I suspect most of you reading this question are familiar with the terms usability, usability testing (also known as user testing), and UX (user experience). However, for some folks these terms are new or not fully understood. Therefore, here are some brief definitions:

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.1

User testing has three (3) components:2

  1. Recruit representative users
  2. Ask them to conduct representative tasks with the UI (user interface)
  3. Observe what the users do, where they succeed, and where they have difficulties with the user interface. Shut up and let the users do the talking.

User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.3

What is the difference between usability and UX? Usability is a quality attribute of the UI, covering whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth. Usability certainly affects the user experience, but UX encompasses many additional factors, e.g., quality of customer service; customer respect and recognition; management style; etc.4

Partial Answer to my Question

1) The Stack Exchange Quality Project does not explicitly include regular user testing, as far as I could discern. (If I missed it, please let me know.) But, the Quality Project does focus intently on usability problems, which is great!

2) As a superb example of smart user testing, in early 2016 ArtofCode conducted usability testing on his own (with Stack Exchange's blessing). See: Usability issues for first-time Stack Exchange users - a micro-study @ArtofCode - Bravo!

Regular Usability Testing?

There are hundreds (thousands?) of questions, comments, answers, suggestions, etc., across the SE network regarding usability problems.

On the positive side, Stack Exchange demonstrates acute awareness of these UX problems, as evidenced by the Stack Exchange Quality Project's priority goals.

On the perplexed-but-hopeful side, I wonder why regular, iterative usability testing is not an integral part of the Quality Improvement Project? A well-designed user testing program will identify usability problems and develop solutions better than any other method.


  1. Jakob Nielsen, Usability 101: Introduction to Usability, What — Definition of Usability, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/, (4 Jan 2012).

  2. Jakob Nielsen, Usability 101: Introduction to Usability, How to Improve Usability, {same web page as above}, (4 Jan 2012).

  3. Don Norman & Jakob Nielsen, The Definition of User Experience (UX), We should also distinguish UX and usability, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience/, (not dated).

  4. Id.

===> Important Note: NN/g - The Nielsen Norman Group (nngroup.com) sells products (training programs) and services (consultation, design). I have no business or personal affiliation with NN/g - I have simply enjoyed reading their free material for many years, and I find that they succinctly explain concepts better than almost anyone else.

Yes, I did my homework first

Note: Before asking this question, I searched META for "usability testing", [usability-testing], "usability", [usability], "user experience", [user-experience], "user testing", [user-testing], and "UX".

  • @Peter Mortensen - Thanks so much for the edit. Now I know to type Stack Exchange, not StackExchange (which makes good sense as you point out). - Mark – Mark D Worthen PsyD Jul 16 '17 at 20:43

Yes, on a daily basis and in various forms and that is only what regular users get to see. I'm pretty confident the design team in cooperation with developers and CM's are pretty good at their job, given that they manage to keep over 160 sites alive and booming since 2008 while they are all basically on the same platform.

You have missed:

The new Login design:

New year, new experiment: Login and Signup UI

Chat mentions:

RFC: Better chat @mentions – A prototype


Warlords of Documentation: A Proposed Expansion of Stack Overflow

The new top bar:

We're Soon to be A/B Testing Some Changes to the Top Nav

Improvements on the Profile and Developer Story (I was interviewed for this during which I kind of had to testdrive the design)

Profile & Developer Story Usability Findings

And don't forget the Meta crowd. It does happen that new features are rolled out to Meta first so both the experienced and vocal users get to scrutinize early UI changes before it is presented to the masses.

So, to answer your point:

I wonder why regular, iterative usability testing is not an integral part of the Quality Improvement Project? A well-designed user testing program will identify usability problems and develop solutions better than any other method.

I do think usability testing is integral part of the development process, it is effective in identifying usability problems, for example with the new top bar, both before and after introduction of features. Implementing all these improvements does still require prioritization which might lead to a delay between 6 to 8 weeks before a change is noticed.

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  • Thank you very much for enlightening me about past and ongoing 'continuous improvement' efforts. I glanced at a couple and will read more in depth over the next day or two. // Reading your response I'm thinking I must have come across as overly critical, which I regret, as that was certainly not my intention. I sincerely want to 'pay it forward' because I have learned so much--and had some geeky good fun--on SE sites. I will work on how I communicate such suggestions henceforth. :O) – Mark D Worthen PsyD Jul 16 '17 at 21:03

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