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A Cheat Sheet of 20 Usability Terms

A Cheat Sheet of 20 Usability Terms
September 15, 2022

If you’re like many of us, the start of the school season—and the end of summer vacation—can represent a time to start a new project, get serious about a long-held goal, or boost your knowledge of an industry trend. That’s why, in the spirit of the new school year, we’re sharing a refresher vocab list on key terms in usability.

Read on for a cheat sheet on what our team at Astriata considers 20 core usability-related terms, listed in alphabetical order

A/B testing

A/B testing is a research-based method of comparing users’ experience with one version of a web design (version A) with that of another (version B). Done correctly and with a large enough sample size, A/B testing can give you insight on which version and what features work best for your users. But a word of caution: this form of testing doesn’t give you behavioral insight.


An accelerator speeds up user interaction or processes. Often used on actions taken regularly by users, accelerators like keyboard shortcuts and swipe gestures enable users to complete repetitive tasks more quickly and efficiently.


Benchmarking involves the use of metrics (or quantitative data) to compare a design’s UX performance against a baseline standard of performance, ultimately allowing you to track progress (or a lack thereof) through design iterations.


A between-subjects study design allows your user group to test and give you feedback on only one design iteration. This differs from within-subjects, in which the user group tests all versions of the interface. Between-subjects studies often take less time for the user to complete than within-subjects studies.

Card sorting

Card sorting is a UX research tool in which users sort and organize your content topics (listed on cards) in groups. In a web or app design project, card sorting can give you insight on how to group and organize your content and structure your navigation from the user’s perspective.

Computer system usability questionnaire (CSUQ)

The CSUQ is a standardized usability questionnaire developed in 1995 (and updated a number of times since) by John Lewis, a software engineer at IBM. Part of the public domain, usability testers can use the questionnaire to assess a user’s perceived experience.

Emergent (UX maturity)

A UX maturity classification of emergent means your organization integrates some user-friendly techniques and strategies but in an inconsistent manner. Your team may think of usability as a “nice-to-have” add-on, instead of an essential part of your web site’s success. Do you wonder where your organization stands in terms of UX maturity? Find out where you stand—calculate your UX maturity score.

Heuristic evaluation

When it comes to usability, a heuristic evaluation examines a product or design for its use of guiding UX principles. These include such principles as meeting your users’ expectations by placing, say, your logo in the top, left corner, and minimizing your users’ cognitive load by reducing the information they need to remember. This can serve as an alternative to user research when finding participants is a factor.

Journey mapping

Journey mapping is a technique used by usability testers to visualize the process users take to complete a task or achieve a goal on a product or website. Typically, journey maps include timelines (how long it takes users to complete something), in addition to user actions, thoughts, and emotions.


A persona is a single representation of a segment of your target audience that includes a mock name, bio, goals, and needs as they relate to your product or services. UX teams use qualitative research methods to create personas that put a human face and story around subsets of your target audience, enabling you to get to know them on a deeper level.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research enables UX teams to understand how users experience a site or product. Often conducted with small groups of, say, five to eight users, qualitative research involves techniques like interviewing and field studies, which give participants a chance to share their experiences. UX teams use the information they gather to identify problems, brainstorm solutions, and make improvements in the user experience.

Quantitative research

While qualitative research involves collecting things like stories, observations, and reactions, quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing data and statistics (or metrics). UX teams conduct qualitative research to identify patterns, make predictions, set benchmarks, compare design options, determine the return on investment (ROI), and more.

Short-term memory

Short-term memory refers to our ability to store a small amount of information in our minds temporarily. UX teams and web designers use research on short-term memory to inform their designs and avoid integrating features or tasks that overtax most users’ cognitive load or brainpower.

System usability scale (SUS)

Developed in 1986 by engineer John Brooke, the system usability scale is a survey administered to users immediately after they complete a usability test. It measures how easy (or difficult) something is to use by agreeing or disagreeing with a mix of 10 positive and negative statements.

Task-based usability testing

This form of usability testing involves observing users as they attempt to complete a particular task and share their thoughts out loud. You can use this information to determine whether or not the task is too difficult to solve or in need of revamping to create a smoother user experience.

Tree testing

Tree testing is a great tool to use if your users struggle to find critical information on your website or app. With a standard tree test, you present your user group with a breakdown of your site navigation in the form of a “tree,” and assess how well they can find certain features and information when prompted. Ultimately, this form of testng can help you determine whether your content groupings are logical.

Universal design

Universal design is a design approach that involves making a product, a digital space (such as a website), or even a physical space accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. The term was coined in 1985 by architect Ronald Mace.


To borrow Jakob Nielsen’s definition, usability is “a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.” The word also refers to methods undertaken to improve ease-of-use during the design process, Nielsen adds. Usability differs from accessibility, which relates to how individuals with disabilities use an interface.

Usability testing

Usability testing refers to the practice of testing how easy a web design or app is to use with a sample group of users representative of the target audience. Testing can involve qualitative research methods, such as observing users’ behaviors and reactions, and quantitative methods, such as measuring the time it takes users to complete a task.

User research

The term user research refers to any sort of research conducted on users representative of your target audiences to understand their needs, motivations, and behaviors. The aim of user research is to improve the user experience. It consists of research methodologies that include surveys, interviews, and other forms of usability evaluation.


A within-subjects study design enables you to test multiple versions of the same interface by the same group of users. Within-subjects studies typically involve fewer users and are less expensive to run than between-subjects studies.

Congratulations! You’ve made it through all 20 key usability terms.

Now that you’ve refreshed your knowledge, are you considering taking steps toward a more user-friendly website? Then read our blog post, “5 Reasons to Invest in UX.

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