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I've been using ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of Human System Interaction) over the years to provide some structure and rigour to my UX process. It suits the (standards driven) industry I'm currently working in and seems to help shift the perception from UX as 'look and feel' to something with real substance.

But who else actually applies this standard (or parts of it) in the real world? Does it help and if so, how?

Cheers
R

PS If you've no idea what I'm talking about have a look at the Userfocus bluffer's guide (or the free but out of date online version).

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I've never heard of it, but I generally work with startups. I'll check it out. :) –  Glen Lipka Mar 1 '10 at 20:07
    
Interested in any replies to this. I'm not a fan of ISO standards personally. Too much bureaucracy for my liking –  Matt Goddard Mar 1 '10 at 21:47

5 Answers 5

It's worth looking at the people who attend ISO working group meetings and examining the companies that they are from. Presumably, if their company sends them along to the meeting, then their company must be getting some benefit from it. At the ISO meetings I've attended, I've met people from IBM, HP, Philips, BT, NEC, TÜV, Fujitsu, OKI, as well as various universities and consultancies.

You also have to look at the sheer scope of ISO 9241. As you’ll know from the Bluffers’ Guide, it covers everything from display screens to form design. The hardware parts of the standards - the parts that focus on keyboards and screens -- are used and followed by all the main computer manufacturers. The software parts are excellent sources of best practice in the field and are enshrined in health and safety legislation in many European countries. ISO 13407 – soon to be renumbered and brought within the ISO 9241 fold -- describes a full user centred design process and is part of many companies’ ways of working, especially in Europe.

You also ask the question, “Does it help?” In user interface design, there are many conflicting viewpoints about good practice. Standards, especially International Standards, provide independent and authoritative guidance. I’ve noticed that some developers are more likely to listen to my recommendations when I tell them that they are based on international standards than when they are based on the opinions of a single "guru" in the field. In larger companies, I’ve noticed that publicly available standards are an enormous help in persuading managers to shift their focus from technology to user experience. Standards can be used to encourage consistency, promote good practice, act as a basis for common understanding, ensure an appropriate prioritisation of user interface issues and support the fulfilment of legal requirements.

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If only I could vote you up twice. Great answer +1 –  Matt Goddard Mar 1 '10 at 22:15
1  
Great answer! And also, "pursuading managers" is a really good reason to know the standards... Especially managers that are also engineers, in my experience. –  Lisa Daske Mar 2 '10 at 10:13

I work as a usability engineer in Europe for a software developer company, and many of our customers come from the medical sector. And medical software has to be certified, although ISO 62366 is the usability norm for the medical sector. This means they have a need for usability experts that help get them through certification audits, and part of that is showing that you do usability work according to recognized standards. So yes, there is a need for it, at least in regulated sectors of the industry. I assume that the automobile sector has similar needs but have no experience there.

Of course, some parts of the norm also have helpful recommendations for everyday work, and as you already assumed, the norms help show that what we do has actual substance (the job title is "usability engineer", thank you very much!). But I imagine its mostly the bigger companys where working by standards is a way to be recognized.

For German readers I recommend the "DATech Leitfaden Usability" (guidelines issued by a German certification institute), which has a lot of practical help on applying both ISOs 13407 and 9241. You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/yz8ujls

Does sombody know if there are similar help documents in other languages?

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I think it does matter - in that it provides good guidance on cententious issues like capitalisation of form label fields.

Anything that helps to standardise such things, reduces time spent having the same old conversations with visual designers, and allows us to do the important stuff - like solving problems - has to be a good thing.

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Does ISO 9241 really matter?

It matters to some kinds of organisations. (You'll see who by googling it)

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No it does not matter. It's organizational candy for in-house teams fighting for position in corporations and some under-rated agencies stuggling to get some clients.

What does matter is... results.

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