ISO 9241 – The Standard for UX Design

When I think of standardization, the first things that come to mind are electrical appliances and other household appliances. By adhering to and certifying the appropriate standards, I can assume that I can use and install these devices without hesitation and without them flying around my head, melting, starting to burn or anything similar (hopefully!).

In short: The devices have been tested and certified accordingly, only then it is possible to bring these devices to the market at all. 

Our article also deals with standardization, but not with refrigerators or bbq grills, but with standardization in the UX area. Now one may ask oneself, how can one standardize such an unspecific, permanently changing and developing area? After all, it's not a finished product that you test and put a standard stamp on it for good.

No, there is no international standard just for UX design, but there is the monstrous and massive ISO 9241 standard, with its scope, depth and of course typicallly bureaucratic writing style. While ISO 9241 is not specifically designed for UX designers, it covers related topics such as user-centric design, usability issues and principles of human-machine interaction. The goals of ISO 9241 go hand in hand with those of UX Designers, namely to develop useful and good products. The principles there are absolutely context-, technology- and user-unspecific.

Who is ISO 9241 intended for?

Are you a UX Designer or product manager with UX decision making power and find what you do complex? So is the ISO 9241 standard, but it is worth taking a look at it if you develop digital products, whether you are more operational or more on the process/management side. In the best case, your product should meet the requirements of the ISO 9241 standard and reflect its principles.

After all, the standard was developed by many experts from 160 (!) national standards organizations in the field, so to speak by experts for experts and all those who are bocoming ones. The work is also open for comments and remarks and is constantly updated. For example, the latest version of ISO 9241: 110 (probably the most important standard for UXers) was not newly published just in March 2020.

In fact, however, no UX designer or product manager is (yet) bound to follow this standard or act according to its principles. It is actually more a matter of guidance than a strict set of rules. No one is told how to do UX design or develop user interfaces, the standard wants to guide and systematize instead of lead. Every UX designer can decide for themselves how to use and implement the means there. A little later, we will clarify what the reality looks like and why the B2B sector in particular will soon rely on the ISO 9241 standard.

Get more infos about ISO 9241

What are the benefits of ISO 9241?

When you get to grips with the standard, you can actually immediately make use of the knowledge of industry experts and adopt many best practices that you may not have been aware of. It's a solid methodology, you could say a library.

Obviously, working with ISO 9241 increases the credibility and professionalism of a UX designer or product developer. After all, it validates the work according to many best practices and processes used by professionals. Design has the reputation of being subjective and not based on scientific knowledge. We at interfacewerk always follow a scientific and knowledge-based approach without focusing on pure gut feeling or "beautiful" design. To refer to an international standard in doing so also increases the scientific view of UX design and its validation. The standard helps to have UX processes and important principles always at hand and not to have to reinvent the wheel with every project.

If you are ISO 9241 compliant and use the standards there, you are definitely well positioned. You should also communicate this to the outside world. Compliance with the standard is definitely useful for one's own work on the one hand, and on the other hand it is supportive in terms of public image and as a quality feature of software.

Especially software in the B2B area already relies on the ISO 9241 standard to confirm its basic usability. We are also convinced that the standard will receive much more attention in the future and will be a basic requirement for any (B2B) software. The norm will become an industry standard! Therefore, it should be dealt with at an early stage, preferably now (!).

Quick Start with the ISO 9241 standard

When you start to deal with this standard, you soon realize: if you want to fulfill parts of the standard, you are facing a challenge. But the reputation that precedes the standard is not quiet fair. Yes, ISO 9241 is complex, but you should keep in mind that:

1. Not all parts refer to the user experience of digital systems and are therefore actually relevant for UX designers or product developers

2. What's in there is great: expertise, best practices, action guidelines, (UX) processes, UI design guidelines are all centralized and concentrated in one place.

Every organization must decide for itself which parts are crucial for its own work. To shorten this process a little, almost every chapter offers a checklist that gives a little foretaste.  Now it would be very easy to dismiss the benefits and use of the standard. Standards have the reputation of not being really user-friendly. They are either too specific or too general, too restrictive or are lost in theory without examples or anything concrete to illustrate. However, we believe that ISO 9241 does have a benefit.

Which parts of the standard are useful for the UX area?

These parts are particularly important for UX designers: General principles:

  • DIN EN ISO 9241-110: Principles for the ergonomic design of interactive systems

  • DIN EN ISO 9241-210: Process for designing usable interactive systems  (The main focus is indeed on usability, which is a priority for all UX designers and product managers)

In-depth UX/UI topics:

  • ISO 9241-11: Methods for Usability Testing

  • ISO 9241-171: Guidelines for accessibility of software for everyone

  • ISO 9241-161: Guide to visual user interface elements

From our point of view (!) these are the most relevant chapters for the UX area, but depending on the project and focus of work, other parts may be added as well. As mentioned, the standard is a kind of library that you might have to browse through a bit.

How do I get started?

As with any standard, it is not freely available for download, but is provided by the official standards publishing house. However, the standard is also available for inspection at so-called standards info points, which are distributed throughout Germany. A list with the points can be found here. Complete tables of contents of all standards can be found here

If you are developing a B2B software product, we recommend that you talk to UX experts who have experience with the ISO 9241 standard and can advise you

Which parts of the standard are relevant for Set up processes to implement the relevant parts  Run through a sample project with you until you have mastered your UX strategy internally 

From our point of view, every project should implement e.g. the 7 basic principles of interaction principles for the design of user interfaces. For this purpose we have developed checklists and advise on the design of a UX strategy based on the principles of ISO 9241. We believe that the operational UX methods and practices from ISO 9241 should be the basis of every UX strategy of a company. We also see a tendency that compliance with the standard will be a basic requirement for B2B software in the future. Therefore, we already advise our customers to comply with parts of the standard and to communicate this to the outside world.

Published by Lisa on 2020-07-16

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