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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

What is usability?

One of the key factors that research will need to inform and assess is usability. This is another term which, like UI, can often be misused as an interchangeable term for UX. Usability is just one facet of an overall user experience, and a fundamental one.

“Usability: The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” This ISO definition is taken from a dedicated international standard, ISO 9241-11 from 1998, Ergonomics of Human-System Interaction Guidance on Usability.

Just as UX is not UI, usability is not user experience. Usability is a by-product of designing in a user-centered manner. As noted by Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering, one of the world’s leading usability research training and consulting firms, usability asks whether a user can accomplish their goal whereas UX asks whether the user enjoyed the experience.

Usability promotes adoption and use

Usability is a crucial characteristic of any website or product.

The Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers was published in the 1960s, and studied how innovations are new products were adopted and spread. The insights in the book were tested in more than 6,000 research studies and field tests, and they sit amongst the most reliable in the social sciences. The research elicited five principles or heuristics.

Rogers discovered that if an innovation or new product failed, it was likely to be down to one of the five factors identified in the book. Amongst these is ease of use, or what we now call usability. In short, if usability is missing from a product, the likelihood of rejection by users is increased. Usability can be tested, and usability testing is the single most effective way of assessing the usability of a website. Usability testing will fall into one of two categories, formative and summative. These terms originate in educational theory but are completely relevant to usability.

Types of testing

There are two types of usability testing:

  • Formative testing: This can fall into the category of research for insight or research for validation. For instance, formative usability testing might be carried out on an existing website prior to identifying the areas of focus for a redesign.
  • Summative testing: This takes place after a product or service has been launched, for assessing whether a website is performing as expected, or it might be carried out on prototypes during the development stage.
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Rick Monro

Rick Monro is UX Director at Fathom. He has extensive experience in user research, interaction design, user-centered design, and design strategy with private and public sector organisations throughout the UK and Ireland.

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:

  • Appraise practices for planning UX research
  • Critically evaluate the roles of innovation and users in User Experience (UX) research
  • Evaluate cognitive biases that can affect research data

    Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

    DMI Short Course: GDPR

    If you are interested in learning about the principles of UX and the tools or techniques that you can use to develop and refine your user's experience, DMI has produced a short course on the subject for all of our students. You can access this content here:

    DMI Short Course: UX Essentials

    The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

    You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

    You will not be assessed on this content in your final exam.


      UX Research
      Rick Monro
      Skills Expert

      With the help of Rick Monro, you will develop the knowledge and skills to build highly effective user experiences. You will learn how to think like a user in order to understand their priorities and needs, and you will recognize the role of various research and analytics techniques such as tree-testing, card-sorting, user-testing, user-surveys, Google Analytics and specialized tools such as Click-tale.