Findability vs. Discoverability

Findability and discoverability are two concepts in UX related to accessing content or functionality within a website or app while they’re related, findability and discoverability differ and the methods used to test each are different as well. Findability refers to whether or not users can easily locate a piece of content or functionality they assume exists. Think of it like when you’re trying to find your keys or your phone. When you’re getting ready to leave your home, you know it exists somewhere. You just need to find where it is within your environment.

Discoverability, on the other hand, refers to when users encounter new content or functionality that they weren’t aware of. They weren’t looking for it. They just happened upon it. These are the pleasant surprises in life. When you discover that thing you didn’t even know you needed testing to check whether something is findable on a website or app is fairly straightforward in a usability test, ask participants to find that item. These are sometimes referred to as scavenger hunt tasks and of course, normal tasks. Writing rules still apply, such as not giving them the exact labels, using the interface and focusing on what the user’s outcome would be and why they might want to find that piece of information or use that feature. Assessing discoverability is a little trickier, and it’s about whether people notice something on their own. So you can’t directly ask about it. In a usability test, you’re somewhat forced to just wait and see whether the participant realizes that feature or content exists. If you probe or hints about it, you’re back to testing findability. Analytics data is wonderful to analyze discoverability as it allows you to see the real usage data. If users aren’t using a feature or visiting a certain page, then they’re either not interested in it or something about the navigation or UI design is keeping them from discovering it exists. Designing for discoverability is about placing key content and features in areas that people are likely to see, which often means near the top of the page or beside related UI elements.

Ensuring something is findable is about placing that item in its expected place. In other words, is there a strong information sent so people know where to go to locate that content? So the next time you’re assessing content on your website or app, keep in mind these differences and the different research methods used to uncover each.

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