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UX and usability: what’s the difference?

A lot of the time, people tend to ignore the subtle differences between UX and usability. The reason is that user experience and usability are very closely related terms, both referring to a user’s experience in some shape or form. However, whilst similar in many ways, there are necessary differences to clarify between the two terms. Let’s begin with some quick definitions.

Published April 1, 2022 By Freddie Green

What is UX?  

Put simply, UX refers to the process of enhancing the user experience across all aspects of interaction with a product, service or company. It’s very similar to the customer experience, though the customer in this regard is the end-user of a website, mobile application or product.

What is usability? 

Usability is mainly about the functional part of a product and the degree to which it’s effective, easy to use, easy to learn and satisfying to users. Usability is most concerned with how easily users can accomplish their goals without having to think. As a general rule, their experience of using a product should flow naturally and smoothly.  

What’s the difference?  

One of the main differences between the two terms is the goals they set out to achieve.  

Usability: Is it easy to use?  

The central aim of usability design is to ensure that a product or website is ‘easy to use’. In websites, bad usability can manifest in many ways, but most usability problems relate to poor link structures, excessive website text and complicated navigation. Think – can users understand your interface in a matter of seconds? Can users complete a task in a matter of clicks? If not, then it’s probably time to work on your usability design.  

Look at the big ugly website: http://thebiguglywebsite.com/. This site was designed by a web designer to show you exactly what not to do in a website in terms of usability.

UX: What’s the overall feeling?  

Whether it’s fun, frustrating or satisfying, UX refers to the overall feeling that a user gets when interacting with a company as a whole. That’s right – not just the interaction with a website or product, but everything before, during and after that interaction. If usability is a measure of how easy a product is to use, user experience is a measure of the product’s usability plus its functionality, trust, value, look and delight. 

Usability: Narrow and focused 

One of the best ways to look at usability is as separate from the brand to which it belongs. This is because usability is a narrow and focused term that represents just one aspect of the user experience.  

UX: Broad and holistic  

UX on the other hand is a broad term that encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interactions with the company, its services and its products. With so many factors, user experience can be good in some areas but poor in others, whereas usability is clear-cut.  

Despite their differences, it’s essential to understand the close relationship between these terms; especially since usability contributes to the wider user experience and plays an important role in creating a good user experience. After all, good UX must also include good usability.  

This is because products with good usability are convenient and make users feel good about using that product. And, if a product’s usability provides a good emotional experience and makes users feel happy, then the user’s experience with both the product and company is also good.  

That makes sense, right? 

Let’s look at an example to demonstrate this further…  

Darren visits the website of an online clothing store in search of a new jacket. He easily finds the jumper section of the website and can filter based on specific search terms. At this point, he has a good experience because the website has a high usability that guides him through the easiest and least labour-intensive route.  

Darren decides not to purchase at that time, but later returns to the website looking for further information. He decides to call up the helpline listed on the website as he has a specific query that he wants to raise with a member of staff.  He is put on hold for 20 minutes and eventually gives up, hanging up the phone. Darren has a bad customer experience and is left frustrated but returns to the website which he effortlessly navigates through clear headings and links and good information infrastructure. Overall, his experience isn’t terrible because the website’s usability was good, so he decides to make a purchase.  

Usability came into play as Darren shopped on the website for the item he wanted and found it. It was straightforward, easy, and quick. The rest of that narrative is UX— Darren’s experience with the company from beginning to end.

Usability and Accessibility  

So, we’ve established that good UX includes usability, but good usability also includes accessibility. It’s simple really. Accessibility is all about making good usability inclusive and enjoyable to people regardless of their abilities or what assistive devices they use to access the product.  

For this reason, to achieve the highest usability, you’ll need to ensure that accessibility is factored into the equation.  

Why accessibility matters 

Accessibility reaches wider audiences  

Almost 20% of the UK population is challenged in their digital presence. That’s around 13,671,917 people. If you’re not engaging effectively, you’re locking out millions of people from your website.  

Accessibility equals satisfaction 

Nowadays, users measure their satisfaction relative to the quality of the digital experiences your business provides. So, the better and more accessible your user experiences, the more satisfied your customers. 

Accessibility increases SEO  

When your content is more organised, understandable and accessible, it’s much easier for Google to assess and evaluate your website. This not only increases your website’s accessibility, but also makes it more SEO friendly. 

Accessibility is the law 

Complying to the latest web accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1) is already a legal requirement for public organisations. This covers all public mobile apps, and from June 2025, will include all private companies. 

How can we help? 

It’s one thing to create websites that people enjoy using; it’s another thing to create websites that everyone can use. Our expert UX consultants are specialists in web accessibility and can work with you to provide accessibility for all. We work with many aspects of usability, UX and accessibility, looking holistically at the field to understand its connection with user experience, usability and performance.  

Get a free initial assessment on us 

With our initial assessment, you’ll receive several suggested accessibility optimisations for your website from one of our expert web accessibility consultants. Get in touch today!