The code is more what you would call “guidelines” than actual rules.

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The title is a bit tongue in cheek, as it is one of my favourite quotes from a movie. I personally am an advocate of following best practice, and knowing the standards. Mostly because I hate it when something doesn’t work because corners were cut. That said sometimes when it comes to web standards it does feel a little like the rules are just made to be broken.

Main Points:

  • Overview of the organisations that write guidelines and standards important to the UI and UX field.
  • The W3C, and other major standards that impact website design.

There are several organizations that write standards and guidelines that are important to the UI and UX community.

W3C

The first organization to mention is the W3C, (http://www.w3.org/standards/). This organization plays a significant role in the development of the web and many developers and designers work diligently to meet these standards. There more than 100 standards available on the W3C website, and the content span all aspects of the world wide web, from specficis about markup languages to guidelines on accessibility. W3C standards such as Web Design and Applications, Web Architecture, Semantic Web and XML Technology will help ensure user interface will properly interact with the rest of the web. When developing a websites or other online resource to meet the standards, it is recommended that the code be checked using a validation tool.

Validation tools, such as the one found at http://validator.w3.org/, allows users to validate with a URI, or by uploading a file. These types of tools are important in development because it is very easy to make a small mistake and many web browsers will compensate or allow invalid code to render more or less correctly.

As well as offering technical recommendations the W3C standards also offer guidance on how to present content to improve the overall state of the web. Another good example of the W3C providing tools that allow developers to quickly get to the heart of the standards is the Mobile Web Best Practices Flip cards. These recommendations will help make a mobile website easier to navigate and they will also help the site load quickly without wasting the users bandwidth. http://www.w3.org/2007/02/mwbp_flip_cards

The W3C is one of the most important standards organizations when it comes to developing and designing websites with excellent user interface and information architecture, however, they are not the only organization that can provide advice.

International Standards Organization [ISO]

The International Standards Organization (ISO) has standards that cover all aspects of the technical world, so it is not a surprise that there is one that applies to the organization of information. The family of ISO standards that seem to apply to the user interface of websites and information portals is ISO 9241. This large multi-part standard is written to address the “Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (vdts).” While many of the parts do not really impact specifically on the website interface this course is exploring, the following sections are all of potential interest to the usability designer:

  • Part 8: requirements for displayed colours (ISO 9241-8:1997).
  • Part 9: Requirements for non-keyboard input devices. (ISO 9241-9:2000)
  • Part 10: dialogue principles. (ISO 9241-10:1996).
  • Part 11: guidance on usability (ISO 9241-11:1998).
  • Part 12: presentation of information (ISO 9241-12:1998)
  • Part 14: menu dialogues (ISO 9241-14:1997)
  • Part 15: command dialogues (ISO 9241-15:1997).
  • Part 16: direct manipulation dialogues (ISO 9241-16:1999)
  • Part 17: form-filling dialogues (ISO 9241-17:1998)
  • Part 151: Guidance on World Wide Web user interfaces (ISO 9241-151:2008)

These ISO standards provide guidance, that can be applied across several contexts. Therefore they are not specific rather they are suggestive about how to measure or gauge compliance. For example in Part 11: guidance on usability (ISO 9241-11:1998), the standard suggests that to evaluate usability, it is important to measure how effective, efficient and satisfying users find the system. While the standard provides examples of what might be used as measures of efficiency, it is clear that these measurements will shift depending on the desired outcomes.

Wrapping Up

The main take away from the discussion on standards is that there is a lot of best practices established about how do design and test a system to ensure that users have a good experience when interacting with it. It should also be note that the standards won’t always tell you what to do or how to do it, but the can offer suggestions on the types of solution that could be beneficial.

One challenge presented by web standards is that there are many practitioners are building without following the recommendations. Standards are sometimes by passed for expediency, occasionally to implement a new solution or flashy feature, but often they are simply not even considered. This can impede the interaction between websites and applications. In my opinion the future will produce more developers who keep an eye on standards, as the web becomes more reliant on automation. Also business are beginning to realize that they need to have a web presence that is consistent across platforms and will demand that their developers meet this need.

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