The Elements of Usability

By: Melissa A. Stewart

User experience design is a discipline concerned with the many aspects that form a user’s interaction with a website. The key aspects that shape user experience are layout, visual design, and text. These aspects influence the user’s perceptions and opinions of a website. These perceptions involve a person’s attitudes, emotions and responses that result from using the website. User experience is considered subjective because it is based on a user’s perceptions and feelings regarding a website’s features and design.  These perceptions and feelings are the user’s personal view of their specific experience.

The primary objective of an effective user experience design is Usability.  Usability is defined by the ease of use and learnability of a website and includes the user’s perception of the effectiveness and efficiency of the site’s design.  Four critical elements of Usability that define a user’s perception of a website are: 

An effective design incorporates the use of these critical elements and ensures a person of average technical ability and experience can easily and efficiently use a website.  A user is less likely to return to a website if it requires a significant effort to figure out the use, or if the site does not function as expected.  With the countless websites and businesses competing for the same business users simply won’t return to a website if they encounter difficulties or frustrations with a website.  [1]

Clarity is the clear choice of Usability

Clarity refers to a website’s simplicity and clearness. An effective design leads to an effortless user experience.  A website that is simple and clear does not require users to expend significant time and effort  to decide and select the correct action.  Optimally a user should be able to determine and conclude the best choice to achieve the desired outcome at first glance without considerable effort and struggle. “A website should be self-evident, obvious and self-explanatory.” [2] A website should avoid a design that makes the user uncertain about what to do next, it should be obvious and easy. On a self-explanatory page, it takes little thought, so the appearance, the layout and text should create immediate recognition. [3]

A website designed with clarity results in an easy and effortless experience.  The choices must be evident and apparent to the average website user.  Clarity also includes a level of learnability or intuitiveness which allows a less experienced user to understand and easily learn the process and correct choices.  A website should guide the user down each decision path with clear choices to the desired outcome.  Learnability enables the user to easily understand how to use the website and provides the user with a feeling of success and trust.  A user feels confident that a task was completed with accuracy when the website behaves as expected with little effort. In contrast, uncertainty will result when a user purchases a product on a website but they cannot determine if the order was finalized. Uncertainty and uneasiness discourages the user from returning to the website to purchase another product.

A website’s design choices should be clear, obvious and apparent to the user.  Certainty promotes confidence which in turn will ensure the user returns to the website. Clarity is a critical element of usability by establishing certainty and reducing frustration.

Utility is what is useful in Usability


 “Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy a website is to use.” [4] Usability can be defined by a website’s utility which is its usefulness or functionality and the value or worth of the benefits gained.  Utility provides the features or advantages a user needs and its ease of use should be effortless and painless.

Utility signifies a website is easy to learn, efficient to operate and more satisfying to use. A website’s utility measures how easy it is for users to accomplish the basic tasks and the users resulting feelings of convenience and usefulness.  Utility also includes the functionalities of the website and the efficiency in performing the necessary tasks.  The improved efficiency makes it easy and reduces the amount of time to use a website which produces a feeling of satisfaction of use.

The user wants a website that is purposeful and not complicated with worthwhile uses and advantages.  Utility is a critical element of usability by improving the speed and ease of processing a task, which in turn inspires feelings of competence, ability and worth.


Reliability is essential for good Usability experience

A user will feel more confident with the results and outcome when a website performs regularly and consistently. If the user is purchasing a product and they feel confident with the experience, then they will return and purchase a product again.  Using a website that is consistent, reliable, and dependable inspires confidence and trustworthiness which in turn promotes user loyalty.  “Good ‘usability’ is about designing things so that they make sense to the people who use them.  The interaction that users have with a system should meet their needs and wants as elegantly as possible.  If it doesn’t, they won’t want to use it.” [5] A user wants the process to flow steadily and gracefully without problems or errors.  This graceful process feels natural and predictable to the user and delivers feelings of security, stability and dependability.

A website that consistently functions correctly inspires assurance and certainty with the user. Each problem or error the user encounters on a website lowers the level of confidence the user has with that website. Reliability is a critical element of usability because it provides the user with comfortable feelings of trust and faithfulness.


Satisfaction is a pleasant result of Usability.

Usability relates to how easy and pleasant the website features are to use. A pleasant experience is considered subjective to the user because it includes the user’s opinions and feelings of the website’s features and functionality.  Users who enjoy a website are loyal and will frequently return to buy the products from that website again.  A user that is satisfied with a website experience will feel enthused and inspired to share their feelings of satisfaction to other users. [6]  The admiration and regard for the website becomes a testimonial of the website’s usability and immediately confirms the websites credibility and trustworthiness.

Usability relates to the user’s personal feeling of satisfaction and approval. The happiness and enjoyment a user feels from a satisfying user experience is a critical element of usability and encourages user loyalty and website endorsement.


Effective Usability design is life or death to a website.

The primary objective for an exemplary user experience is Usability.  The main critical elements of Usability define a user’s perception of a website and produce feelings of confidence and enjoyment. When a user visits a website they expect simplicity, efficiency, dependability and enjoyment. 

  • Clarity establishes certainty through simplicity and clearness

  • Utility improves the speed and ease of use and produces feelings of competence and worth

  • Reliability provides the user with consistency and feelings of trust and assurance

  • Satisfaction produces feelings of enjoyment and promotes user loyalty

Related Article(s)

  1. The Benefits of Improved Usability

Additional Sources


  1. Nielsen, Jakob. “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 4, 2012.

  2. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 11.

  3. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 18.

  4. Nielsen, Jakob. “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.” NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. January 4, 2012.

  5. Rowland, Claire. “Usability Matters.” Dr, Dobbs, January 1, 2002.

  6. Travis, David. “A Business Case for Usability.” WebsiteTips. October 1, 2007.