No, I have not suddenly started to question an approach which I have pioneered for more than three decades. 

What I am doing is reflecting a discussion currently underway in the International Standards committee considering the revision of ISO 9241 part 11, which defines usability. 

Don't worry, we don't intend to change the definition in any way that most people would notice. Standard-makers love arguing about fine detail, so there may be some tweaking of the wording in due course. 

The core definition will remain the same but we'd welcome some input from Econsultancy's members about how we describe the outcome of using user-centred design.

UCD is the best way to deliver usable systems, products and services

The standard defines usability in terms of effectiveness (the product or system has to actually work well), efficiency (the effort or resources expended have to be commensurate with the performance delivered) and user satisfaction (a slightly unsatisfactory term which covers everything from ensuring that using the system will not injure or harm the user through to possible enjoyment or even delight).

Usability is closely linked to user-centred design (UCD). In the ISO 9241 series of standards part 210 describes the human-centred design process and replaces the original ISO 13407 standard of the same name. 

The term human centred was preferred to user centred to reflect that there are more stakeholders than just users but UCD is the widely used term which we will stick with here. 

In the UCD standard we state that following this process is the best way to deliver usable systems, services and products.  However, the UCD process also delivers other benefits.

UCD Diagram

UCD is important for accessible or inclusive systems

It is certainly important when designing accessible or inclusive systems.  For example the British Standard on accessible websites (BS8878) quotes it as the best process to follow. 

Following a UCD process is also an excellent way of minimising human based risks - not just the risks that users will dislike the system or that it may cause them discomfort or worse but that the entire system will fail because the users can use it. 

Sounds like it shouldn't happen but sadly the management literature is full of examples, which demonstrate the opposite. UCD is also a good way to deliver a great user user experience. 

Most would agree that while usability is important for a great experience, much more is involved including anticipation, expectation and the whole context in which the product is used.

What should we call the outcome of UCD?

We would argue that following a UCD process delivers usability, accessibility, reduced risk and user experience. But what to call this combination of benefits? 

Some have argued that a term like quality of use could reflect this range but I do not agree. However, at present, I can't think of a better expression. This is where Econsultancy's readers come in. 

As digital marketers, you understand that UCD is a good way to design usable websites. You also know that accessibility, reduced risk and user experience are important. 

Can you think of a good term to describe this outcome from UCD? Please let me know and I will feed it in to the standards development process.

Tom Stewart

Published 3 February, 2014 by Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is Executive Chairman at System Concepts, and a guest blogger at Econsultancy. System Concepts can be followed on Twitter here, and Tom is also on Google+.

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Comments (4)


Mike Cuesta

I think it would be hard to argue that the ideal outcome of any significant UCD effort would be to optimize the human-facing experience in order to enable users to efficiently, safely and pleasantly accomplish a set of desired outcomes.

I'm sure the above could be worded better, but I believe that's the gist of it.

over 4 years ago


Rickard Östberg

I have another comment on UCD.
In my opinion, UCD is only a tool, a very powerful tool to achieve usability in a system. But it's important to know it's not a guarantee to achieve a usable system, just because you use the right tool..

A guitarr is a powerful tool to achieve wonderful music, but it's not a guarantee that you will create a hit just because you use a guitarr. You need to know how to play, you need some talent and you need the right tool (instrument) to create a hit.

It's important that everyone who read this standard know that UCD is only a tool. Without an appropriate education and some talent, UCD is only a tool and not a guarantee to create a usable system.

over 4 years ago



The term "acceptability" captures a lot of what the UCD process should deliver. One of the reasons so many medical systems have been classed as failures is because they do not fit in with the way that medical staff work, i.e. they are not acceptable to the staff.

Wearing my software (systems) engineering hat I would also argue that the results of UCD feed into the dependability of the system/product/service.

over 4 years ago


Morgan Jones, Digital Manager at Myself

Holistic Interface Design (HIDE)? The sum of the parts equal the whole and without the understanding that comes with these parts there is no whole.

On second thoughts…

over 4 years ago

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