Applying Standard Approaches Toward Improving Usability

EBSTC October Program Recap

We’ve all heard of the International Standards Organization (ISO). During his presentation at the EBSTC October 6 dinner meeting, Ron Stone elaborated on how standards apply to usability.

He described a notion of “applicability” as a means of establishing consensus–about the formulation of best practices or a decision to use specific standards. Ron summarized the benefits and costs related to using standards, and noted that these costs could be included as a part of normal operation.

Many standards are relevant to technical communicators, in addition to a content development project’s team and stakeholders. Some of these include HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). Depending on the situation, technical communicators also need to be aware of other discipline-specific standards or regulations, for example, medical, science, engineering, devices, pharmaceuticals, and so forth.

Ron also introduced standards related to metrication, a process of learning about or practicing the use of metric measures. Such standards include SI (International System of Units) and AAT ICAS (Integrated Chronological Applications System, Alliance for the Advancement of Technology).

As the presentation continued, a few real-world applications emerged through audience participation:

  • Some standards are seemingly arbitrary; such as what side of the road we drive on in a given country.
  • Will the standard be applicable in online formats as well as on 8.5″ by 11″ or A4 printed paper?
  • What standard(s) allows the same content to be consumed by impaired users, non-native language speakers or on mobile devices? Audience-specific applicability is a concern for both the lone writer and large organizations.

You can read the slides and notes of Ron’s presentation here.