Dec 23

Accessibility Zoom
Accessibility is one of those areas that most software engineers and product teams seem to have little or no knowledge of. When it is brought to the attention of the decision makers, I’ve heard all too often, “We’ll do that if we have time at the end of the project” or, “What is that? Why do I care about it?” What’s worse, is that in the eyes of many companies and project leads, they can easily rationalize to themselves why accessibility shouldn’t be included in the development cycle:

“Why would a blind person own a touch screen device?”

“I think you’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“That’s not our target demographic.”

“I can’t see how this would improve our App Store ratings.”

“QA doesn’t know how to test it.”

It’s really sad. Especially when Apple has made it so incredibly simple for us to implement. They’ve done all they heavy lifting for us and simply said, “Carry the baton across the finish line. Please.” And most of us drop the baton.

Honestly, it takes minutes to make your application accessible to a population that all too often gets the shaft. I am a fan of Matt Gemmell. Everything from his tweets to his blog. Even if you’re not a fan, I implore you to read just one article. It’ll make you a better software engineer, and you’ll make your software usable to an audience that seems to lack a voice.

See Matt Legend Gemmell’s article:

John Gruber of Daring Fireball quoted this article as:

Must-read for developers. Both a good high-level overview of what accessibility really means and who it helps, and a technical overview of how iOS developers can take advantage of it. iOS is simply leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in accessibility.

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , , , , ,

Dec 21

I was talking with a fellow UX professional and the conversation quickly turned into a discussion about design. It seems like every product or service has their, “don’t get me started” black-eye. No matter how elegant, wonderful, thoughtful, and well-orchestrated the product is, that bastard child always seems to be present.

Too often we measure the success of our designs by their best behaviors and ideal scenarios. Very rarely, if at all, do we use the worst case as a metric of success. It seems like we put the worst case into a dark corner of our minds and find comfort in the fact that it should be the exception, not the norm.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough.

Acknowledging the flaws is the first step. The second step involves putting yourself in the persons shoes living through that experience. How do you make it right by them?

Garth BrooksGarth Brooks figured this out. Before every concert he personally tours the venue where he is performing with a simple goal; Find the absolute worst seat in the house. Just like designs, every venue has one. Behind some structural pillar, or at the very top row furthest from the stage, etc. Once the concert begins he sends one of his crew members back to those seats with front-row tickets for those people. The people who paid with their hard-earned money to see him perform even if they were the crappiest seats in the house. The deserving fans.

Imagine their surprise when this happens. Their state of mind goes from, “Hey, the seats might suck but we’re seeing Garth Brooks perform live!” to “Holy shit! Garth Brooks just personally gave us front-freakin row tickets!” Garth doesn’t stop there. At some point during his performance he brings them up on stage and sings a song to them.

Best. Experience. Ever.

How does your design or experience work from the metaphorical back row?

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , ,

May 21

Ben Shneiderman wrote in his article Designing for Fun:

The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi talks about the flow experience of optimal performance when people are creatively facing challenges to achieve personal goals. When people are in the flow state they suspend their fears, put aside their anxieties, and engage fully in the experience of the moment. Concentration is intense, time vanishes, and people experience mastery. Sports commentators talk about being “in the zone”; archers talk about the target coming to the arrow.

We’ve all had these moments at some point in our life. If you didn’t click on the flow link above, you should. It’s fascinating stuff and something designers should pack away in their toolbox. In Part 1 of this article we talked about different aspects of the design to see if there was a single silver bullet to great design. There’s not. But don’t be discouraged. The good news is, I have my Three Laws of Great Design. Hey, if Asimov can have them for Robotics, I can have them for great design.

Now here’s where Ben and I agree on what we think are the foundation of a great design:

I believe designers must address three almost equally important goals that contribute to fun-in-doing: (1) provide the right functions so that users can accomplish their goals, (2) offer usability plus reliability to prevent frustration from undermining the fun and (3) engage users with fun-features.

Mine are a little more concise and easier to remember. I call mine the 3 F’s:

  • Function
  • Form
  • Fun

Let’s break these down:

  1. Provide the right functions so that users can accomplish their goals. Form without function might have it’s place in the fashion industry, but not in an interactive medium. Your users need to have a reason to use your product. It might be to blow off some steam in a first-person-shooter, a quick solitaire break at work to distract and entertain, or find that one channel out of the 450 available to you that has the show you want.
  2. Offer usability plus reliability to prevent frustration from undermining the fun. This is why my Mac is fun, and my Windows laptop is not. If my computer crashes, I am immediately ejected from “the zone.” My TiVo was rock-solid. It was dependable and highly usable. My DirecTV replacement fails in both those categories, but they are “functionally” equivalent.
  3. Engage users with fun-features. When the functionality and usability have been accommodated in the design, it is time to add the extra touches and flourishes that delight and amuse users. Apple did this by taking something as lame as data backup and making it very engaging with Time Machine.

I just attended the Vancouver International Gaming Summit and the Opening Keynote was an interview with Shane Kim, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Game Studios. Towards the end of the interview he was asked,

“Canada is a country of about 30 million, yet there seems to be a tremendous amount of great content coming from here. Why do you think that is?” His answer came quick.

“Canadians like to goof off.” He was quite serious. Shane still lives in Vancouver so he can get away with saying that before the session turns into a hockey bench-clearing brawl. He continued on.

“Canadians like to have fun. It’s very much a part of their culture, their being, who they are. That comes through in the games they make.”

What does that mean? Well, I think that means your signature in the design. Your mark. All designs have it. What’s yours? If you have a playful personality, it will shine through in your designs if you are working in an environment that fosters creativity. An environment that fosters creativity … sounds like another post to me!

I’d like to leave you with a parting quote from Ben:

It’s great that designers are turning attention to fun, as a separate design space, distinct from functionality, usability, and reliability. Did anyone notice that fun is part of functionality?

Written by Terry Blanchard \\ tags: , , ,