. It’s not enough. A usable but unsuccessful tool is still a failure.

    Or in other words, usability is now mandatory, like spelling is for writers. Hemingway wasn’t a speller, he was a writer. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.

  11. Timothy says:

    I belong to the UX team, and my title is User Experience Analyst. I’m still trying to figure out what this means exactly – but its okay, so is my boss!

    I like the Robert’s definition “User Experience = functionality + usability + bling” where I get that Functionality is the stuff that it can do, that Usablity means that it is easy and intuitive (another can of worms) to use, and that Bling means that it has a great look and feel that augments the other two aspects rather than hindering them.

    I also like this definition because of the ordering of the 3 factors. It is in this order that I see things being created (once the requirements etc have been defined).

    I do however sympathise – being new to the greater UX community – with people proficient in Usability who might get passed over by the all-powerful, all-conquering X term. Especially as the X term might overpower the rest and leave the industry the weaker for it. While half in jest, I am a little concerned that the value and importance of Usability is reduced.

  12. craig says:

    Thanks for your comments Eddie, Loren and Timothy.

    I get the whole ‘ux is more than usability’ thing. However, my problem with that is nobody can accurately describe (in a consistent manner) exactly what that “more” is! Usability is a known quantity / definition, and by the way my opinion is people associate the definition of usability as being strictly function. I beg to disagree.

    Here’s the definition of usability out of WikiPedia:

    “ISO defines usability as “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process. Usability consultant Jakob Nielsen and computer science professor Ben Shneiderman have written (separately) about a framework of system acceptability, where usability is a part of “usefulness” and is composed of:[4]

    * Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
    * Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
    * Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re establish proficiency?
    * Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
    * Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?”

    So, if usability covers utilization, learnability and satisfaction, exactly what is the “more” that UX covers???

    In my opinion, until UX is defined and agreed upon consistently for what it is, and what it isn’t, it’s just so much smoke and mirrors. A catchy phrase helpful for getting jobs, or projects.

    There, I said it. Whew, I feel better.

    That said, please ignore the fact that my title here at Apogee Results is “Vice President, Online Marketing & User Experience”
    :-)

  13. John Julian says:

    You were talking about the Kano model in one of your earlier posts, and at first I wondered if usability is seen as more of a basic attribute, where UX goes into the sexier “excitement” attribute side of things – thus all the hype and Google mentions etc. I think user experience is less definable…take Wikipedia’s stab:

    User experience
    (UX) is the way a person feels about using a product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change. [end of definition]

    It struck me that reading this definition that the methodology for measuring UX in ways would be closer to doing a focus group for a new ad campaign or car design. I then started considering usability of a subset of UX, which again, doesn’t really contradict the Kano model idea.

    So it was all wrapped up neatly in my mind, until I recalled a debate with an SE in my office about the iPhone/iPad. He was saying that people loved the iOS because of its usability; I was saying that it was the overall UX, and that usability experts had mixed views about the fundamental usability of the devices, and gave examples of the twenty-some odd uses of the main button. He thought I was a nut and a hard-head, which is probably also true.

    But I think usability has value given a mission or need. I don’t know of anything that is highly usable that wouldn’t rate highly on the UX scale for people who wanted to do something already. When I get excited about something really usable and show it to people who wouldn’t use it anyway, the reaction is usually “so what.” No matter how usable a potato peeler is, someone who doesn’t cook potatoes will never get excited about it.

    But UX has a more advertising type quality to it, in that it gets people to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do normally, like use a computer for many iPad users, which makes the computing experience enjoyable for someone who could never maintain a general purpose computer.

  14. Jim Ross says:

    Peter Morville has a good diagram and explanation of user experience in his User Experience Honeycomb – http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000029.php.

    The elements of this UX honeycomb are: useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible, and valuable. Although usability in this model is only 1/7th of UX, it’s probably the most important element. Take away usability and a product will fail on all these other elements.

    If you look at UX similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, usability is on the bottom of the pyramid. You have to satisfy the need for usability before you even start thinking about things like desirability.

    So I agree that usability has faded from popularity as a term and UX is more popular. Many of us who used to use the term usability are now using the term UX, but we’re still focusing on the same things.

    So that’s why I like the analogy that usability wasn’t killed. It’s very much alive, but it joined with these other elements and changed its name to UX.

  15. Kevin Braun says:

    The term was coined by Don Norman while he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. In his own words: “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning… user experience, human centered design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.”

  16. Abhijit Thosar says:

    Interesting and very relevant conversation for the profession which has been struggling to find a logical place within corporate functions and decision making process.

