Two steps to ensuring usability for every user

man using laptop

Written by Robin Christopherson, MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet

Making sure your websites and mobile apps are usable by the broadest possible audience is essential to ensure that your product is truly competitive. Real-life usability for users regardless of impairment or environment takes two distinct steps.

Step 1: Technical compliance

The first step to ensuring that your products and projects are as inclusive as possible is to use the appropriate handy accessibility checklist and start ticking off those issues you find. Of course for web these are the ‘Website Content Accessibility Guidelines’ (WCAG) found on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website – where you’ll also find lots of useful resources and techniques to test for compliance. Similar guidelines exist for mobile platforms such as iOS and Android.

OK – hands up. Testing your app or website for compliance isn’t necessarily a quick and simple process – but it’s well worth the effort. An accessible product is easier to use by everyone. This makes eminent sense if you think about it for a second; improving an app or website so that it is easier to use by those with difficulties will make it better for all users (particularly when you consider that most of us are now ‘extreme users’ on a daily basis – using our phone one-handed, squinting at our screens on a sunny day, quickly sending a WhatsApp before we rush out the door or order an Uber a little worse for wear). Oh, and it’s also the law.

Step 2: Testing, testing

Great – so now your website, app, e-marketing campaign and customer comms are technically compliant. Fantastic. So what’s the second step?

Well, just as you wouldn’t design a product on paper and then unleash it on the world without a significant bit of user testing, you shouldn’t do the same for your digital products either. Car manufacturers wouldn’t design a new model on a computer and then roll thousands of units off the production line without first doing some serious road-testing. I know what you’re saying; “We always do user testing before we launch any product or update” and I’m sure that’s true, but you aren’t testing it with the right users if you want to ensure true usability by the broadest audience possible. What good is a car that has only been tested in the most moderate of environments? The resulting product would be the car equivalent of the iPhone 4 (remember ‘Antennagate’ which resulted from Apple only ever testing the handset’s reception in and around Cupertino, California, where phone signals are always strong and you’re never “Holding it wrong”).

Testing with users that have a range of disabilities and impairments is vital. The adjacent image is taken from a video by Barclays about user testing on their online banking services to explain the on-going impact that crucial second step is having across their range of products. You really should check it out.

Want some more ammo on the case for extreme user testing? I’d thoroughly recommend reading Ethan Marcotte’s excellent ‘Accessibility is not a feature’ article, in which, at one end of the scale you have the conviction that accessibility can be delegated to the tools you’re using alone (“We don’t have to worry about accessibility. The framework we’re using takes care of it for us”), with conscientious checking for compliance being sufficient somewhere in the middle, and at the other end of the success-spectrum you get the likes of Barclays.

Award-winning extreme user testing

So strongly do Barclays believe in extreme user testing, that no new website or mobile app is released without first being tested (and then badged for customer confidence) by AbilityNet.


Originally posted here

Photo by UKBlackTech

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