The Difference Between Usability and User Experience

by Jared Spool

The customer, looking for a new digital camera, goes to the large electronic retailer’s website. She quickly finds the camera she wants, puts it in the cart, and without incident, pays for it using the option to pick it up at the store that same day. Quick, easy — she is pleased and excited to receive her camera.

When she arrives at the store, she initially doesn’t know where to go, as no visual clues present themselves. After a ten-minute wait at the customer service desk, she’s told she’s in the wrong place and needs to find another desk, this one labeled “Online Receiving”. Once she finds that desk, the clerk, who obviously can’t wait for his shift to end, sighs and says the camera she’s purchased is out of stock. She can buy a different camera at this point, but to receive a credit for her original online purchase, she needs to call an 800 number. She ends up leaving the store without a camera and a charge on her credit card she needs to resolve.

This scenario highlights the difference between usability and user experience — a question I get quite frequently these days.

Usability answers the question, “Can the user accomplish their goal?” In the case of our camera shopper, from the perspective of the site’s design, she did accomplish the goal, being very satisfied with the result.

User experience answers the question, “Did the user have as delightful an experience as possible?” The store portion of the experience canceled out the online portion.

If the online portion was the only thing involved, our customer would’ve been delighted with the results and likely shopped again. Because of the total user experience, she’ll likely resist shopping with the brand again.

In this organization’s case, the usability of the site involves only those people who directly influence the design of the site. However, to create a pleasurable user experience, we now have to involve people from all over the organization, including those people dictating how the store operations are designed and implemented.

User experience takes far more effort to do well, but the results have far better impact.

Are you focused on the user experience?