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International Standards for Usability Should Be More Widely Used

Nigel Bevan

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 4, Issue 3, May 2009, pp. 106-113

Article Contents


User Interface Design

Most of the early effort in standards for usability went into producing detailed guidelines for user interface design, both for hardware and software, in the ISO 9241 series (Stewart, 2000a). Here ISO inherited the legacy of the original Smith and Mosier (1986) guidelines. The exhaustive ISO 9241 guidelines include the presentation of information (ISO 9241-12), design of user guidance (ISO 9241-13), menus (ISO 9241-14), command languages (ISO 9241-15), direct manipulation (ISO 9241-16), and forms (ISO 9241-17). Conformance to the standards can be achieved by following all relevant guidelines and by providing justification for why particular guidelines have not been adopted (Harker, 1995).

What are the benefits?

The ISO guidelines provide a very good primer for good practice in user interface design. They can also provide authoritative evidence to cite if a user interface design decision is challenged. Interfaces can be evaluated against the guidelines (although this can be time consuming, unless the evaluator is intimately familiar with the content).

What are the problems?

While the guidelines constitute an immense body of knowledge, they are not very easy for designers to use (Carter, 1999; de Souza & Bevan, 1990). In the case of Web design (ISO 9241-151), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, 2006) has developed a free set of guidelines that are superior in presentation and content to the ISO equivalent (Bevan & Spinhof, 2007), which makes the HHS guidelines much more approachable for designers. Unfortunately ISO does not have the resources to develop such a professionally produced document.

What should you use?

The HHS guidelines are an excellent resource for Web design. The other ISO guidelines are good for someone who wants to learn more about usability principles when designing specific types of interfaces.

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