Usability is a term usually related to the interface design of technology-related systems. Its aim is to improve a system’s ease of use. The classic definition of usability is relative rather than absolute. One cannot say a design is usable, user-friendly or has good usability. One can say that design A is relatively more usable than design B based on some measure of: effectiveness (user goal completion), efficiency (time taken to complete the task, number of errors and number of times seeking assistance), satisfaction (user’s rating of experience) or learnability (amount of instruction/study required). Numerous evaluation techniques have emerged to measure these factors.
It is also possible to argue that, similar to specific products, organizational systems and services are designed with more or less usability. For example, the design of signage to facilitate navigation in a public library contributes to the usability of the library as a service.
The term user experience (UX) has become more commonly used. UX recognizes that while usability is important and an often neglected part of design, the holistic nature of design is such that a successful design requires balancing all of its different aspects (usability, functionality, aesthetics, etc.). It recognizes that a finished design is a gestalt—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. UX initially was mainly applied to technology (e.g. web site design) but is starting to gain traction for evaluating and improving higher education; for example, the library experience and first-year experience.
Design decisions dominated by those not trained in UX design create a barrier to achieving a good user experience. As illustrated in the above photo, many designers will design with their own perspective of what is important and assume the user is just like them. Another problem is that designers will sometimes categorize the advocates, purchasers or managers of what is being designed as the users instead of identifying and understanding variations among actual users. Design should be centered on the end-user.
The development of new textbooks is one example of how user-centered design of the UX has yet to influence education. Publishers tend to assess the quality of a new textbook by asking peers of the authors (potential advocates for purchase) instead of conducting studies with students (the end-users) to determine whether the book supports and inspires learning.
Reference: A Textbook Example of What’s Wrong with Education by Tamim Ansary
This video presentation by Paul Bennett illustrates user-centered design of the user experience in action: