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.


Do’s and Don’ts Posters

One of the six posters, mobility, showing a short list of do's and don'ts of accessibility.Six different posters help designers make online services accessible in government and elsewhere. They cover low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, dyslexia, motor disabilities, people with autism and users of screen readers. The posters are simple and this is what makes them effective. Basically they act as visual prompts to designers rather than offering technical know-how.  You can download each of the posters from the UK Government website. There’s other useful information and links too. Also available in 17 languages.

Poster for people with autism

Poster for people who use screen readers

Poster for people with low vision

Poster for people with dyslexia 

Poster for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Poster for people with physical or motor disabilities.


Web designers are diverse too

Part of a computer screen showing code.The diversity of users is often discussed in relation to universal design and accessibility. But what about the diversity of designers and their preferences? A research team in Norway checked this out with software designers and found there are “significant differences in team members’ preferences, particularly for those with different roles”. So, software teams should not choose a single method for all team members when it comes to creating accessible web designs. 

The research report covers an evaluation of methods preferred by developers and those testing for different impairments. Developers preferred more technical methods and personas. Testers who use the WCAG* walk-through regularly did not rate this method highly, perhaps because they find it tiresome. This indicates a need for a different method to be developed.

The title of the paper is What Methods Software Teams Prefer When Testing Web Accessibility, by Bai, Stray & Mork.

*WCAG is the World Content Accessibility Guidelines which are international standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Editor’s Note: It is likely that this line of questioning applies to other design fields too.


Choosing colours for websites

Colour diagram showing the three different types of colour vision deficiencyColour vision deficiency or colour blindness affects around 10 per cent of the population. But each person varies in what colours they can see, which is why it is not “colour blindness”.  So what colours are best if you want all readers to enjoy colours on your website? Colour choice is not just a matter of making it look good – it can affect the readability of text and graphics as well.

A small qualitative study looked at two websites to assess their readability and usability by people who have colour vision deficiency. The researcher analysed body text, background and links and found they had an affect on the usability of the websites. The research included designing two websites and then testing them with survey participants. The results should be read in conjunction with the methodology otherwise it won’t make sense. The conclusion section does not provide the specific outcomes.

The title of the article is, The effects of color choice in web design on the usability for individuals with color-blindness.  This is a Masters theses.


Plug and Pray? AI and Emerging Tech

Front cover of Plug and Pray report People with disability are often early adopters of new tech, but these new ideas can also come with unintended barriers to users. As we improve built environment accessibility, it is important we don’t fall into the same design traps with digital designs. Plug and Pray? A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies is the title of a report by the European Disability Forum. There are two versions of this report: the standard full text and an Easy Read version. The Easy Read version is great for non tech people. It is a great way to get your head around the many issues that need consideration without wading through lots of words.