Microsoft and the Guatamalan challenge

A group of Guatamalan women sit at notebook computers in a village hallHow do you design computer interfaces for people who have never seen or used a computer? Or only ever used spoken language to communicate? That was the challenge for Microsoft when working with a group of Guatemalan women who only know their local traditional language. Microsoft developed a pilot program with the aim of teaching the women how to read and speak Spanish. The challenge was all the greater because modern technology hadn’t yet reached the women.  And there was the technology itself – the community didn’t have internet access – the key to so many established learning programs. Read the article for more of the story and to see the inventive solutions the designers came up with. The article on the FastCo Design website has several short video clips that help explain the process and the outcome. The best part is that Microsoft believes that they have designed something that could be useful for everyone. In an increasingly digitised world, these developments will help include everyone.

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Pay Pal Design Principles

Blue PayPal logoPay Pal has four simple design principles that could be duplicated in any setting, but particularly in the digital world. Interestingly their principles statement uses the first person pronoun, we, which indicates ownership of the action. They are: 

  1. We Craft  We obsess over every pixel. Every word. Every experience. We make big changes in tiny spaces and small tweaks to global ideas. We won’t release anything we’re not proud of. Because focusing on the details lets us build something truly memorable.
  2. We Simplify  Building something simple is anything but. So, we’re honest about our impact on people’s lives. We respect their time and spend every waking moment of our day making things simpler. Because simple is loved, needed, used and shared. 
  3. We Connect We create opportunity by connecting people to each other. That’s a powerful concept–coming up with ways to connect and further interconnect our world anyway we can. It’s an awesome challenge, too. One we dive into headfirst every day.
  4. We Go All In  We invent, then reinvent. Design, then redesign. Yes, we butt heads sometimes, but only because we’re fighting for the people that depend on us. Our customers need us to do the best work of our lives so that they can do the best work of theirs.

Note: PayPal is part of Ebay so they share the same principles.

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Inclusive video gaming

A young woman avatar with yellow hair and a white dress with yellow flowers holds out her arm that is a black prosthesisA recent article in The Guardian explains how video game developers are designing avatar elements to be more representative of population diversity. There is a growing realisation that choice of skin tone, gender, ethnicity or physical ability for a character is important to players for the “looks like me” appeal. Games are a key element of childhood and teenage life, so it is important to have avatars that represent them. Xbox now have avatars that allow players to depict themselves as wheelchair users or having prosthetic limbs, as well as other atributes such as body shape and skin colour. The article includes a section on gender non-conforming players using gaming as a means for helping them with their coming out process. Games are also a way for children to share time with others when they might not be able to communicate verbally. The article nicely counters arguments about diversity being a fad or holding back creativity:

“When people dismiss representation as a political fad, as an imposition on the creative process, as a means of ticking off lists, they are almost always doing this from a position of privilege. The argument that it’s not the gender, ethnicity or physical abilities of a character that are important, but whether they’re written well and fun to play, is easier to make if you’re already being comfortably represented. It is easy to assume your experience is universal. But it isn’t.” 

A young male and young female are depicted as wheelchair usersA very readable article covering the diversity spectrum in gaming. Short explanatory videos are included.

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Minimising brain drain

graphic of a side-on view of a head with a mosaic of brightly coloured triangles filling the spaceReducing cognitive load means reducing the mental effort required to do something. With so many messages coming to us on our devices and even as we walk around, we can all do with some help to sift and process the important messages. Jon Yablonski has developed seven design principles for reducing cognitive load in relation to user interfaces in the digital world. However, some of these principles can be applied to other areas of design. The seven principles make a lot of sense and are explained simply. You can go to Jon Yablonski’s website where he explains further the concept of cognitive load.  The principles are:

  1. Avoid unnecessary elements
  2. Leverage common design patterns
  3. Eliminate unnecessary tasks
  4. Minimize choices
  5. Display choices as a group
  6. Strive for readability
  7. Use iconography with caution
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Colour contrast checkers for web

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheelCourtesy of the Axess Lab website, here are seven great free tools that help you measure color contrasts and create beautiful, accessible color schemes that fulfill the contrast requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). With almost everything in life being linked to the internet, it is important to make sure sites are fully accessible. Colour contrast is important for many with low vision, but accessibility does not have to equal boring. By going to the website you can see more on each of these seven free tools. 

  1. Contrast Ratio
  2. Tanaguru Contrast Finder
  3. Colour Contrast Analyser – by the Paciello Group
  4. Color Tool at Material.IO – by Google
  5. Accessibility Developer Tools – by Google
  6. Colour Contrast – IOS APP by Userlight
  7. Android Accessibility Scanner – Android App by Google

You can see more about colour vision deficiency and how it affects different people by going to a previous post, Seeing Red – or it it Green?

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Inclusive Digital Access: An inclusive training method

A blackboard with the words, I want to learn more about information science and technologyWalking the walk and talking the talk in training sessions is an important factor in adult learning. So when running a course on digital access, the course designer and facilitator needs to think about both their learners as well as the learners of those taking the course. The way to do this was the subject of an interesting Masters study in Canada using ethnographic techniques. The conclusion lists some useful points that every course designer and trainer should think about regardless of the topic.

In her introduction, Keshia Goodwin makes some pertinent points, “The result of a design is dependent on the outlook of the designer, and the design process they use. In very general terms, standard designs follow the standard design iteration process: define the problem, collect information, brainstorm and analyse, develop, test, revise, repeat. The designer continues this process until the design performs as expected. There may, or there may not be feedback from the potential user of the design while the designer tests for solutions.”
“While developing my design I learned that not only did the learners need to be aware of what an end user may need; I, the instructor, needed to be conscious of, and accommodate learning barriers to my end users. I needed to be inclusive in my instructional approach, and, be accommodating to what my audience may need when I delivered training. The design, at that point, had come full circle, being inclusive and accessible to learners, and to the learner’s future audience”

The title of the study is, Inclusive Access: An Inclusive Design Approach to Digital Accessibility Skills Training

 

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Empathetic understanding using virtual reality

Against a dark starry background a young woman in a dark top looks upwards through transparent gogglesRemarkable website has posted an article titled, Building the Ultimate Learning Engine for Empathetic Understanding. It all sounds interesting especially as attitudes to people with disability and older people are ingrained and hard to shift. Perhaps this virtual reality tool will help. The website says, “Equal Reality’s interactive VR app teaches you to recognise unconscious bias by putting you in a scenario where you are on the receiving end unconscious bias. Immersed in the scenario, you’re required to signal when you think you’re receiving this bias. The whole experience is designed to trigger empathy, then reflect on your experience.”

There is a demo app available

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