What’s the Difference Between Usability, UX, CX, and Product?

In the world of experience design and research, the lines are easily blurred between usability and user experience as well as user experience and customer experience.

But then where does product fit? And brand?

I’ve seen others describe these relationships in concentric circles or Venn diagrams.

I see them as a hierarchy.

At-a-Glance Definitions

Brand ExperiencePersonality of an organization or product line.
Customer ExperienceConnective tissue between all customer touchpoints & user experiences.
ProductSolution to customer problem.
ChannelCommunication channel (e.g., social, email, phone).
User ExperienceAny customer interaction with a product or channel.
UsabilityEase of use for an interaction.

Customer Experience vs. User Experience

User experience is one moment or one interaction within the larger customer experience.

Wayfinding in a museum is UX. Solving the user experience of wayfinding through a multi-level museum is no small task. Some of it is on screen (mobile app), some on a printed map, but UX mostly happens in the real-world: signage placement, signage labeling, wayfinding cues (e.g., arrows, lights, paths). The entire museum experience—parking, purchasing tickets, exhibits, café, website, gift shop, tour guides—is the customer experience.

Customer Experience vs. Brand Experience

Brand experience is the flavor of the customer experience—the personality, tone, look, smells, and sounds. Customer experience is the connective tissue between products and channels.

Macy’s and Target have similar customer experiences. They both organize clothes by departments on metal racks, divided by large walkways. You can order online, pick up in store. They have dressing rooms, e-commerce websites, wedding registries, good customer service, easy returns, and mannequins demonstrating the latest fashions. The brand experiences: not the same.

Product Experience vs. User Experience

User experience is part of a product, yes. UX is integral to a product, yes. But UX isn’t the product. Just like a button on a website isn’t UX and “fast response time” isn’t UX. These are elements of a user experience.

A product is a solution. A hammer solves the problem of efficiently pounding nails into wooden boards. A different product, a rock, solves the exact same problem. The user experiences of these products? Not the same.

Which product someone would actually buy or how much they might pay… depends on the UX. The value of the product is UX.

Usability vs. User Experience

When I introduce myself as a UX researcher, people are often surprised to learn that usability testing is a very small part of what I do.

Usability and UX are not synonyms. Rather, think of usability as a component of the user experience. UX includes usability, but it also includes other dimensions of an interaction such as relevancy, clarity, speed, security, delight, and trust.

And of course, content also is user experience.

“Content is user experience.” – Me, about a million times

See also: UX Word of the Day Index

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Author: Kristine Remer

June UX is led by Kristine Remer, a CX / UX research and strategy consultant in Minneapolis. She helps companies drive significant business outcomes by finding and solving customer problems. When she's not creating customer journey maps and user personas, Kristine is either kayaking or watching her kids play soccer.