Aesthetics are a big deal –there's no secret there. But a product's appearance is merely one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

A product's appearance is only skin-deep; what lies beneath the surface really counts. And by that, we mean usability.

What Is Product Usability?

Simply put, usability is a measure of how well users can interact with a product –and it's paramount to any design system's success (or failure). A usable product is easy to use, learn, and remember –even for first-time users.

Designers can measure usability through wireframes, prototypes, and user testing throughout the product development process.

How Usability Impacts Our Relationships With Products

A product can be beautiful, but it'll flop if it doesn't work well.


Because at the end of the day, people use products. It sounds obvious, but a product's success is contingent on its usability–if people can't figure out how to use it, they won't.

It doesn't matter how much money was put into marketing or how pretty the packaging is; if people can't actually use the product, it'll never be successful.

So what does that mean for businesses?

It means that usability should be a top priority if you want to be a better designer. And it all starts with understanding the human mind and how it interacts with products.

How The Human Mind Interacts With Products

Have you ever been using a product and thought, "Why did they design it this way?"

We've all been there. And more often than not, it's because the product wasn't designed with the user in mind.

Here are a few psychological principles that all designers should keep in mind to create a more user-friendly product:

MAYA: The Principle of Product Innovation

MAYA stands for "Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable."

It's the principle that designers should always push the envelope and innovate–but not too much.

We are creatures of habit, and we're generally reluctant to try new things. So people are often turned off when a designer creates something that's too far away from what they're familiar with.

Let's take Snapchat, for example:

When Evan Spiegel first launched Snapchat, it was a very simple app with only two features: sending photos and videos and adding a few filters. And the reason people loved it was that they could send photos for a maximum of ten seconds, after which the photo would disappear.

It was a new and innovative way to share photos, but it was Snapchat's simplicity that catapulted it to its billion-dollar buyout offers (both of which were historically turned down).

Now, Snapchat has dozens of unique features, including "Stories," "Snap Map," and AI technology for facial recognition. But it's important to note that Snapchat didn't start with all these features. They slowly introduced new features as their user base grew and became more familiar with the app.

The lesson here is that you should always be innovating, but a product is only innovative if it gets people to adopt it.

The best way to do that is by starting small and gradually adding new features as people become more comfortable with the product. Often, it's simple products that are revered as the most innovative.

SCARF: The Principle of Social Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness

Have you ever wondered why some people are more likely to use a certain product than others?

The key is understanding the SCARF model, which includes five main components:

  1. Social status: People want to feel like they're part of a group and be seen as valuable members of that group. The more important a customer feels throughout the buying and using processes, the more likely they will continue to use it.
  2. Certainty: People want to know what's happening and what will occur next. They don't like surprises. The more clearly steps in the user journey are defined, the more likely people will be to use your product.
  3. Autonomy: People want to feel in control of their own lives and destiny. When your product makes users feel as though they're acting on their own responsibility, they're more likely to adopt it and connect with it.
  4. Relatedness: People want to feel connected to others and like they belong. By being able to interact with others through your product, you're more likely to create a connection that leads to product adoption.
  5. Fairness: People want to feel like they're being treated with respect and that the system is fair. If you can show your customer that you're giving them a good deal, they're more likely to convert.

So how can you use this to create a more user-friendly product?

It's simple: you can design something that appeals to those needs by understanding what motivates people to use your product.

For example, if you're designing a social media app, you need to make sure it's easy to use and that people can easily find and connect with friends. You also need to make sure that they receive a good amount of shareable content that allows them to show off their social status.

But if you're running an affiliate blog, you need to make your product reviews helpful, useful, and relatable. You need to show your customer that you understand their needs and that you're providing a service that's fair and trustworthy.

And if you're running an ecommerce store, price comparison tools are an excellent way to demonstrate fairness. In your UX design, price comparison and total cost of ownership tools should be easily accessible so that users can make informed decisions.

Selective Disregard and Change Blindness

Change blindness occurs when people fail to notice changes in their surroundings. It's a phenomenon that happens often, especially when people are tired or distracted.

But it can also happen when people are using products that are new or unfamiliar to them.

In fact, change blindness is one of the main reasons why user testing is so important.

In UX design, change blindness can be a major problem because it means that users might not notice important changes to your product. Navigational elements and error messages are clear examples. When users miss these components, it can cause user confusion and task failure by affecting important information such as error messages, buttons, and navigation menus.

Placement and contrast of content are key when designing to avoid being overlooked by users.

Mental Models

A mental model represents how we understand the world around us.

In the context of UX design, mental models are used to simplify complex ideas and make them easier for users to understand.

People expect similar navigation across websites and apps, so when they can't find what they're looking for, it's frustrating.

Mental models are often used in the design of user journeys because they allow designers to understand how people might interact with their product.

For example, when designing a navigation menu, we might use a mental model of a map to help users find their way around. By providing a familiar frame of reference, mental models can make it easier for users to interact with complex systems.

Of course, choosing the right mental model for each situation is important. A maps-based approach might work well for a website with many different sections, but it would be less effective for a task that requires linear progression (such as completing an online purchase).

That's why Uber and Lyft look so similar.

They both use the map model to help users understand how to request a ride based on location and track their driver's progress.

Had they not adopted the same model, chances are the application that didn't follow these conventions would have been much more confusing–and therefore, less usable.

The takeaway here is that when designing your product, knowing how your user expects to interact with it is critical.


Hundreds of things go into making a product usable.

The sum of all these small details makes for a great user experience.

And while some of these factors are out of your control, there are many things you can do to influence the usability of your product.

By understanding how the human mind interacts with products, you can design something that's not only aesthetically pleasing but adoptable, understandable, and–most importantly–useful.