The feel factor: techno architecture

A fish-eye view of an outdoor night scene.There’s nothing like the real thing, but the next best thing is virtual reality. A paper from Europe explores Immersive Virtual Reality as a means of informing architects and designers about designing inclusively. The technology helps with seeing how people navigate a space and interact with the design elements. However, this does not replace the live user feedback that goes beyond technically navigable space. Nevertheless, it is a good start. You will need institutional access for a free read.

The title of the paper is, Immersive Virtual Reality for Assisting in Inclusive Architectural Design.  

Abstract:  Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) technology is capable of simulating highly realistic environments and affecting behavioral realism via the creation of the feeling of immersion in a virtual world. Because of that IVR has got a great potential as a tool for evaluation of architectural designs. IVR allows to navigate in the designed space and interact with its elements as if they were real. In this paper, we demonstrate that IVR can assist during the Inclusive Design process and improve the architects’ understanding of the needs of different users, especially those that are older or disabled. Inclusive design promotes products and environments that are inclusive for all people. Architects require in-depth insight into how particular groups of people experience the designed environment and how they interact with it. IVR can help with that.  

A font style for everyone

A page showing the font style and other information.The Braille Institute of America has won the Fast Company Graphic Design Award for developing a font suitable for people with low vision – as well as everyone else. On first glance it doesn’t look much different to other sans serif fonts. But the tweaks make a difference to legibility and comprehension. The title of the font is Atkinson Hyperlegible. People who are blind early in life will likely use Braille. But those who lose their sight later in life probably won’t. New technologies are available to this larger group that enable them to retain their independence in everyday activities. The style and size of font is part of the Braille Institute of America staying relevant as the world changes.  

 

Why your website should suit screen readers

two hands on a laptop keyboard.Previous posts have explained how screen readers work, but not the amazing things that happen to people who use them. With free screen reading software by NV Access, screen readers are now available to all who need them. This software is so successful that it’s been translated into 50 languages. This means people in developing countries can also join in everyday activities, study and get a job. The video is 12 minutes, but worth the watch because you see the value of why all websites, web pages, and document uploads should be suitable for screen readers. It’s not just about doing “good works” – it’s about expanding your employee base and customer base. Besides, our obligations under the UN Convention require it. NV Access is a charity with a great story to tell. 

 

 

Older people and web facts

Infographic showing the proportion of people using various aspects of the internet. It’s often assumed older people are unable to cope with technology and the world wide web. This stereotype is incorrect. Keep in mind that people who pioneered computers and the internet are in their sixties. So the generation that started it all is actually quite active.

Perhaps if everyone over 60 were not collectively termed “the elderly” we might start to see stereotyping improve. Nevertheless, Axesslab’s blog page, Real Facts about the Elderly and the World Wide Web puts things in perspective, at least in the United States. Here are some key points: 

    • People in the baby boomer generation spend around 27 hours weekly online.
    • Of the group aged over 65, seven out of ten go online daily.
    • 82% of those in both groups run searches online related to what they’re interested in.
    • Two-thirds of seniors use the web to access weather and the news
    • 57% shop online.
    • 44% want information about food and cooking.
    • 43% use it to play games.
    • Almost half go online to check for coupons, daily deals, and discounts.

There’s a handy infographic with statistics on the Medalerthelp webpage, but watch out for the pop up ad in the body of the text. It shows the results from a comprehensive survey in lots of detail. The picture above is just one section of the infographic.

Editor’s note: Regardless of the people who do use the Internet, those who don’t are seriously disadvantaged as more businesses and government services move to digital mode. 

Designing technology for neurodiverse users

a drawing of matchstick figures in all different colours standing in a line.Neurodiverse people already know they need to be involved the design of emerging technologies from the very beginning and throughout the process. But this isn’t always recognised by designers. A new paper supports their claims and concludes that neurodiverse users should be engaged as active participants “front and center in the research and design process”. The ten researchers involved in the project say that Human Centred Design works better than the principles of user centered design. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. However, it is also available on ResearchGate.

The title of the paper is, Designing Technologies for Neurodiverse Users: Considerations from Research Practice

Abstract: This paper presents and discusses the perspectives of ten investigators experienced with design of technologies for and with neurodiverse users. Although the advances on emerging technologies improved their potential to assist users with neurodiverse needs, existing methods for participatory design, usability tests and evaluation have been created for, and validated with, able-bodied users. User-centered design methods are not always well-suited to meet the unique needs of neurodiverse individuals. Therefore, to involve neurodiverse users iteratively in the design process, investigators need to adapt traditional methods from HCI to successfully conduct user studies. Through an online questionnaire, we identified the experimental designs commonly adopted and the major problems investigators face during recruitment, data collection, analysis and design. Based on the analysis of the investigators’ experiences, we provide nine recommendations to conduct studies with neurodiverse users, aiming at engaging them as active participants front and center in the research and design process.

