Don’t Make Them Think: Usability

Jakob Nielsen from Nielsen Norman Group defines usability as a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. In other words, usability is how easily a person can complete a specific task with your app.

Once used mostly as user-friendliness, usability is one of the cornerstones of user experience and design. The Design Hierarchy of Needs and Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb shows usability as key elements. 

Don't Make Them Think Usability
Image: User Experience (UX) Honeycomb by Peter Morville

A product’s usability is built on learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction. You should ask yourself these questions:

  • Learnability: Is it easy for a first time user to get familiar with, understand, and navigate my app?
  • Efficiency: After they get familiar with my app, is a user able to perform a task quickly and easily?
  • Memorability: When a user comes back to my app later, are they comfortable with using my app? Is it easy for them to remember the interface and how to use my app?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make on my app and how serious are these errors? Do users easily understand the errors and recover them? 
  • Satisfaction: How satisfied are the users with the user interface of my app?

What are the answers to these questions for your app? The answers will lead you to which improvements you can make to increase usability. 

There are many terms when it comes to the quality attributes of a product. Two of them are utility and usefulness and they have a close relationship with usability. The utility is about your product’s functionality and whether it provides the features needed. And usefulness is basically the sum of usability and utility. If a product provides the users with what they need with easy and satisfying features, then this product is useful.

Usability and User Experience (UX)

It is not new to say that user experience and usability is not the same thing. User experience comprises every aspect of the user’s interaction with your app from beginning to end. Hence,  usability is an important factor for user experience but it is not the whole story (User experience also encompasses credibility, value, accessibility etc. Each of these facets requires detailed consideration).

So, how can you improve the usability of your app? 

Focus on Learning and Use Familiarity

How can you reduce the discomfort a first time user might experience in your app? One of the solutions to this problem is using common user interface patterns so that users will easily get familiar with your app. Also if you use such features, they can focus on completing the task rather than learning how to complete the task. A shorter learning process results in better usability. 

Dont make them think usability snapchat facebook
Common stories feature, introduced by Snapchat and now used by Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and etc

Stay Consistent

If you keep consistency in your app, users learn how to navigate your app a lot easier, which improves usability. Consistency in the concept means that you should give the same experiences regarding shapes, colors, typography, etc. all over your app. But keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that all pages should be exact copies of each other.

Image: UX Collective

Reduce Choices and Complexity

Overwhelming the user with many choices and putting many elements together for their consumption makes it harder for a user to stay focused on one task and increase their cognitive load, hence decreases usability. 

Establishing clear primary and secondary actions and avoiding unnecessary features increases the likelihood and speed of the desired task to be completed.

Dont Them think Usability
Image: Smashing Magazine, reducing complexity

Prevent User Errors

To improve usability, you should examine user errors closely. One of the best ways to prevent user errors is to understand the previous errors, anticipate possible future ones, and take action accordingly. Some of the errors stem from the users’ already existing mental models that are coming from their experiences in other apps. 

If a user is mistakenly clicking on a button on the right corner of your app to see the notifications, this is because many pioneering apps and websites such as Facebook led users to create such mental models. In such a case, you should either replace your notification button, educate your user or put clearer labels on your buttons (although the latter might have a weaker effect since user interface relies on spatial memory).

If a user is making a mistake with, for example, entering some log in detail, then the solution should be easy, quick; showing the user why the error occurred and how they can recover it. 

Don't Make Them Think_Usability
Image: Smashing Magazine, a clear explanation of the error recovery

Ask for Feedback

If you aren’t sure whether your users are satisfied with your app, a straightforward way is to directly ask them. There are many ways of asking for feedback such as using social media polls, in-app surveys, creating a section dedicated to giving feedback, etc. While you are asking for feedback, be sure that you are going to use this feedback to improve usability and hence user experience. Otherwise, it wouldn’t go beyond a waste of time for your user and an expense for you.

Image: Usabilla, asking for feedback


Iterative design is one of the best ways to improve usability and user experience. It is almost impossible to create a user interface usability problem from the start. So, the usability testing of your app should be built around iteration. Learn lessons from the previous designs and features and refine future ones.


Usability is a key element of user experience. If your users are coming across problems with usability in your app, they know that there are many other apps that are waiting for them. Having an amazing app is conceptually possible but always question whether your app is easy to learn, efficient to use, easy to memorize, with few errors, and pleasant to use. 


Check out how you can improve the usability of your app by using the familiarity of stories.

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