Usability Engineering User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

What is Usability Engineering?

Usability engineering is a professional discipline that focuses on improving the usability of interactive systems. It draws on theories from computer science and psychology to define problems that occur during the use of such a system. Usability engineering involves the testing of designs at various stages of the development process, with users or with usability experts.

The history of usability engineering in this context dates back to the 1980s. In 1988, authors John Whiteside and John Bennett—of Digital Equipment Corporation and IBM, respectively—published material on the subject, isolating the early setting of goals, iterative evaluation, and prototyping as key activities. The usability expert Jakob Nielsen is a leader in the field of usability engineering. In his 1993 book Usability Engineering, Nielsen describes methods to use throughout a product development process—so designers can ensure they take into account the most important barriers to learnability, efficiency, memorability, error-free use, and subjective satisfaction before implementing the product. Nielsen’s work describes how to perform usability tests and how to use usability heuristics in the usability engineering lifecycle. Ensuring good usability via this process prevents problems in product adoption after release.

Rather than focusing on finding solutions for usability problems—which is the focus of a UX or interaction designer—a usability engineer mainly concentrates on the research phase. In this sense, it is not strictly a design role, and many usability engineers have a background in computer science because of this. Despite this point, its connection to the design trade is absolutely crucial, not least as it delivers the framework by which designers can work so as to be sure that their products will connect properly with their target usership.

Literature on Usability Engineering

Here’s the entire UX literature on Usability Engineering by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Usability Engineering

Take a deep dive into Usability Engineering with our course Conducting Usability Testing.

Do you know if your website or app is being used effectively? Are your users/customers completely satisfied with the experience? What is the key feature that makes them come back? In this course, you will learn methods by which to answer such questions, and with confidence, too—through being able to justify your answers with solid evidence.

Great usability is one of the key factors in keeping your users engaged and satisfied with your website or app. With 86% of time on mobiles being spent within apps1 and 79% of users abandoning websites if the usability is poor2, it is crucial that usability testing is continually undertaken and perceived as a core part of the development process in order to prevent abandonment and dissatisfaction. Hand in hand with that, designers have another vital duty—taking the time to step back so as to place the user back at the center of the development process and evaluate any underlying assumptions. Designers sometimes find spotting such things from within their product bubble hard; therefore, they need to conduct usability testing so as to ensure users aren’t left behind.

This course is built on evidence-based approaches, as well as solid evidence, distilled from decades of research and practice. The course is taught by the CEO of, Frank Spillers, who is a distinguished speaker, author, and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

All literature