Google Search likes great user experience

A graphic of nine computer screens showing different patterns.Websites that don’t work are very annoying. It’s hard to get the information you need when the site is slow to load or badly designed. Now Google Search is in the process of optimising for more intuitive, user-friendly page design in their searches. Perhaps designers could look no further than universal design. 

From next year Google Search will favour websites with great user experience (UX). It won’t just be looking for keywords – it will be looking for a good user experience. Google is one of the large companies that is also promoting web accessibility. So access features should be included in their user-friendly mix.

The title of this short news item in FastCo is, Google Search will now favor websites with great UX.  

“As part of a new set of best practices, the company will start factoring user experience into its search results, as well as the top stories feature in mobile search. Google is no longer just optimizing for information that’s closest to your keywords, but optimizing for a more delightful web. Intuitive, user-friendly page design is about to become even more important.”

Staying vigilant on web accessibility

A pair of hands holding a tablet with a computer screen in the background.Digital infrastructure accessibility and content accessibility are not the same things. Infrastructure covers things like elements that show up on every page and anything related to navigation. Content is anything that can be updated and uploaded. So that’s text, documents, articles, photos and videos. A key point in an informative article from Sheri Byrne-Haber is:

Every single time the content is updated, content accessibility should be reassessed. 

This is particularly relevant if staff or third parties are free to upload content onto a site, or are providing content. The other key point is:

Accessibility is never one-off and done.

The article uses a case study to show how organisations can be left vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t check regularly for accessibility. Webpages can be accessible today, but next week they might not be because new content has not been assessed for accessibility. The title of the article is, What’s more expensive than getting sued over inaccessibility?

 

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.

 

Mobile apps, smart cities and older adults

A hand holds a smartphone with various apps showing. A computer keyboard is in the background.With talk of Smart Cities, it is important for older adults to be included in digital designs. Twenty-two industry built mobile apps were evaluated in a study from Trinity College Dublin. Some were designed specifically for older people, and others for a broader target audience.

Text re-sizing and zooming were the main issues. Overall, the apps did not meet accessibility principles of being perceivable, operable, or understandable for older people. The platforms supported accessibility settings, but for older people, finding these settings is a problem.

The article is titled, “Are Mobile Apps Usable and Accessible for Senior Citizens in Smart Cities?” It provides a comprehensive review and good conclusions. It is expected that more people will use mobile apps and computers to accomplish daily tasks and to access important information and services. This kind of study and ongoing research is therefore important.

Abstract. The population in cities is expected to exponentially grow by 2050, and so is the world population aged 65 and over. This has increased the efforts to improve citizens’ quality of life in urban areas by offering smarter and more efficient IT-based services in different domains such as health-care and transportation. Smart phones are key devices that provide a way for people to interact with the smart city services through their mobile applications (Apps). As the population is ageing and many services are now offered through mobile Apps, it is necessary to design accessible mobile interfaces that consider senior citizens’ needs. These needs are related to cognitive, perceptual, and psycho-motor changes that occur while ageing, which affect the way older people interact with a smart phone. Although a comprehensive set of design guidelines are suggested, there is no evaluation on how and to what extent they are considered during the mobile App design process. This paper evaluates the implementation of these guidelines in several industry-built Apps, which are either targeted at older people or critical city services Apps that may benefit older people, but are targeted at a broader audience.

Writing material for websites

A computer screen sits on a desk. It shows a web pageIt’s all very well having web designers familiar with the accessibility requirements in their designs, but what about the people who post content on the website? In many organisations staff write their own material and send it to the webmaster for uploading. But is their writing and format also accessible? It is easy to post a document that might have been originally meant for another reader, such as a submission to a government body, but perhaps an Easy English version should be considered for the ease of access for all readers?

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has some easy tips to follow for those who write content or upload documents. 

