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World Usability Day 2020

Accessibility

Since we're still in the midst of a pandemic, it was in the comfort of my own home that I virtually attended a conference that I have attended in person in the past. World Usability Day has been a conference that blends user experience, accessibility and usability together to discuss inclusive design and experiences, and does a great job of looking at design problems from various angles for all-around solutions. Just my cup of tea. This year was no different, with four virtual talks being diverse in subject matter and eye opening in different ways.

Why does Siri Sound White?

This discussion was an interesting look into how voice technology has been developed sounding mostly like white women or men with a particular dialect. This makes it difficult for people with different dialects—or those with accents due to English being their second language—to have positive or even usable experiences with voice technology. It was a real eye opener to see how the power of something as prevalent in our society as voice technology is training people to lose their own cultural dialects and references. What makes it worse is the fact that by far the widest use cases for voice technology is in vehicles and homes, which trains users to ditch their cultural dialects and phrases in the comfort of their own individual lives.

What needs to change, may you ask? The message here was using a variety of methods to teach voice technology to better understand phrases in context, along with emotions. More effort needs to be put towards polysemy, or the coexistence of many possible meanings for words and phrases. Voice technology also needs to be trained in natural language processing for accents and dialects.

Long story short? Voice technology can do a lot for us. But it's also a big danger in tamping down diverse dialects and accents, and not in support of an inclusive society.

Infusing Accessibility Throughout the Whole Digital Creation Process

This talk was about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau learned to incorporate accessibility over time into their processes. The organization was formed after the 2008 recession, with aims to make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole. With such a large federal agency with a wide breadth of responsibility, it was important to bring together design, UX, and accessibility to communication tools and information in an easy to understand way.

The Bureau started with two systems, one for design and one for accessibility. Issues that arose from this approach were that design specs didn't always include accessibility items to watch out for and address. It also created a blind spot for designers and developers, who couldn't see how certain features or tools weren't working for everyone. It also made it difficult to work with contractors with different levels of knowledge.

The solution to these issues? Integrate design, intent, and code altogether and merge the systems. Now, the Bureau's system explicitly includes and describes accessibility needs for as many elements as they can, and shows interactive states. Accessibility reviews and audits also take place on a regular basis, along with QA and testing being built into creation processes. This approach increases efficiency as everyone collaborates together, and makes for fewer issues requiring remediation.

Looking Forward Designing for our Future Selves

This talk was about how it sounds. How would you design something for your 60-year-old self? Your 80-year-old self? The idea is that in order to create an inclusive product, we should be designing in ways that keep different stages of life in mind, such as these:

  • Vision and Hearing: Avoid small font sizes, using only color for state changes, etc.
  • Relationships: Foster connections with smaller, more important groups of people instead of big, undifferentiated networks.
  • Motor Control: Reduce the distance between interface elements that are likely to be used in sequence, but keep the size and spacing large enough to avoid accidental interactions.
  • Lifestage: Don't form content or functionality around assumptions of the audience being young or at a certain stage of life.
  • Technology Experience: Don't make assumptions about users having prior knowledge and evaluate the usability of every aspect.
  • Memory: Avoid splitting tasks across multiple screens if they require information from previous actions, and don't introduce all features at once.
  • Attention: Allow for greater time intervals in interactions, and avoid dividing attention between multiple tasks or parts of the screen.
  • Universal Design Principles: Strive for using universal design principles in your work:
    • equitable use
    • flexibility in use
    • simple and intuitive to use
    • perceptible information
    • error tolerance
    • minimum physical effort

Together, we can create inclusive designs that will foster the participation of older people in the workforce and in interactions with younger society.

Heuristics: The Holy Grail of UX

Heuristic evaluation is a usability inspection method that helps to identify usability problems in a user experience. This speaker explained how heuristics is a main pillar of UX but is largely overlooked. He outlined several standards for usability evaluation, including best practices, proven principles, common convention, and reliable standards. Heuristics are reliable and trustworthy, and aid in overcoming bias, politics, self-directed design, and HiPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion). While heuristics are not a substitute for usability testing, and won't find 100% of issues, it can be incredibly valuable to get rid of 90% of usability problems out of the gate.

Conclusions

Once again the World Usability day conference offered a wide range of topics to cover the spectrum of usability. I for one intend to look more closely at ways to infuse accessibility into our own design and development processes, as well as looking at the UX of my own work with a critical eye.