The other day, I was doing a final check for a voter guide project. An elections office had created a sample PDF, asked me to check it and identify any problems, then figure out how to solve them. We’d gone back and forth for a few days.
When I finally sent off the email saying all the ducks were in a row, and that the office could start printing the PDF booklet, I breathed a sigh of relief.
And then, like you do, I took to Twitter to share some of my frustration. Much of my time had been devoted to handling the tedious minutiae of setting, checking, and double-checking technical settings I’d chosen in Word–wondering if I’d checked off the right option. So I tweeted this:
It’s not that you can’t create an accessible pdf from an accessible Word file.
It’s that it’s so easy to get it wrong.
I didn’t expect the tweet to launch a Twitter conversation that went on for two days. The response prompted me to write a longer form post.
PDFs are not always the best way to share information. Most of the time, you’d find me standing at the head of the line advocating for HTML. Sometimes though, PDFs are the right solution. Particularly for long reports or other documents.
For the voter guide project, PDF is the better option. And assuming you begin with an accessible file, turning it into a PDF ought to be the easiest, fastest way to get from digital source to an accessible printed report. Sadly this isn’t the case.
In the voter guide project I just worked on, the source file was Word. I’d heard that InDesign does do a better job of creating PDF files. And while that’s good advice, it doesn’t address the question of why it’s so hard to make a relatively simple, accessible Word file into an accessible PDF.
Worse, I’ve taken a look at the documentation on creating an accessible PDF from InDesign and it doesn’t look that easy. Powerful, yes. But not easy.
Why does it matter if it’s easy or not? You shouldn’t need an expert to create accessible documents! There simply aren’t enough experts to go around. Templates can help. Cheatsheets and checklists are good reminders. If accessible documents require experts to make them, it’s no wonder there are so few accessible documents out there. Without accessible documents, millions of people lose the ability to get the information to participate in their country’s elections.
But this is about more than elections. In every business and university, people create documents every day. People whose expertise or main focus probably isn’t technology or accessibility. This isn’t a criticism. It’s the real world–and we’re not yet serving everyone’s needs.
Designing for accessibility ought to be easy. It ought to be the default for software. The features to create documents shouldn’t be hidden behind 3 or 4 clicks–every single time you need to use those settings.
Here’s what a typical conversation sounds like helping someone through the process:
Them: I know I’m supposed to put alt text on this image, but I can’t figure out where it goes.
Me: It’s in the formatting properties.
Them: Where? I see Glow and Artistic Effects and things like that…
Me: See the little blue square with the arrows.
Them: Oooooh. That’s where it’s hiding.
And that’s a good conversation. Sadly, too many sound like this:
Me: See the luggage tag on the left. Open that. Now click on the thing that says “Tags” at the top of the panel and…
Them: Wait. What….what is all this? This looks…complicated. How am I going to learn this?
Me: Just send me the file and I’ll fix it.
In both cases, creating accessible information has been made harder than it should be, or downright scary. When accessibility is too much work, it’s a hidden tax.
The good news is we can fix this. I suggest two principles for programs that could make the world more accessible:
Make software defaults that support accessibility.
And make sure the defaults don’t actively harm accessibility. For example, the default Word option to “Bitmap text when fonts may not be embedded” seems like a good thing, but it turns text into little snippets of images. You might not notice this with a visual inspection, but it causes real problems for screen readers. Don’t take the option away…just make it clear what will happen. And don’t make it the default.
Make accessibility features easy to find.
Don’t hide or require several clicks to get to these features. Or make users guess at what they mean. For example, the table property to “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” also sets the row as a header for screen readers, but how would anyone know that this is important (or why it’s important). Maybe the default should be that the first row is set as a heading row. It can be changed, but if you do nothing, you have a more accessible table.
So, what happened to the elections project?
If you’re curious, the booklet was turned into 85 versions. They will be voter guides with information about the candidates and measures on the ballot (along with some basics about ways to vote).