Another good example of simplifying your text is the Easy English version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

User Experience Design

Two children sit in front of a laptop computer. the boy has his arms raised in triumph. The girl points and looks amazed.There are three Universal Principles of User Experience Design according to Christopher Murphy in an Adobe blog. They are: Visual Grammar, Language and Typology, and Narrative Design. Understanding of other principles from psychology, anthropology and economics can be overlaid on these principles. As new technologies are imagined and invented they create problems that have never been solved before. Murphy argues that if you keep the the principles in mind at all times, the solutions stand a better chance of standing the test of time. The article goes on to explain the three principles in more detail. For people who are not involved in ICT some of the ideas and strategies are still relevant to other design disciplines – graphics are used in lots of places.

“As designers working in an ever-changing field, it’s important that we develop an understanding of the timeless design principles that underpin everything we do.” The three principles, “…which should sit at the heart of everything we design and build, are critical and will stand the test of time.”

Digital Divide: Age and Equity

Two hands of an older person are poised above the keyboard of a laptop computer.Older people are getting left behind in this digital world, especially if they are women and don’t live in a major city. The Conversation reports on the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) which measures which social groups benefit the most from digital connection, and which ones are being left behind. The score is based on access, affordability and ability to manage digital devices. While regional areas don’t have the same access to internet services as cities, there are programs that can help older people get internet-savvy. Telstra has its Tech Savvy Seniors program and the federal government has a Be Connected Program, and there is the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association. There are others listed in the article including an internet cafe set up by Umbrella Multicultural Community Care. The title of the article in The Conversation is, The digital divide: small, social programs can help get seniors online.  

The ADII also measures how things change over time for people depending on their circumstances. After all, Australia’s digital divide is not going away. 

Can something be too useable?

A toddler sits smiling at a laptop computer screen.“Design is never neutral” is the title of an article by Adobe’s Khoi Vinh in the FastCompany newsletter. Is there is a down-side to making apps and websites too easy for children to use? The dilemma of course is that if young children can use these applications, most everyone else can too. But is this actually good? is the question: 

“Habits are formed around the usability of a product; if an app or website makes it easy to complete a task, users are likely to do it more often than not. Usability advocates often treat this as an inherently good quality; by and large every business wants their products to be easier rather than more difficult to use. But as the aforementioned research suggests, it’s become clear that guilelessly encouraging longer, more frequent sessions isn’t necessarily better for kids.” 

Service design done with UD principles

Distored digitised picture of young people sitting in a group.Most people think of universal design as being something for the built environment, but it is much more than that. Service design is an important factor in access and inclusion. There have been major disruptions in how we shop, get take-away food, share our accommodation and our cars. Universal design thinking processes have a major role to play in service design. This is the thinking of Airbnb and other similar platforms.

The article in FastCompany lists a few things to think about. Here are the headings:

      1. Let a user do what they set out to do
      2. Be easy to find
      3. Clearly explain its purpose
      4. Set the expectations a user has of it
      5. Be agnostic of organizational structures
      6. Require as few steps as possible to complete a task
      7. Be consistent
      8. Have no dead ends
      9. Be usable by everyone, equally
      10. Work in a way that is familiar
      11. Make it easy to get human assistance
      12. Require no prior knowledge to use

Some of these aspects could be applied in other situations too.

Accessible video, forms, chatbots

A young woman sits at a desk with her laptop open. She has her face covered by her hands and is indicating distressAs the digital age moves ahead we need to make sure we aren’t creating a digital divide between those who are up to date and those who aren’t or can’t be. The canaxess website has three on-line and downloadable fact sheets that provide some of the simplest but effective advice. For example, in Principles of accessible video – don’t set to the video to scroll on opening. In Principles of accessible forms – don’t use an asterisk to indicate a mandatory field – screen readers announce “star”. In Principles of accessible bots – placing in lower right of the screen is difficult for keyboard users. For people who upload information or documents to their website, there are some good tips. For others who know about coding there is really helpful information. There is more information on the canaxess website.