Usability and Accessibility

I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately, trying to introduce user experience concepts to people who don’t deal with this stuff day to day. Thought I’d share a bit. 🙂

don norman's three teapots

Don Norman’s three teapots, from a story on usability and design of everyday objects.

Usability describes how easy a system is for its audience to use and learn. This isn’t restricted to just websites and software – you can consider the usability of everyday objects too, like teapots, telephones and ticket machines – anything someone can interact with towards a specific goal.

On the web, usability is important because it enables users to do what they came for. If users can’t get what they want, they either leave or complain – two things that can end up costing you money.

The terms ‘usability’ and ‘user experience’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but don’t mean the same thing. A site can be usable – ie. easy and functional – but not a delightful experience at all. User experience is primarily concerned with feelings, and while usability is just one aspect, it can have a huge influence over what a person gets out of using a system.

You’ll sometimes hear usability and accessibility discussed together. They’re two different concepts, focusing on different aspects of websites, but they ultimately share the same purpose – to allow any user to get what they came for.

Accessibility refers to how available something is to a wider audience, regardless of location, experience, physical and mental condition, or the type of technology used. It is considered a matter of human rights – much like how anti-discrimination laws require parking spots and wheelchair ramps in the offline world, there are laws for online spaces too.

So you’ll often hear about accessibility in the context of how people with disabilities can get the information they need, but disabilities aren’t limited to physical, learning or neurological conditions – they also include technological ‘disabilities’ like sub-optimal hardware, and slow, unreliable or expensive internet connections. Web accessibility aims to include everyone who uses the internet to perform tasks or acquire information.

Web accessibility is guided by WCAG, a set of internationally recognised guidelines on how to offer text, websites, images, video, audio, documents (eg. PDFs, Word docs), forms and interactive content in the most usable way for as many people as possible.

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

I did some reading at:

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Usability vs. User Experience

Usability answers the question, “Can the user accomplish their goal?”

User experience answers the question, “Did the user have as delightful an experience as possible?”

A great summary via The Difference Between Usability and User Experience.

The ROI of User Experience

Video

Great video by the author of the article featured in a previous post.

Exciting take-aways:

  • Up to 15% of all projects are “abandoned because they are hopelessly inadequate”.
  • Programmers spend 50% of their time on rework that is avoidable.
  • Fixing an error after development is completed costs 100x that of fixing it before.
  • 3 of the top 12 reasons why projects fail are related to UX:
    • Badly defined requirements
    • Poor communication among customers, developers and users
    • Stakeholder politics
  • Factors that can measure return on investment:
    • Conversion rate
    • Users take the action you want them to take
    • Decrease in abandonment
    • Decrease calls to helpdesk
    • Reduce training required
    • Increase usage of an application or action
    • Save user time
    • Save development time
    • Reduce errors

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

E. F. Schumacher (mis-attributed to Einstein)

Your website has two faces – one talks to humans, one talks to machines

When a user interface—intended for human consumption—reflects too much of a system’s internals in its design and language, it’s likely to confuse the people who use it. But at the same time, if data doesn’t conform to a specific structure, it’s likely to confuse the machines that need to use it—so we can’t ignore system requirements, either.

People and machines parse information in fundamentally different ways. We need to find a way to balance the needs of both.

Read more: Your Website has Two Faces at ALA

10 tips for mobile UX

Read: Ten Tips for Mobile UX from Red Ant

I like this article. It focuses on taking a thoughtful approach to mobile UX, rather than offering spot-fixes for your design. A great primer for when you’re ready to embark on a new project.

Thanks, @BishoyGhaly for the link!

Tl;dr:

  1. Start by designing with mobile in mind.
  2. Identify your users – are they here to get something done or to browse?
  3. 80% of app users will use just 20% of the functionality – tailor your analytics and future improvements to suit.
  4. Use task-based design – craft the easiest way to get stuff done.
  5. Keep it simple.
  6. Respect the platform’s quirks – eg. UI elements, behaviour, etc.
  7. Capture more than just touch – eg. geolocation, sound, lighting, etc.
  8. Design for interruption – mobile users get interrupted a lot.
  9. Continually evolve and improve.
  10. Fall back on best practise and your own experience.

6 ways to make your website tablet-friendly

A checklist of simple things from UX Magazine:

When a website exhibits “tappiness,” it’s easy—or even delightful—to use on a mobile or tablet device. Tappiness encompasses smart use of space, text that is easy to read, logical interaction clues, and large touch targets that allow visitors to navigate with confidence.

Read: The Pursuit of Tappiness

Tl;dr:

  • Bigger buttons with more whitespace around them.
  • Make links more obvious, without relying on hover states.
  • Bigger font sizes.
  • More padding in nav menus (to create bigger hitboxes).
  • Greater margin, padding and line-heights for better readability.
  • Bigger form fields with more whitespace around them.

UX in three points

UX is a fancy name put onto practical things by consultants so they can charge for them. In practice there are three main points.

First, there is the matter of knowing what is common to all people. How the brain works, how the eyes scan, how people tick, what makes a screen understandable and so on. Principles of clarity apply regardless of what the domain is. Tufte’s principles for example apply here.

Second, you need to know what is special about your users. It’s not their brains or perception – that’s the same in everybody. What makes your users different are their habits and the job they are trying to do. You need to understand their purpose for using your product, how they talk about it, their points of reference and so on. Technically this is called ‘domain knowledge’. It’s most useful to think about the jobs individual users are trying to do.

Lastly you need empathy, the ability to see these points from the user’s perspective. You have to see it through their eyes in order to make the right decisions. You can use friendship as an example. You usually know what your friends like or don’t like. So try to become friends with your users. If that’s too hard, make friends with someone else in the same role.

Source: http://www.netmagazine.com/interviews/ryan-singer-user-experience

Can you make good design for people if you’re a lousy person yourself?

Interesting article on “being human” as a UX designer.

I’ve encountered UX people who didn’t strike me as particularly good humans, consequently lowering my trust as a client in their ability to engineer experiences that would appeal to humans. If you’re not a nice person, can you really design what is essentially an avatar of what your audience should see as a nice person?

Orson Welles and Harlan Ellison were/are known for being huge a-holes to work with, but on the ‘customer facing’ side, they’ve produced some astounding works of art. Maybe there’s a base level of good UX that everyone is capable of – stock common sense principles you get in any textbook – and it only gets better from there depending on how well you think critically and apply those principles to the problem at hand.

Personally, I want to believe that being a decent human being translates to putting out decent work. Even if we can’t be so magnanimous and noble, maybe the effort that goes in can’t help but lend itself to empathic, thoughtful solutions. But that’s just my little dream.

Maybe you don’t need to be a cool guy to make cool stuff – but I’m sure it’s more fun to work with someone who can do both. 😉

Designing good UX for old people

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“We’ll use your site, but first we have to trust you.”

http://uxmag.com/articles/simple-and-secure-sites-keep-boomers-happy

UX Mag offers quick tips on how to design appropriate web user experience for the growing Baby Boomer market.

Key takeaways:

  • Educate your Boomer user before asking them to dive in.
  • Be reassuring – remind them how secure your site is, offer a heads up of what sort of information they’ll be expected to give – be nice, hold their hand.
  • Clear, simple, fairly static design is best – give lots of margin for shaky-handed, tired-eyed error.
  • Big text

Food packaging influences how we perceive tastiness

A new study from the UK has found that biscuits seem tastier when they come in fancy packaging.

The biscuits that were given with their packaging scored significantly higher overall, and were perceived to taste better than their wrapper-less counterparts.

Read the article: Tastiness All in the Eye of the Biscuit-Holder

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