In July, I spent two days at Human Computer Interaction International 2011 in Orlando, Florida, with hundreds of UX designers, usability analysts, engineers and researchers from around the world. It surprised me that language as part of usability was mentioned just a few times. Furthermore, I didn’t expect to hear so much about the struggle of usability professionals within company hierarchies and cultures. It also occurred to me that many terminology management systems (TMS) may not have taken usability all that seriously so far.
Challenged by a missed flight and an extra night in DC, I managed to attend about 40 presentations. None of them even mentioned language, let alone terminology as a focus point or issue. Although Helmut Windl from Continental Automotive GmbH had a wonderful series of translation errors as an intro to his paper on Empathy as a Key Factor for Successful Intercultural HCI Design. Linguistic faux pas are always good for a laugh. As you might expect, my own paper, Terminology Precision—A Key Factor in Product Usability and Safety, was focused on avoiding such faux pas, particularly in the life sciences where blunders could be less than funny.
What came across in more than one presentation is that UX professionals, like language professionals, struggle with their status in an enterprise. Clemens Lutsch from Microsoft Deutschland GmbH gave a good presentation on making the case for usability standards to management that had useful ideas for us terminologists as well, e.g., what he called “the trap of the cost is already there”. What he means with this is that existing roles already take care of the task, say, user-centered design or, for us, something like term formation, so why bother changing anything. The awareness that these employees may not have the right skill set does not (always) exist. Usability folks and terminologists can form alliances on more than one front.
Lutsch’s was part of a whole session on ISO usability standards and enterprise software. The award winning paper of this track (Design, User Experience, and Usability) by Theofanos and Stanton of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (US) introduced a comprehensive overview of all the standards provided or proposed by the respective ISO technical committee(s) and IEC. The graphic on the left which stems from the paper has lots of detail. But the main point of showing it here is that it has the user at the center and that any and all design tasks revolve around user needs.
I have participated in software development for terminology management systems (as well as in others) and this view was never the prevailing one. The result was often that TMS users struggled with the software: They would rather work in Excel and then import the data than work in the interface that was to support and facilitate their work.
So, here is a challenge to the designers and developers of TMS: Don’t provide systems that do a wonderful job hosting data; provide systems that allow us to do terminology work efficiently and reliably. In Quantity AND Quality, I discussed a few of the easy things that can be done on the interface level. I would love to see tools being developed following not only the soon to be released ISO 26162, but also the usability standards put forth by ISO TC 159, (Ergonomics). By the same token, let the usability and ergonomics people in the committee inspire the rest of their industry. After all their scope includes “standardization in the field of ergonomics, including terminology, methodology, and human factors data.”