Hilary StephensonHilary StephensonJanuary 17, 2019
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3min531

In today’s digital-by-default society, inclusive design has never been more important.

From healthcare to food delivery, many of our regular administrative tasks are now completed online which – overall – makes people’s lives easier and more efficient. However, those with ranging abilities are often left out; unable to use these platforms (and therefore access the services and information they need) due to poor design practices.

This is particularly relevant following news of a landmark case won against Domino’s Pizza – which must now take steps to ensure its mobile app is fully accessible to all.

Addressing this issue needs to be a priority for businesses – not just in terms of sales lost by not taking advantage of the £212m “purple pound” – but morally, too.

But how to do it? Here is our top tips:

 

  • Invite users with ranging abilities and needs to take part in usability sessions throughout the site’s design process. This will help assess how effective certain features are and highlight areas that need to be improved.

 

  • Include features such as adjustable text size, optional visual effects, close-captioned or signed videos and links in which the clickable area is larger than the surrounding text.

 

  • Constrain choices and actions so that people aren’t overwhelmed by too many options.

 

  • Make content easy to understand. Try to use the language that people use day-to-day.

 

  • Make design choices in the typography and use of colour that make your content more legible, easier to digest, and scan quickly.

 

  • Consider the digital skills of those accessing the website or app, to remove any barriers to engagement. Ask them for feedback regularly.

 

  • In navigation, give people quick routes to the information they need, and minimise the number of steps needed to complete an action so that people can achieve their goals quickly and easily.

Hilary StephensonHilary StephensonSeptember 28, 2017
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8min605

Technology is constantly evolving, and the field of User Experience (UX) is no different. We have progressed from interacting with desktop computers with a mouse and keyboard, to touch-based interactions on mobile phones, and beyond.

Interaction design was revolutionised in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone, which thrust the mobile touchscreen interface firmly into the mainstream. Now, we look set to be moving onto a new era of user interfaces. The key difference here is that we will not interact with this next wave of interfaces through a screen, or in fact with any kind of traditional input device.

Invisible interfaces look set to be the future of how we interact with our devices – a future in which menus, navigations, screens and commands are translated into simple spoken language.

Through these simpler, more intuitive commands, technology will no longer act as a barrier between humans and the real world, but rather as something in the background people can interact with while carrying out day-to-day activities such as working, driving or socialising.

Here we’ll explore the areas in which these new, invisible interfaces will change the way we interact with our devices forever, and how this is causing the field of UX to change and adapt accordingly.

Screenless Design

The driving force behind invisible interfaces is to move “beyond the screen”, and provide a

seamless, more intuitive user experience.

As Google Designer Golden Krishna famously said in 2015: “The best user interface is no interface”.

Screenless interfaces appeal to consumers because they reduce physical and cognitive load  in the user journey. While the smartphone is without doubt a wondrous tool, performing a simple task can contain numerous steps – looking for your phone or fishing it out of your pocket, unlocking it, finding the right app and then navigating through the various screens.

Screenless interactions allow users to condense multi screen user journeys into a seamless succinct process. Performing actions on screens also creates distractions in your daily routine – and according to research, smartphones take us away from our daily lives over 2,600 times a day.

Screenless interfaces, sometimes referred to as “zero UI” in design circles, have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years because of devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. In fact, these devices have proven to be so popular that experts are predicting that three-quarters of homes in the US will have at least one of these devices by 2020.

Zero UI essentially takes away the screen, introducing us to a world where our natural gestures, voice, glances and even our thoughts can be used to communicate with our devices in a seamless, non-intrusive way – almost as if we were communicating not with a machine, but with another person.

The key change to designing for this will be in anticipatory design – the process in which a designer – with the help of artificial intelligence – anticipates the needs and tasks of the user by making pre-emptive decisions on their behalf, in order to simplify the user journey.

Conversational UI

iPhones evolved the field of UX 10 years ago. The exponential improvements in AI and voice recognition technology are guiding us towards a new era of interaction; conversational user interfaces. Allowing us to control and operate devices with voice alone, these conversational interfaces are set to have a major impact on how we design systems and services for consumers.

That said, it’s important that we don’t view this as a different direction for UX, but rather an evolution. We have moved from lines of code, to desktop computers, to touchscreens, and now to voice and beyond.

In terms of designing for this paradigm shift, there are a few main aspects to consider. Similar to screen based design patterns, it’s important to consider that users need voice patterns they are familiar with every time they operate a new app or program. The process needs to be simple and intuitive using universal conversation patterns to execute commands.

It is also important to bear in mind that with voice UI, users have to use their short term memory to remember key phrases to interact with the device. Therefore conversational exchanges need to be kept short and sweet to avoid confusing users.

