Good Designers Design for Good: User-focused experiences create connections with people
To the elation of people everywhere, there has been an upward trend in designing digital experiences that focus on the needs of its users. The federal government recently jumped on board with this trend as well; with accessibility as one of its core mandates, the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) seeks to ensure a better user experience for all citizens. This is a step we at U.Group strongly support—we have long understood that user-focused means including ALL users. Our designers and developers continuously strive to create methods that will improve content accessibility for everyone. This process includes defining the audiences, grouping them by primary needs, and assigning each to a user story. These steps create a road map for creating a user experience that is inclusive and positive for everyone.
Embracing the concept of inclusion has allowed us to place accessibility as a core function of our digital process. This outlook has had an exponential impact on our products, as the steps we take to ensure accessibility influence the overall site structure—including the backend, the information architecture, and the content management. In addition to being more usable, an inclusive site structure also makes sites easier to find, as they adhere to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices. In short, by placing accessibility at the foundation of our process we are able to create technically sound, well-organized experiences that are easy to find, easy to use, and easy to manage—for ALL users.
Creating Inclusive Experiences
Can an experience be considered great if it isn’t accessible? Time and time again, we find that the answer to this question is “No.” Taking steps to ensure our clients receive the advantages of creating inclusive experiences is built into our process. Our work with Better Medicare Alliance (BMA) is a powerful example of how we were able to create a more inclusive experience from the bottom up.
Our dedicated team of strategists, designers, and developers worked with BMA stakeholders and engaged users to identify their core audiences, both current and ambitious. We focused on users’ uniqueness, tech savviness, and any identified disabilities we would need to specifically account for. In doing so, it became clear that our site approach needed to account for varying age demographics and educational backgrounds of advocates, policymakers, and Medicare recipients. Dealing with such a diverse user base meant we needed an expansive strategic approach that could be accessible to varying audiences through a wide range of entry points. We focused on five key areas to define and validate our website redesign:
1. Content Strategy
- SEO Recommendations: this included alt text, meta descriptions, breadcrumbs, and URL structure.
- Content Templates: we enforced plain language standards, text length, and consistent heading structure (wayfinding in body text and across page templates).
- Information Architecture: this included site navigation, content relationships and calls to action to help drive traffic throughout the site.
2. Experience Design
- Photography: this included photo selection, placement, and use case, and we made sure to use alt-text was whenever the photography was imperative to understanding the content.
- Color Contrast: we adhered to a color ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text, and we conducted testing and remediation to ensure the final product adhered to WCAG standards.
- Color Theory: we created consistent use of colors for action items such as buttons and links, without making the color a required factor for understanding the content.
3. Browser Testing
- Browser Rendering: we checked to make sure BMA’s site rendered properly in all modern desktop and mobile browsers, as alignment issues can impact readability and access to functionality.
4. Accessibility Testing
- Keyboard Compatibility: we checked the keyboard experience for those with visual impairments to ensure proper reading order and tab-through access to functionality, specifically dropdown menus, tabs, etc.
- Screen Reader Testing: we made it a priority to ensure all content was accessible and clear for those using screen readers for the site content, with a focus on length of descriptions, reading order, and clarity.
Creating accessible content and designs from scratch was only a part of the process. The major challenge was determining how best to migrate existing content from the old site to the new one while maintaining accessibility standards.
- Testing Content Types: We migrated content one content type at a time in order to run each of the above tests on existing content in the new environment in order to identify errors.
- Remediate: Once we identified any errors, we applied the developed content strategy and established experience design approach to the old content, bringing it up to code with the new.
Inclusivity is a Process
As a user-centered organization committed to creating human-centered technology, accessibility is at the core of our brand promise. Following the “leave no (hu)man behind” approach, we understand that this includes audiences with disabilities, limited access, and marginalized communities. We know accessibility doesn’t simply happen by default and is only accomplished through an established process that includes understanding the current environment (users and atmosphere), designing an inclusive experience, and measuring both the usability and accessibility—with a rinse and repeat approach that only concludes when usable turns to accessible, then accessible turns into optimal.