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World Standard's Day poster14 October 2011 is World Standards Day where the three major international standards bodies IEC, ISO and ITU celebrate the contribution that standards make to international commerce.  The theme this year is ‘Creating Confidence Globally’ and it strikes me that this is particularly relevant to usability.

Most creators of digital products design their products to be usable: effective, efficient and satisfying. Although sometimes this is hard to believe, I do not think anyone deliberately ignores their users.

However, what some designers quite frequently fail to do is to apply current usability best practice or test out their products before launch. When real users find the products difficult or cumbersome to use or fail to get the desired results and stop using the product, this can come as a surprise to the unwary designer (and their bosses who see the costs of their investment rising and the benefits diminishing).

Following international usability standards can provide confidence to designers that their products, digital or otherwise, will work for their users.

The committee I chair, ISO TC159 SC4 Ergonomics of Human System Interaction, produces a wide range of usability standards covering everything from how to follow a human centred design process (ISO 9241-210) to software accessibility (ISO 9241-171) and general website design (ISO 9241-151). As a great believer in standards, I have put together an overview of these standards and how to use them.

But, as I have pointed out before, usability is not just about software. This is especially true for converged product such as smart phones and tablets but it is also true for most computer systems. 

I’d therefore like to draw your attention to two new parts of ISO 9241:

ISO 9241-420:2011 provides guidance for user organisations and system integrators to help them select appropriate, ergonomically designed, input devices.

The devices covered include keyboards, mice, pucks, joysticks, trackballs, trackpads, tablets and overlays, touch-sensitive screens, styli and light pens. 

ISO 9241-910:2011 provides a framework for understanding and communicating aspects of tactile/haptic interaction

Touch and gestures, for example pinch, are becoming widespread not only in mobile phones and computer tablets but also in touch pads on laptops and as generic input devices. However, in this emerging field (known as tactile and haptic interaction), there is no agreed terminology or shared understanding, a gap which this standard attempts to fill.

Like most standards, neither is easy bedtime reading but if your job is to design or select technology for your organisation then you should find that these and the other usability standards can provide you with confidence that you are making the right decisions, and evidence to support them. 

Happy World Standards Day!

Tom Stewart

Published 14 October, 2011 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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