Mixing user experience and usability so that everyone wins

I recently introduced myself to someone and when I explained that I’m a User Experience Designer, his eyes lit up and he said “Ah, you’re the usability guy.” “Yeah, kind of” I responded. He looked at me, confused. “What’s the difference?” he asked.

For apps and websites, usability refers to how easily your site visitors can complete a given task e.g. filling in a checkout form. In the emerging markets particularly, usability is still a differentiator. This is why the savvier industry players have started to focus on creating work that people will find usable. They know that simple usability improvements, like the $300 Million button can make a positive difference to their bottom line.

Focussing on usability, however, will only get you so far. Your competitors will soon learn (sometimes from copying your tactics) how to design great forms and navigation etc. How then will you differentiate?

This is where User Experience (UX) comes in. Where usability focuses on the completion of tasks (signing up for online shopping), UX focuses on the delight of the entire experience (doing my shopping online).

UX design is a holistic approach that relies on understanding the entire experience and making sure that every aspect of the design will leave the customer delighted. This means that you continue to focus on usability, but you also pay equal attention to other factors that affect the experience such as usefulness, “findability”, accessibility, desirability and credibility. If you focus on and balance all these factors in your design there will be a quantifiable difference between your offering and your competitor’s.

To achieve this we design from the Outside-In rather than Inside-Out. Inside-Out design happens when you design a website based on internal business structures Living Standard Measures (LSMs), and marketing figures.

A market segment might help predict your site’s visitors, but it will not tell you what they think or how they will behave when they arrive. Without this knowledge, how can you meet their expectations and satisfy their true needs?

Designing from the Outside-In means going beyond things like LSMs and market segments and into the realm of ethnographic research, mental modelling and experience mapping. These tools give you a deep understanding of your customers’ goals, motivations and behaviours, allowing you to create a product that meets their real needs.

This is a proactive approach to gaining insights that are focused on what people actually need, as opposed to those that are slanted towards the business’ existing knowledge and biases.

The iPod is usable, but that is not the source of its success. The iPod made the entire music listening experience delightful: listening, buying and organising stopped being a schlep. Competitors can and do copy aspects of the design, but because they can’t deliver a competing user experience, they have limited success.

As our skills mature, the designs we create will be more usable than not. When that happens, great user experiences will be the remaining sustainable source of differentiation and customer value.

To create experiences that add value to the bottom line, we must design around our insights into people’s goals and motivations. User experiences based on these insights are much more difficult for your competitors to emulate and form a good basis for long-term competitive advantage



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