 

Open Sesame! Packaging made easy

Exploded view of the package and all its partsIn marketing terms, the packaging is part of the product. The package shape, colour and brand are important in enticing consumers to buy. But all too often we have to get a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and wrestle with the packaging in order to get to the product inside. Microsoft has come up with a nice solution to packaging their Xbox Adaptive Controller – a gamepad for people who might not have use of their limbs. Good thinking – no good having a nicely designed accessible product that you can’t get out of the box! The video below shows the simple but effective design. There is another video on the FastCompany website or see the engadget website. Package designers take note. 

The title of the article is How Microsoft fixed the worst thing about product packaging.

 

Users know what works best

A woman holds a tablet with a map on the screen, She is standing in the street.Users of digital technology are clear about what works and what doesn’t. This is one of the conclusions in a research report by G3ict and Knowbility. Survey questions included listing the top three most useful mobile features, and the most desirable functions that need to be improved. Questions about ability to use apps such as those for maps, banking, hotels and travel were also included. This is an in-depth look at the way users interact with digital technology in everyday life, with lots of ideas for improvement from users. Some of the key points in the conclusions are:

    1. Users are clear about what’s working and what’s not
    2. Accessibility innovation does have a positive impact
    3. Barriers due to lack of alternative modes of communication remain a leading source of concern
    4. A list of some of the most impactful accessibility innovations
    5. Perception of the value of digital accessibility features was high 
    6. Cognitive accessibility is an area of great opportunity for innovation

The title of the report is, The Impact of Digital Accessibility Innovations on Users’ Experience. Download from the G3ict website via another link, or directly from this website.

 

Colour perceptions vary across cultures

Three smart phones showing the colour game.Anyone interested in optimal colours for web and phone might be interested in a project that came out of a colour matching game app. The game is based on colour perception. Feedback data showed designers how people perceive colour. With the help of academics they began to analyse the data in meaningful ways. Preliminary analysis indicates there is a variation across countries. For example, Norwegians were better at colour matching than Saudi Arabians. Singaporeans struggled to identify greens, and Scandinavians did best with red-purple hues. Research papers are to follow which could lead to more inclusive colour choices. The article concludes, 

“But the fruits of the project live on in open source. A generic version of Jose’s tools to query the Specimen dataset are hosted here on github. My greatest hope is other researchers find and make use of what was gathered, and that other designers and engineers consider leveraging play in unexpected ways”.

The title of the article on FastCompany website is, Our viral app made less than $1,000. We’d still do it again.

Picture courtesy FastCompany.

Graphic Design Everyone Can Enjoy

Front cover of the handbook. Bright yellow with black text.An excellent resource from Ontario, Canada on accessible graphic design. It’s everything you wanted to know but didn’t know how to ask. Graphic design covers creative design, visual communications, applied design and technology sectors. So the guide covers typography, digital media, web accessibility, Office documents, accessible PDFs, print design, environmental graphic design, colour selection and more. It’s written for an easy read and has a logical structure. At the end is a list of publications, links to websites and tools to help. 

There are so many little things that graphic designers can do to make their creations more accessible. The guide unpacks them to show it can be done with little, if any, extra effort. The title of the guide is, AccessAbility 2: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design.  

 

Smart devices but confused users

On a man's wrist is a Apple Smart Watch. The face has multiple coloured dots.Systems and devices expect people to adapt to them – to work out how to use them and to use them successfully. But it should be the other way round. This is the point Edward Steinfeld discusses in The Conversation article. Whether it’s phones, smart watches, car technology and hearing aids, they all have options that aren’t always easy to activate and manage. And it isn’t just the older population that gets confused.

“In many ways, advanced technology is inherently complicated: If users want devices that can do incredible things, they need to deal with the complexity required to deliver those services. But the interfaces designers create often make it difficult to manage that complexity well, which confuses and frustrates users, and may even drive some to give up in despair of ever getting the darn things to work right… With manufacturers’ help, more seniors could enjoy the benefits of advanced technology, without the frustrations”.

The title of the article is Better design could make mobile devices easier for seniors to use. Nicely written and many will relate to his personal and professional researcher experiences.

Note: Ed Steinfeld is better known for leading the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at Buffalo.