    I think more than what WE think profession should be called as, it is important to see how “outside” world perceives it.

    1. Usability was perceived/positioned closer to Engineering function, whereas User Experience pitches to CXOs. UX stands a better chance of being “noticed” and “listened to” with a change in stance and vocabulary.
    2. Usability had an “academic” connotation and was often seen as “luxury” with time and budget constrains. User Experience is more inclusive of other business functions within the company.
    3. Usability was often “optional” during SDLC. User Experience is something project/product/service must achieve to have a positive business impact.
    4. Usability was measured using “non-business” metrics. User Experience is bundled into “Business” metrics.
    5. Usability is struggling to revive itself in “Agile” world. Project roles are collapsing, timeline shrinking.

  17. A usability focused design assists in creating an attractive user experience, and thus referral & retention, a key business objective in any firm.

    But the experience of the user transcends usability, including things like branding and brand experience.

    Nothing wrong with that

  18. jordisan says:

    As long as usability definition includes “satisfaction”, I don’t see the point of the usability vs. UX debate:
    http://jordisan.net/blog/2011/are-usability-and-ux-user-experience-the-same

    Anyway… what does a UXer do that can’t be considered as a usability technique?

  19. Ru Butler says:

    Great post and comments.

    I have always been an usability pragmatist and like many of those who have commented I do not agree that the ‘birth’ of the term UX has killed usability as a practice. In many ways I believe it has given it life by giving it visibility and bottom line meaning to those that are ultimately paying for the practice to develop and enhance, albeit under bigger UCD umbrella.

    Reading through all the responses I believe one element has been missed in terms of how user experience extends from pure usability.

    As discussed UX is evaluated both by emotion and logic. We also know our emotions are subjective reactions to a range of stimulants, far more than an easy to use interface and the pleasure that provides. In the real world our moods are affected by many other elements such as: colour, tones, use of language, imagery, music, humour, time, sharing, social interaction, environment, skill, education, beliefs, physicality, temperature, security, light etc etc.

    Not all of the above can be factored into website design granted but the point is great design has personality and identity that people feel they can connect with on an emotional level and therefore as technology and HCI evolves we need to factor in much more than how easily something works but also how it makes me feel as an individual in my situation, with my preferences and my needs.

    This is more than usability, this is about creating product that provides a fantastic 360 user experience in every respect.

    .

  20. David says:

    Honestly I’m not convinced by your conclusions. I’ll not bother to quibble with your misleading use of graphs and numbers, because there’s a more fundamental point that’s important to note.

    I’m a neophyte to the area of UX, so I can give you my perspective as an outsider who has tried to get a feel for how things work. It seems to me that User Experience as a field is relatively nascent, and only recently has it begun to acquire structure and common definition. Building a list of primary texts to start learning was a challenge, I’ll tell you!

    What’s also clear to me is that UX encompasses a number of seperate but related disciplines, and usability is simply one of them. As a field, “usability” is rather narrow considering what goes into the design and construction of a user-focused website. IA is important, as are various aspects of visual design and goal-driven influencing factors (neuromarketing, if you like).

    Usability hasn’t gone away. Its core tenets appear to still be at the heart of UX. Interaction design, user interface design, and the like are still there – they’ve just been supplemented by the other areas which build on that core.

    It also seems that UX teams of the future are likely to have specialisms. Just as there are specialist Information Architects, there will be specialist Usability Engineers. Your job isn’t going away, it’s just being taken in under that larger umbrella. And lamenting the decline of usability as a catch all term doesn’t seem productive – this is a brilliant opportunity to start defining by exclusion. When “usability” loses the cruft of past tangential associations with other areas, it will become more focused and defined, and that’s good for both User Experience as a wider field and for Usability as a discipline.

    But then again, I’m new at all this. :)

  21. Caio Cesar says:

    I honestly do not think that UX killed Usability. In fact, as most of the commenters here said, UX involves usability. For another reason to believe this, we just have to take a look at the famous UPA poster has this as its title: designing the user experience.

    The fact that one term has more pages about it than the other is weak. UX has stronger meaning, broader. Usability is restricted to scientific methods (therefore, frightening to most out there). This is why IMHO we have more job offers in UX than we have in usability.

    In essence, they’re almost the same. We use several usability methods when designing experiences. And since usability is also about satisfaction (as both you and Jordison said, and as it’s written in all usability definitions) , this case must be ended.

    To conclude my remarks, UX has a marketing friendly name. Usability is scary (for those who does not know anything about it).

  22. Bhavinee Vyas says:

    Thanks Craig, for bringing up your point in such an interesting and fun way. The way some “user experience practices” do their jobs, it definitely feels like UX killed usability. However, I don’t think UX is really the culprit here.

    To me, usability is more like the robot that does all our work, whereas UX is like a thinking, feeling, helpful friend. I think that the Human connection is what separates usability (how easily and efficiently you can get a job done) from user experience (how much fun you can have and how you feel while getting a job done).

  23. Jake Barlow says:

    Usability is but one component of a larger User Experience design strategy. As better UX folks than me have said, getting UX right requires making systems “Functional > Reliable > Usable > Delightful”, in that order. My own experience in this fiels, as well as evidence I’ve seen bears that out in spades.

  24. craig says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. As I suspected, there is certainly a lot of interest in this topic.

    I think that most UX practitioners, as demonstrated here, would say “usability is a part of UX.” Although that is the thought, the reality is no two people can define exactly what “UX” is in the same manner. Some feel UX is about Brand attributes, some feel it incorporates all aspects of a persons interactions with a product or application. Others feel it’s the holistic approach to design that transcends functionality.

    Whatever your feelings about what UX is, without a clear definition of UX, saying “usability is part of UX” is like saying “I don’t really know for a fact what UX is, but I know that whatever it is it includes usability.”

    This is why UX killed the term usability, because the vast majority of people feel usability is a piece, a tool, of something larger. What that “larger” is they can’t all define the same.

    By the way, several folks here and on Twitter have made comments that the Google numbers don’t matter. I believe they fail to grasp my point that the term Usability is not being used nearly as much as UX or User Experience. Google’s numbers exactly prove this point, as Google’s numbers exactly express how many times someone searches for that term, or how many pages on the internet have content that uses that term.

    Numbers my friends don’t lie, and that’s why I can say Usability is about to die.

    Unless of course you have different numbers that can prove otherwise!
    :-)

  25. alberto says:

    In my opinion usability refers to the object itself, and UX refers to the Product in general where, in addition to usability, integrates the element of utility.

    Usefulness =? UX =? UFS

    http://hcinterface.tumblr.com/post/18918746030/attributes-of-system-acceptability-nielsen

    Numbers:The 8 Most popular Post you have, has the Usability word, and the last one… ;)

    Great discussion!

  26. Chris says:

    “Usability” is seen as a cost, that requires more convinceing to stakeholders. Any Usability practitioner worth their salt has had to argue the ROI.

    UX or “User-Experience” is seen as an investment, stakeholders like the word “experience”, because they relate to it.

    Hironic really.

    Unfortunate as well, because the core usability science potentially could get lost…

    At least the word “User” is there at the moment.

  27. Michael Persson says:

    Interesting, what happened to the UI term, indicating a User Interface Designer for digital media…

  28. Pingback: Weekly insight double: UX vs. Usability | Breaking Into UX

  29. Pascal Magnenat says:

    Funny enough I found your post through the following google search: “UX is dead”!
    For a couple of days, I have this recurring question in my head: is UX dead? and is UX dead because of its excessive broadness (and vagueness)? UX attributes are so numerous and diverse that no one can really handle UX as a whole. At least not through processes perceived as reliable and trustworthy by the various project stakeholders (who are not officially in charge of UX). This situation may lead people think that UX is like common sense: anyone can deal with it. And if anyone can deal with UX, no need for UX experts anymore. In fact, I was wrong: UX is not dead. UX experts are. And that’s probably not a bad thing.

  30. craig says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Pascal.

    I agree that since there’s no one accurate definition of “UX” there is too much of a jumble of confusing, sometimes conflicting, descriptions for what “UX” actually means. Much of this comes from the rather silly job descriptions being posted for “UX Designers” some of which require…
    Programming skills
    Usability testing skills
    User-centered design skills
    Information architecture skills
    Wireframing skills
    Prototype development skills
    Presentation skills
    Communication skills with teams/stakeholders
    Project management skills
    etc. etc. etc.

    We’ve all seen them. That’s why a label for someone that can do all of that UX work was created, the “UX Unicorn.” In theory, the UX Unicorn does not exist, just like a fabled Unicorn, because nobody could have all those skills. I tend to agree with that sentiment.

    However, recently Jared Spool and some other associates have claimed that they have actually found real UX Unicorns (people who do possess enough of the skills to be UX experts, with all the design, coding, usability, IA skills in place). Because they have found these Unicorns, or so the thinking goes, they believe they can train others how to be a UX Unicorn. Thus, the Unicorn Institute was created. To educate, train and unleash upon the world real UX Unicorns.

    I suppose then that UX is far from dead, and that UX experts are also not dead, but alive, according to fans of the Unicorn Institute at least!

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