ISO and User Experience

Tom Stewart indicates that the International Standards Organization (ISO) recently “decided to use the term user experience in the new version of ISO 13407 (which will be called ISO 9241-210 to bring it into line with other usability standards).” He is in a position to know, since Tom serves as Chair of the sub-committee of ISO responsible for the revision of ISO 13407 – the International Standard for Human Centred Design. The change might not seem significant at first glance, but its importance is easy to miss. Tom notes that one of the reasons for incorporating the term officially into the ISO standard lies in the fact that user experience is much closer to a description of what ISO means by usability than the simpler notion of “ease of use.”

Stewart sums up the rationale behind the change succinctly:

Easy is good but it is not enough. Focusing on ‘easy’ tends to marginalise it. In today’s competitive times, I can see an IT project manager saying “we would have liked to make the new billing system a bit easier but we really didn’t have time and we did not want to delay it”. I can see a hard pressed business manager saying “ok, it would have been nice but we didn’t want to wait”. However, if you use the ISO 9241-11 definition then the picture changes. Can you honestly imagine the project manager saying (out loud) “We know the system is not going to work but we wanted to be able to tick the ‘delivered on time’ box”? And can you imagine the customer saying, “Ok, it would have been nice if it had worked but we’d rather pay for a failed system than take a bit longer getting it right”? No, of course you can’t! Similarly, the ISO concept of usability allows aesthetic issues to be addressed, if they are important to the user.

The change to the ISO standard ought to put to rest any continuing debate about whether a focus on user experience incorporates usability and subsumes it in a larger set of design and development practices. Focusing on the user experience, rather than usability per se, leads those interested in design and use to consider more than the product or service offering and the people using it. Usability and ergonomics typically apply to the physical user interface and interaction processes. Neither the traditional, experimental approach, nor the more recent “discount usability” approach, popularized by Nielson, deals effectively with engaging the user experience to learn about needs, wants, and beliefs.

The goals of customers using products — their needs, wants, and beliefs — are of paramount concern for businesses that aim to gain efficiencies in product and service design and development, while selling products and services that work for users in pleasing ways. The ease of use of a product or service doesn’t matter if it goes unused.

Thanks to Putting People First for the link to Tom’s post.

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