Among the most fundamental design elements to consider is that, as voice controlled interfaces are invisible, users will not have the benefit of images, buttons or clickable links to guide them around the interface. Because of that, developers and designers must ensure that the voice assistant is providing users with constant feedback and support so they are not left in the dark.

What Could This Mean for UX Designers?

Invisible interfaces are set to have a major impact on the UX sector – in fact, many believe it might be the natural next step forward in UX design. The recent rise in popularity of invisible interface devices have raised consumer awareness of how useful these devices could be in everyday life, and this technology could be set to explode in popularity in 2017, with a host of new software and hardware products coming to the market.

This technology could have a particularly strong impact from an accessibility standpoint. By moving past the need for screens and being able to control devices with nothing but your voice, users with visual or physical impairments will be able to access and use devices completely independently, with no need for external assistance – some for the first time ever.

While this is an exciting transition in UX design, we as designers need to adapt accordingly. Voice interaction represents a new challenge to UX designers and we must acknolwedge and learn quickly as a community if we are to take full advantage of the opportunities this new, seamless technology presents.


Hilary StephensonHilary StephensonJune 14, 2017
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7min523

User experience (UX) is a term that has gained more traction over the last few years – businesses are now realising the importance of not only designing aesthetically pleasing websites and online services, but ones which provide a great user journey too. However, the public sector is one which has traditionally lagged behind when it comes to online services – predominantly as it has lacked the funds and digital know-how.

Indeed, earlier this year the Society of Information Technology Management reported that a third of local council websites failed accessibility testing – ensuring that they work for those with visual, cognitive, auditory, or physical impairments. This comes following the legislation passed by the European Commission in 2016 which ruled all public-sector websites and mobile applications in Europe must, by law, become more accessible. Add to this, recent research we conducted into the UX of 10 UK housing associations (HAs), which found that a number of them are falling behind when it comes to facilitating online users.

This is concerning, considering the fact that as the housing sector – and the wider public sector – continues to face budgetary constraints, HAs are increasingly looking to move more of their services online. Understandable, since it is predicted that the average cost of an online interaction is £0.15, compared to £2.83 per phone transaction and a massive £8.62 for a face to face one. Not limited to solely budgetary savings, in the housing sector a good online experience has the potential to simplify processes, improve customer service and increase tenant engagement.

But, often with limited digital knowledge, how can housing associations and other public sector organisations ensure they’re getting it right when it comes to their online presence?

Top Tips for Improving the Online Experience

 For associations looking to bring their online experience up to scratch, there are some basic things that should be taken into consideration – and while these tips have been created with the housing sector in mind, many will be applicable across various sectors. Creating inclusive online services that work for all users does take time and resource, however, following investment, websites will be more effective, easier to operate, and result in better ROI.

To make a website more usable, HAs should present information in a clear and concise way, ensure essential information is displayed on appropriate areas of the site and implement a visual hierarchy so users are guided through the journey. The design should be uncluttered and the navigation system should be uncomplicated. ‘Call to actions’ need to be clear and HAs should also avoid the use of ‘carousels’ if possible – a popular design trend which can lead to users missing information.

For HAs looking to improve their online self-service, they should consider developing a secure online account system that is easy to locate and operate for all users, ensure tenants can find what they’re looking for within an account, and consider offering a wider range of services online.

Getting Accessibility Right

There are also a number of factors organisations can apply to ensure their website is accessible to all users – something which will become increasingly important as the UK faces a population which is living longer, often with long-term disabilities.

For users with autism, organisations should use simple colours, ensure layouts are uncomplicated and consistent, and make use of descriptive buttons. It’s also important to avoid the use of bright contrasting colours, walls of text and complex and cluttered layouts.

To accommodate those users with a physical or motor disability, a website should have large, clickable actions and provide shortcuts. Websites should be designed for keyboard or speech only use, and should not bunch interactions together or demand precision.

For those who need the assistance of screen readers, layouts should be built for keyboard use and follow a linear, logical structure. Websites shouldn’t only show information in an image or video – it should instead describe images and provide transcripts, ­and avoid spreading content all across the page.

Good contrasts and a readable font size are imperative to accommodate users with low vision. Websites should publish all information on web pages (as opposed to documents such as PDFs), use a combination of colour, shapes and text and avoid burying information in downloads.

For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, it’s important that content on websites is written in plain English with a logical, linear layout in place. Video or audio content should come with subtitles or transcripts and it’s vital to ensure telephone isn’t the only method of contact with the organisation for users.

As housing associations, and the wider public sector, continue on the path towards becoming ‘digital by default’, organisations will increasingly be required to assess the user experience of their websites from the outset. With an increasing number of public services moving online, creating a great UX can not only result in increased efficiencies, but also save costs and bolster an organisation’s reputation.

