Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 24 of 31

It is easy to see usability as a set of random rules and “best practices” that you just follow because somebody said so, but it’s not. Usability is about psychology, and you can’t see psychology. So today we will learn:

What is Usability, Really?


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


One of the most common myths in UX is that good usability is more pleasing to the eye.

It is impossible for something to “look usable”. If someone says that about your design, ignore it.

When users are surveyed about which design is “most usable” their opinions are more related to the beauty than the effectiveness.

That means we can’t trust user opinions about how usable a design is.


Usability is a measurement of what people do.

If more people buy something in an uglier design, it is more usable.

If people read more in an uglier design, it is more usable.

If more people register via the uglier design, it is more usable.

Sometimes you will be forced to choose between beauty and usability, and you should always choose usability.


Usability = cognitive load.

Cognitive Load is the amount of processing power that is required to complete any little thing we make a user’s brain do.

It takes less work to continue what you’re doing than to do something different.

It takes less work to find something again than to find it the first time.

It takes less work to read simple words than to read complicated words.

It takes less work to agree than it does to fight.

Every detail in your design (and in your life) should reduce the amount of cognitive load between your user and their goal.

Usability is every detail, every moment, every time.


Don’t ignore beauty!

Beauty is not irrelevant in UX.

It is easy and fast to decide that you like the way something looks. That can lead to quick downloads, instant trust, and more persuasive designs.

Beauty cannot make something more usable, but it can make users feel like it is more usable, and that is important too.

Our job is to test, measure, and research that beauty. Not to create it.

Over the next few lessons we will learn some of the psychological factors that increase usability, but may not affect the way something looks to an outsider.

As the UX designer, it is your job to use psychology — and confirm it with tests — even if it makes something a little uglier.

That being said, don’t do anything because it’s ugly. That’s just dumb. Ugliness doesn’t guarantee usability either.


Tomorrow we will learn the difference between 4 common words in design: Simple, Easy, Fast, or Minimal?