Thursday, April 03, 2008

Usability or user experience - what's the difference ?

Discussing the difference between usability and UX ...

The term user experience is now widely used, especially by major players in the industry including Apple, IBM and Microsoft.

However, in many cases, the term is contrasted to usability which is often depicted as a much narrower concept focusing on systems being easy to use.

Other exponents explain that user experience goes beyond usability by including such issues as usefulness, desirability, credibility and accessibility.

Personally, I do not really care what this area is called but I have had to face up to it in my capacity as Chair of the sub-committee of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) which is responsible for the revision of ISO 13407 - the International Standard for Human Centred Design.

The ISO concept of usability is much closer to this definition of user experience than it is to the concept of ‘easy to use’ so we have decided to use the term user experience in the new version of ISO 13407 (which will be called ISO 9241-210 to bring it into line with other usability standards).

‘Easy to use’ is not enough

Easy is good but it is not enough. Focusing on ‘easy’ tends to marginalise it.

In today’s competitive times, I can see an IT project manager saying “we would have liked to make the new billing system a bit easier but we really didn’t have time and we did not want to delay it”.

I can see a hard pressed business manager saying “ok, it would have been nice but we didn’t want to wait”.

However, if you use the ISO 9241-11 definition, the picture changes. Can you honestly imagine the project manager saying (out loud) “We know the system is not going to work but we wanted to be able to tick the ‘delivered on time’ box?"

And can you imagine the customer saying, “Ok, it would have been nice if it had worked but we’d rather pay for a failed system than take a bit longer getting it right?” No, of course you can’t!

Similarly, the ISO concept of usability allows aesthetic issues to be addressed, if they are important to the user.

As I have written elsewhere, one of Apple’s strengths is that most of its products are highly engaging and attractive.

If the user’s task was simply to select and play MP3 files then the iPod would not have the market dominance it has. For most people, their task involves personal entertainment and having a product which is a delight to hold and use is part of that experience."    (Continued via E-consultancy)    [Usability Resources]

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