Usability, Yeah We Got That

Posted on: August 29, 2010

The sentiment in the UX community is pretty clear, that usability thing, yeah we got that. For example, Dana Chisnell recently wrote an article for UX Magazine called Beyond Frustration: Three Levels of Happy Design, while Chris Fahey talked about The Human Interface at the IA Summit, and let’s not forget Kathy Sierra’s thoughts on What comes after usability?

So what does come after usability? This is my initial stab at the answer. I thought that perhaps I should approach it from the psychological point of view by using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are designing for people after all. Here is the (draft) diagram that I came up with:

At the base is functionality – the product must be able to perform a function, otherwise everything else is meaningless.

Then, usability – people should be able to learn/understand how to perform the function

Sociality – here is where things get murky, according Maslow, the third level in the hierarchy is love/belonging. Perhaps a product should provide a sense of belonging. This does not necessarily mean embedding facebook into every system, it could just be aligning with a brand (such as Apple), or surfacing interesting aggregate behaviors.

Self-Fulfillment – I am not sure if perhaps self-fulfillment comes before or after sociality, in some ways they are a bit linked to each other, so the categories aren’t so clear cut. Here I am talking about truly helping the end-user kick ass (channeling Kathy Sierra here), by enabling flow, happiness, personal growth, self-awareness, or behavioral change. In some respects, this is what it truly means to create a place where a user can have an experience.

Generativity – At this point the user feels a sense of ownership and has internalized the value of the product. Its important to provide a feedback channel that helps generate new ideas and excitement, and enables the product an the user to continue to evolve together. This is what it truly means to be viral.

I don’t have all of this worked out in my head yet, so I know that I will be revisiting this concept again in the future. Thoughts?


7 Responses to "Usability, Yeah We Got That"

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elizabeth Buie, Alla Zollers. Alla Zollers said: New blog post: Usability, yeah we got that – […]

I’m a little unconvinced of “sociality” as the next step after usability. Love/belonging could also be one’s relationship to a service/site/product, too. I’m thinking about how my OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler makes me smile every time I take it out of its drawer, or how I’ve named and personified my car, Sophie.

Is that where you were moving by mentioning “aligning with a brand”?

I’m thinking also of Bill Moggridge in Objectified, where he talks about designing products that get better over time – it takes time to develop a relationship – a sense of Love/belonging – with an object.

Thanks for the comment Joan! I too am a bit unconvinced that sociality comes after usability, I have been struggling with that for a while but thought I would just throw it out there and get input on it. The examples that you gave are exactly what I was thinking when I mentioned “aligning with a brand”. I was also thinking about all the folks that own Apple products and how they feel a part of the “Apple” community, and on some level have a connection.

Do you think self-fulfillment should come after usability, or something else perhaps?

Interesting post — food for thought! Maybe you could take something from the older version of the USDA Food Pyramid and place Sociality and Self-Fulfillment on the same level? Also, I would say that the user has an experience regardless (be it good, bad, or in between), so I’d like to know more about what you have in mind in the last sentence of Self-Fulfillment.

I work on a lot of systems whose users are employees of the client (mostly government agencies) and don’t have a choice of whether to use them or not. In these cases, “viral” is not applicable but I think generativity could still be, in terms of contributing ideas for change.

Thanks for the great comment Elizabeth! You might be right in pointing to the Food Pyramid, perhaps sociality and self-fulfillment are on the same level! Do you think that makes the most sense?

I agree that each user has their own experience (be it good, bad, or in between) and that is why I mentioned that we can only provide the place for someone to have an experience. With the concept of self-fulfillment, I was hoping to communicate that we should strive to create places that motivate more self-reflection, thoughtfulness, and change in our users (which might not the most pleasant experience) but ultimately leads to helping and individual become more than they were yesterday. Maybe its idealistic, but I would like to strive for it :)

Great point regarding generativity, it is mainly about giving back and contributing ideas for change. I kind of hope that ideas for change will in themselves be viral and engender a new way of thinking / approaching the product for all the users!


Very Nice Idea… Congrats!

Hi Alla,
If you are not aware of it already you should definitley check out Patrick Jordan’s book “Designing Pleasurable Products” (

He uses Maslow’s pyramid in a similar way and makes a very compelling case for it. Great read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

You can find me on:

Twitter Updates

Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.


%d bloggers like this: