I am about to ask for help on how to categorise usability/ux problems but after some googling I have realised that there is no standard definition of usability/ux problem. (Defining the Usability Problem, The definition of “usability problem” is elusive, Is That A Usability Problem Or A Feature?).

Is there an widely accepted definition I have missed?

4 Answers 4


There aren't many definitions of usability problem in the literature. The most reasonable I could find was by Lavery, Cockton & Atkinson (1997):

A usability problem is an aspect of the system and/ or a demand on the user which makes it unpleasant, inefficient, onerous or impossible for the user to achieve their goals in typical usage situations.


For my thesis I am encountering a similar question. I think I will try to mirror the definition of usability and state that everything interfering with it is a usability problem.

For my thesis I might use something like:

"An usability issue in the context of this research is defined as any deviation from the criteria of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction as set forth by the ISO 9241-11 standard. Specifically, it refers to a product characteristic or feature that hinders specified users from achieving their specified goals in a specified context of use, thereby negatively impacting the overall user experience."

In addition, I have found a paper which came up with an usability definition, but I will rather stick with staying as close as possible to ISO 9241-11:

Defining Usability Problems by Pavel Manakhov & Vyacheslav D. Ivanov

  • 1
    Hi Ali, welcome to UX.SE. I'm not sure this qualifies as a definition, especially for a paper; rather, it describes what it is not. Specifically, ISO 9241-11 lacks granularity, so deviating from it could imply a wide range of interpretations.
    – Devin
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:32
  • @Devin thanks for the feedback! It makes sense what you say, I will change it then to one of the two definitions from the paper mentioned by me or Illotus.
    – Ali Pacman
    Nov 21, 2023 at 14:01

One way of looking at it is to say "Is this going to drive users nuts ? Yes / No"

Problems tend to fall between 'high level' issues ( eg basic faults with say the IA or workflow) through to detailed issues (bad wording of labels / buttons that don't look like buttons etc).

  • I would not agree that ux is so binary. Feb 14, 2012 at 4:48
  • That's just the first question though... Question 2 is 'How bad is this ?" You can't really do the second questions until you're on the analysis phase - as you can get issues which look bad initially and then you find that users can learn a workaround.
    – PhillipW
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:08

http://www.usabilitynet.org/tools/r_international.htm provides some of the standards around user experience and usability. Hope this helps!

Addendum: http://www.userfocus.co.uk/articles/iso-13407-is-dead.html talks about the recent work defining a standard for user centred design; this may help.

  • I assume one can take a definition of usability and by negating it define the usability problem. PS: What a horrible website :D. Feb 6, 2012 at 12:28
  • Could you post an excerpt or summary from your link? Feb 6, 2012 at 12:29
  • Well, from ISO 9241-11: Guidance on Usability (1998):"Usability: the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.". So the crux of the matter is in specifying what you want to achieve and by whom :)
    – Peter
    Feb 6, 2012 at 12:31
  • UsabilityNet's quite an interesting historical artifact - as it reflects how things were back in 2003. usabilitynet.org/about/aboutusa.htm
    – PhillipW
    Feb 6, 2012 at 22:15

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