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Software Usability

Companies in every industry need software that their employees and customers can easily learn to use without error, but for years there was no way for them to evaluate the usability of software before or after purchase. NIST usability experts brought together hundreds of organizations to develop an international reporting standard to improve software usability.

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NIST led an international consortium that included companies such as Boeing, Microsoft and Oracle to develop the Common Industry Format (CIF), a reporting standard for evaluating the usability of commercial software products. These early adopters used CIF to make informed decisions about which software tools to purchase for their organization, and to have usability measurements of their own products.

Prior to the creation of the CIF, the lack of usability information made it difficult for companies to know which software to buy, to develop a plan to support the software, or to estimate the total cost of ownership for a product. Approved as a standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 2001, the CIF has been successfully adopted in the health care, voting, first responder and cybersecurity sectors to support software usability and improve efficiency, effectiveness and user satisfaction.

The CIF provides a format for describing a software product’s usability performance, including a description of the product, the usability test’s experimental design and data collection methods, and a standard set of usability measures. The CIF also tests for objective measures of effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction, including how much effort is required to use a product without failure.

Since the development of the CIF, NIST has continued to lead the improvement of software usability. In collaboration with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), NIST has developed other common industry formats that are based on a user-centered design process. This process consists of four steps covering the environment in which the system will be used, the purpose of the system, how the system fulfills the requirements, and the evaluation of the system.