Going back to school has put me in contact with like-minded people who throw around design terms as easily as other folks talk about the weather. Tonight, during a conversation amongst such nerds cool people, one such designer mentioned the “easability” of some product or service.

“Did you just say ‘easability’,” I, the nascent designer, asked.

While it was laughed off as a brain hiccup, I could not help but wonder if there was any practical use for this presumed nonexistent term.

It sounds like a word you would use to describe something that is easy to use. But isn’t that what we use usability for? Well, without doing any research, I say yes. But let’s check.

Merriam-Webster defines usable as such:

1 : capable of being used
2 : convenient and practicable for use

That doesn’t necessary indicate whether something is easy to use. But dictionaries are usually a bit behind in defining current word usage, and it’s not an actual definition of usability, so let’s look at something else, like Wikipedia:

Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability can also refer to the methods of measuring usability and the study of the principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance.

And for kicks, let’s see what Jakob Nielsen says:

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Okay, those pretty much seem to say that usability is some measure of how easy it is to use something, not merely whether it is usable.

Now let’s see how or if people are using easability.

Merriam-Webster doesn’t define it. But perhaps we can reverse engineer the term to get a definition.

Ease: facility, effortlessness

-ability: capacity, fitness, or tendency to act or be acted on in a (specified) way

We could say easability is a measurement of effort required to perform a function; or easability is both easy and usable. Is that different from usability? I’m not sure.

Let’s search Google for easability: 2,180 results. Okay, so people are using the term. Let’s see how.

In a discussion about a user interface at Open Source Applications Foundation, we see it used and defined:

She noted that there’s a difference in EASability (easy to learn) and USability (easy to use). Frequently, USability is sacrificed for EASability in designs. However, power users need USability — people would be willing to spend a few minutes figuring out how to use a program if there were the promise of big time savings later.

Interesting. This supports the usability definitions above, but offers a learnable measurement to the definition.

There’s a company in Northern Ireland that uses easability in its name: Easability Showers Ltd.

Easability Showers Ltd manufactures a wide range of level and easy access shower trays and enclosures which enable the elderly and infirm to enjoy a more pleasant lifestyle.

From Treble Red Media, we have:

Our store combines functionality with easability.

From a review of Microsoft Office on PC World:

No other products come near to the quality and easability of using microsoft word.

Looking at the examples, you could argue that in each case easability can be replaced by usability. However, usability itself may not clearly convey that the products in question are designed to be really easy to use, or that their users find them to be really easy.

So maybe there’s a place for easability in the design lexicon. And maybe this post will help define it’s meaning. Time will tell. Until then, all I know for sure is that Susan Dybbs said easability without knowing it, and it was funny.