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Exciting Times for Human Centred Design standards

Sorry, I know most people find neither human-centred design nor standards exciting.  And to be fair, there is much about the difficult and cumbersome language, which even I find a bit tedious at times.  But, as I have explained before, the real power of international standards come from the fact that they are ‘international’ and that they are ‘standards’ – in other words, ‘they do what they say on the tin’ as the UK TV advertisement goes.

This is why I am excited about the recent publication of ISO 9241-210, the revision of the human-centred design standard ISO 13407.  As I reported in October, the new standard remains largely unchanged, with one major exception.  The four key human-centred design activities are no longer just recommendations, they are ‘requirements’.  This means that people can now claim that they follow the ISO 9241-210 human centred design process.  To do so, they have to ensure that they:

  • Understand and specify the context of use (including users, tasks, environments);
  • Specify the user requirements in sufficient detail to drive the design;
  • Produce design solutions which meet these requirements;
  • Conduct user-centred evaluations of these design solutions and modify the design  taking account of the results.

They also have to be able to provide evidence to show that they have done these successfully.  Note that I say ‘evidence’.  There is no requirement to produce lots of documents to conform to the standard.  The onus is on the organisation claiming conformance to provide whatever level of detailed evidence the recipient requires.

Given our increasingly litigious and risk averse culture, I think this new standard will become even more widely used than its predecessor.  Oh, and I forgot to say that the final draft was approved by 100% of the member bodies – truly international agreement.  That also excited me.

Tom Stewart

Chairman ISO/TC159/SC4 Ergonomics of Human System Interaction international standards committee.

For more information about ISO 9241 please visit the Usability Standards section of our website, or email



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