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Cereal and Spoon: The Difference Between User Experience and Web Usability

I love breakfast. When there’s a fridge with cold milk and a cupboard stocked with delicious cereal, I practically beat the alarm clock in the morning for that meal. There’s an experience there, and it requires a few things. A spoon. Some cereal.

Imagine web usability is the spoon. It’s “the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal” (UXBooth.com). A website with great usability is easy to use.

User experience is “how a person feels when interfacing with a system” (Gube, SmashingMagazine.com). To design for user experience is to influence how a person uses and responds to the web format. “UX” for short.  Think of what thoughts might swim around in your mind as you eat Captain Crunch:

“This tastes really great. Yum. I’m not hungry anymore. This stuff is delicious.”

Kind of like when you’re exploring a delightful website:

“This site is so interesting to browse. There’s what I’m looking for. I click here. That was easy.”

Web usability (our spoon) and user experience (the grand ol’ Captain) sometimes get confused, because a website that is not easy to use will encourage negative emotions like frustration, confusion, or in my case (only sometimes), hell-raising rage. Web usability and user experience necessitate the other, right?

Not quite. While “those who work on UX (called UX designers) study and evaluate how users feel about a system, looking at things such as ease of use” (Gube), it doesn’t necessitate optimal interface function. A positive user experience doesn’t just occur when a user accomplishes a goal. It happens when the user returns to the site to be delighted again and again by something they felt in the process.

Let’s grow on this breakfast metaphor: every morning, you pour a bowl of cereal, and grab a spoon to dig in. The spoon is the tool that gets the job done. Food to mouth. Success! But it’s not the spoon that makes you feel good. That was the cereal.

If the spoon was made of disintegrative material, and became floppy and compromised in the milk, you’d feel the experience of the cereal disrupted. You might get frustrated, and do something irrational. Pinch out Froot Loops with your fingers. Grow angrier by the minute.  In this way, we see that the usability of the spoon can affect the experience of eating the cereal.

Luckily, spoons are pretty dependable these days. But a spoon’s ease of use does not naturally produce awesome experiences. Spoons take on Buckley’s. Spoons conquer questionable lamb stews. Cereal and spoons were not developed to depend on each other. But they sure do compliment a morning meal.

Think about user experience and web usability as separate components in website development. Although positive user experiences do often encompass usability, the end goal of each element in a design is different. Get them straight, and pursue each individually while you develop your small business website.

References
“About The UX Booth”: http://www.uxbooth.com/about/
Gube, Jacob. “What Is User Experience Design? Overview, Tools, and Resources.” 5 October 2010. SmashingMagazine.com: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/05/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/

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