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I think UX has killed the term 'usability.' Or at best left it comatose. But what do you think?

My latest post on Useful Usability provides the evidence that I believe clearly demonstrates that 'usability' is dead, or at least non-responsive.

Perhaps those are fighting words around here? Or perhaps, like me, you've seen fewer and fewer 'usability' discussions in your firms and/or hallway conversations you have out there, and more and more 'UX' conversations. The trouble is (in my opinion) that UX does a very bad job of replacing usability, because no two people seem to agree on exactly what UX is, or more importantly, what the role of a UX practitioner should be.

Here's how I started my post:

Usability 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 practitioners or usability-aware 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.

For all the details and the evidence please continue reading UX Killed Usability and then, let us know what YOU think.

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Comment by Tom Coleman on April 10, 2012 at 9:21pm

@Guy - awesome! I love those!

Comment by Human Factors International on April 10, 2012 at 4:34pm

@Tom we are working on a scribe animation video called "5 things every CEO should know about UX" because we figure you guys know some execs you'd like to get the message out to!

Comment by Kevin Braun on April 5, 2012 at 12:06pm

Here's an interesting discussion on the subject:

Comment by Tom Coleman on April 4, 2012 at 1:25pm

@Kevin: I personally prefer "User-Centered Design (UCD)" to either Usability or UX as a label, but UX is definitely trendier.

Comment by Kevin Braun on April 4, 2012 at 9:17am


#10 from Hess's list brings me back to my BMW example that I posted below. Sorry to keep bringing it up but I would really like to understand what the other professionals here consider the definition to be. There seems to be a real division between folks who think UX is a subset of Usability Design and those who feel Usability Design is part of the UX process. I personally have always believed the latter of the two but I also like to be corrected when I'm wrong :)

Here's #10 from Hess's article...
You only think about the interface. If you’re focused exclusively on what the user sees and does on your website/mobile app/desktop app/kiosk/whatever, but never plan for how they’ll get there, what they’ll do when they leave, how they’ll come back, and most of all, how they’ll feel about it a week later, you’re a user interface designer, not a user experience designer. There’s a big difference.

Comment by Tom Coleman on April 3, 2012 at 11:08pm

Mark Hurst says: "I'd argue that customer experience the single most important issue for many companies today. So tweet this, share this, forward this to your favorite top exec!"

Comment by Tom Coleman on April 3, 2012 at 11:05pm

Does it pass the Hess test?

Comment by Josue Calderon on April 3, 2012 at 3:12pm

I would agree with the comment.  UX is a subset of Usability.  In the workplace, it seems for non CUA's to use the term user experience, because it seems to produce more tangible results... almost as if UX boils down to User Interaction.  It seems easier to grasp.  thoughts?

Comment by Mohammed Mansoor on March 31, 2012 at 5:38pm

@Craig @kevin I can see how my previous diagram could be misleading. And I agree that Ux killed Usability.

My attempt was to bring more clarity between the two and show the difference between UX and Usability. The difference I am trying to show is, in the stages (of the product life cycle) where they are APPLIED and not where the OUTCOME is felt.

Usability techniques are applied during the process of conception and manufactured into to product so that their outcome can be felt by the users while using. Usability is only for Usage!

But what about the experience that the sellers have while stoking and displaying the product on the shelves for selling. What about the experience as a customer while buying, unboxing, owning and maintaining ? These experiences were not paid enough attention before Steve Jobs came along. Apple stores and their experience. Militaristic and elegant standard pakaging across products. Itunes to keep continuous supply flowing to feed your thirst with with yet another new thing you can do with your gadget.

Therefore i believe that the experience is about owning a product throughout its lifecycle.

Work for better usability is done during conception/ manufacturing process alone BUT it is for the stage of usage in the lifecycle of a product. On the other hand to improve Experience; work has to be done for all stages of ownership.

(I have changed the focus of this diagram to show affected areas instead.)

Comment by Eric M Schaffer on March 31, 2012 at 10:40am

Yep.  I use Customer Experience, or User Experience; unless i want to emphasize that i am talking about the classic HCI issues only.  Add strategy, innovation, or PET and I'm going to say UX.

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