What Is Usability? Designing for Ease

Imagine you're a UX designer or UX researcher building a website. Can users easily find and browse product offerings despite never visiting the site before? Can they easily adjust items in their cart if they add something accidentally? Do customers leave the website feeling satisfied or confused and frustrated? These are some of the questions you'll address by thinking about usability.

What is Usability?

Usability is a way to measure how easy a product is to use. It is a concept in design circles to ensure products—whether websites, furniture, or hotel lobbies—can be used as simply and painlessly as possible. Jakob Nielsen, a pioneer of usability, outlines five components that define good usability:

Five Components of Usability

Learnability: A user should be able to learn to carry out simple tasks the first time they use a product.

Efficiency: Users should be able to complete tasks quickly once they've grasped the basic design of the product.

Memorability: Even if users don't use a product for a period of time, they should be able to come back and remember how to use it.

Errors: A user should make few severe errors, and a product should allow users to recover from them.

Satisfaction: Using a product should be a pleasant experience.

Usability Heuristics

In addition to the five components of usability, Jakob Nielsen defined the 10 usability heuristics. The usability heuristics are considered rules of thumb for designers who want to create intuitive products. The 10 heuristics of usability are as follows:

  • Visibility of system status
  • Match between the system and the real world
  • User control and freedom
  • Consistency and standards
  • Error prevention
  • Recognition rather than recall
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design
  • Help users recover from errors
  • Help and documentation

Why Does Usability Matter?

Good usability means users can accomplish their tasks quickly, with minimal stress and errors, and ultimately feel satisfied when interacting with a product. For companies creating products, this becomes important for attracting customers. Users are more likely to gravitate toward products with better usability and more likely to recommend those products to other people.

For websites, usability is particularly crucial. Visitors to a website can easily leave when they encounter difficulty or confusion. When you buy a physical product, you must go to the store or post office to return it. With a website, it's much easier to navigate away from a less-than-ideal product.

Usability Testing

Designers, user researchers, and usability specialists often run products through a process called usability testing, which can help determine what expectations, preferences, and troubles a user has. Once they have a clearer idea of what's going well—and what isn't—they can refine a design.

What is a Usability Test?

A usability test is a way to evaluate a product by testing it with real users. Usability testing takes several different forms, depending on which component is being measured. Here are a few examples of usability tests:

Card Sorting

Write out concepts (like features) on notecards, and ask participants to organize them into groups that make sense, then create labels for those groups. Card sorting is useful in organising a website or mobile app and is often used in the mockup or wireframing stage.

Guerilla Testing

A team brings a design or prototype into a public space like a cafe or park, and passersby are asked for their input. This can be a quick, low-cost way to gather feedback.

Session Recordings

Often used with digital products like websites or apps, session recordings entail a researcher watching a user's recorded session navigating the product to accomplish a task. This can also include a heatmap analysis—a visual representation of where most users click, scroll to, or point their mouse.

Lab Usability Testing

Participants are invited into a controlled environment where a moderator can observe their behaviour or ask questions as they interact with a product. Since lab tests require significant coordination, and participant numbers are usually limited to small groups, lab testing is good for in-depth, qualitative research.

Remote Usability Testing

Participants complete a series of tasks at home. Remote usability testing can be monitored or unmonitored:

Monitored: A user researcher is likely "watching" the participant use the product in real-time via a shared virtual space.

Unmonitored: The participant will record their session for a researcher to review later.

Determining which is the best usability test for your product depends on your budget, scheduling, and time constraints. Remote usability testing tends to be less expensive than in-person testing, but in-person testing can reveal a wealth of helpful information thanks to a user's body language, facial expressions, and more.

Who Can Benefit from Learning about Usability?

Usability is a useful concept for almost any type of marketer, developer, designer, or user researcher. Examples include UX designers, product designers, UX researchers, visual designers, and web developers. Usability can also be exceedingly helpful for product managers, UX engineers, UX writers, and anyone           involved in creating a product.


Implementing usability principles into a creation process can make a product easier, more intuitive, and more satisfactory to use. There are several routes you can take to start learning about usability and usability testing, such as taking courses or earning certificates in UX design or user research.


What are the ten usability heuristics defined by Jakob Nielsen?

The ten heuristics are visibility of system status, match between system and real world, user control and freedom, consistency and standards, error prevention, recognition over recall, flexibility and efficiency, aesthetic minimalism, help with error recovery, and help/documentation.

What are some common types of usability testing methods?

Common usability testing methods include card sorting, guerrilla testing, session recordings, lab usability testing, and remote usability testing (monitored or unmoderated).

Why is usability important for companies creating products?

Good usability allows users to accomplish tasks quickly with minimal stress/errors, leading to satisfaction. This attracts and retains customers who are more likely to use and recommend usable products.

Who can benefit from learning about usability principles?

Anyone involved in creating a product can benefit, including UX designers, product designers, UX researchers, visual designers, web developers, product managers, UX engineers, and UX writers.

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