Interesting Links:


Hilary StephensonHilary StephensonAugust 11, 2016
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9min405

Services are increasingly moving online, and consequently, the usability of websites is becoming much more important. Gone are the days when a cluttered layout, intrusive pop up ads and garish colour contrasts made up an acceptable user experience (UX). Yet, when we recently undertook research into the user experience of some of the biggest travel websites, a worrying number were failing to offer a good UX to everyone – particularly those customers who are blind or partially sighted.

By 2050, the UK is expected to have almost four million people living with sight loss – a big increase from the two million it stands at currently – which means websites lacking in accessibility is not good enough. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the UK spends a huge £31 billion on international tourism every year – and considering the purple pound is worth a massive £212 billion, it’s safe to assume a portion of this is from people with disabilities. Add to this, the fact that The Association of British Travel Agents found that between 2014 and 2016, 89% of holidaymakers booked a holiday online, making it by far the most popular platform for booking a trip. So, why is it that our latest research found that users living with sight-loss struggle to use some of the most popular travel sites?

The research

Our travel report was carried out to uncover how easy some of the top travel websites are to navigate for all users – considering they are the primary channel for most customers when booking their holidays.

The independent research that underpinned the report looked at 10 top travel websites, including Skyscanner, AirBnb, LateRooms, Booking.com, LastMinute, OnTheBeach, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Co-operative Travel, and Expedia. Each of the websites were scored out of a possible 35 points in categories covering usability, how easy the sites are to use across different devices, and accessibility for users including those with physical, cognitive, and visual disabilities. Independent consultant, Molly Watt, who suffers from Usher Syndrome, which affects her hearing and sight, tested the websites for accessibility. On average across all sections, the websites scored a disappointing 23 out of 35 – with their main downfall being accessibility.

If this research tells us anything, it’s that we need a gear-change. Businesses that aren’t doing so already need to take steps to accommodate the fact that an increasing number of their online customers will be living with disabilities.

Where the websites are going wrong with accessibility

A number of the websites were falling at the same hurdles. Six out of the 10 sites were too cluttered – including Booking.com, British Airways, and Airbnb – and almost half of the sites had inconsistent interfaces, making it difficult to easily find your way around the site.  On the Beach was one of the travel companies with a website that needed work in order to achieve the accessibility stamp. The website did have the zoom function enabled so that users with partial sight can enlarge text to make it easier to read (unlike some of the others). But, on seven of the other accessibility points it was scored on, such as having accessible forms and a simple layout, the website didn’t do as well, which rendered it near impossible to navigate for Molly.

Throughout the research it was obvious that the majority of these websites had thought about general usability – most being easy to navigate and understand for the average user. However, although accessibility is key to having an inclusive approach to all customers, it just hadn’t been prioritised in the same way.

The impact this is having on customers

Without a doubt, this failure to be inclusive will have a negative impact on a lot of customers. Molly Watt told us that travel sites with bad accessibility have stopped her from making purchases in the past, which says it all. Hampering their abilities to use travel websites is not only bad for these users, but for the businesses, too.

The majority of people using a travel website are likely to be parting with hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. This means that these companies have a responsibility to make sure that every user feels secure and happy with the service they get online.

There are a number of simple changes that can be easily made to these websites to make sure they are better suited to partially sighted users, which will be transferable to all sectors.

Where to go from here…

To be accessible, websites should ensure their colour contrasts are correct, and avoid all-white pages completely. This is particularly important for form pages. With travel websites, for example, the booking process can be tricky to navigate and complete if the colour of the boxes is the same as the rest of the page. This could hamper a user’s ability to complete a transaction, which has an impact on conversions for the business.

Enabling the ‘zoom’ function, so that people with sight loss can enlarge text on different devices without needing assistive technology, is also a good move. Too many websites have disabled this function as they think having a responsive website, whereby the site resizes depending on the device it’s opened on, is good enough – but you don’t know a user’s intention with your website, so you’re best leaving this enabled.

Other elements to consider are simplifying and decluttering layouts, and building in skip links so that screen readers – technology that allows blind or visually impaired people to read text via a speech synthesiser or braille display – can bypass or ‘skip’ over repetitive web page content, making it easier for those using this technology to digest content.

For a lot of businesses, catering for differing abilities on their website can feel like a minefield. But making these key changes can be of huge benefit to those with partial sight, and in turn could be beneficial to businesses – and in more ways than one. Ignoring accessibility could be isolating millions of users, which is damaging for a company’s reputation, won’t encourage customer loyalty, and in turn will have a negative impact on profits.

Interesting links:




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