There are 85 of them because there’s not just one ballot for the whole county or state. In New Jersey, where we have a lot of local government, each borough, town, and township has a different ballot. In many places, there are overlapping water districts, fire districts and school districts on top of the boundaries for local offices. I’ve seen the GIS mapping layers for suburban Cook County outside of Chicago, and just thinking about them makes my head hurt.
A large county can have hundreds of different ballots. Even a small county might have dozens. Each is a unique combination of contests for one geographical area. Because the schedule is crazy fast, there’s only a few days between when the list of candidates and measures are certified and when the booklets (and ballots) have to be ready to go to the printer and be posted on the web.
Getting it right is important. The right ballot content. The right languages. The right legal notices. And getting accessibility right, too.
But most of all, easy counts.
It’s the only way we’re going to make real progress.
What you can do
P.S. Since the most obvious recommendation is to “take it up with the vendors” when you have a problem–I did. Because if they never hear about the problems, they can’t fix them. I’ve been talking to both Adobe and Microsoft. They both have online forums. If this matters to you, let them know.
Whitney Quesenbery is the co-founder of the Center for Civic Design. She’s passionate about making interactions with government effective and enjoyable, and bringing more design literacy to elections and government workers. She’s co-authored three books— A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences (with Sarah Horton), Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design (with Kevin Brooks) and Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected World (with Daniel Szuc). Follow Whitney on Twitter.
Let’s be honest: many organizations don’t know how to successfully do user research. Too often research gets treated like an item to knock off a checklist just before products get shipped out. Or it’s skipped altogether because “there’s just no time.” Even with good intentions, the lack of in-house expertise can stymie us. We end up conducting focus groups. Or approaching strangers in Starbucks–asking them how much they’d pay for our new product.
We researchers, designers, and product managers want to understand what makes great products that customers will buy, use and recommend to friends. But without research, this can feel impossible.
This is such a pervasive pain point that Rosenfeld Media has made user research the topic of our next virtual conference: User Research for Everyone. The goal: to help you figure out how to build a team that is excited about research and empower it with the tools to make research useful.
Before designing the program, I helped Lou conduct some research (obviously). Research on user research–yep, pretty meta. Almost 200 of you weighed in and told us the areas you struggle with most, and who you most want to learn from. The responses clustered nicely into six prevailing topics:
“How do I convince people research is important?”
Convincing leaders and teams to see the value of user research is the top question you submitted. We agree. Research works when everybody is on board, but making people care is challenging. Especially if you work in a large organization and need to persuade multiple stakeholders with competing agendas.
“How do I turn this research into better products?”
We’re often told to get out of the building and talk to users, but that can create a five-story pile of research. Distilling and choosing the right insights to inform product decisions is time consuming and daunting.
“How do I make sure everybody understands the research?”
Research can only inform design decisions if everybody on the team understands (and agrees on) the results. How many of you have created a 30-page deck that nobody ever looks at? Many of you said you’re eager to discover more compelling ways to share and evangelize research that people want to absorb and use.
“How can we do this faster and cheaper?”
Most of you face real budget or time constraints–making research seem like a pipe dream. But it doesn’t have to stop us from learning from users. A lot of respondents want techniques for doing remote research to cut costs, or to shorten the timeframe to work better in an agile environment. Luckily, there are a lot of tools and tactics available these days to help make good research achievable and affordable for any budget.
“How do I pick which research to do?”
Many of you have difficulty picking the right methodology to answer your questions. Even experienced researchers can struggle to understand how to incorporate quantitative data into the research process. Many of you request better frameworks for deciding which research to do when.
“How do I get more participants?”
Even when you’ve got a good understanding of who your users are, there’s still the challenge of getting them to talk to you. This can be especially tough when you’re in the early days of a product development and don’t yet have real users. In established companies, you need to coax sales or marketing people to let you talk to customers. There are better ways to reach the right users without resorting to begging or bribery.
Getting to Answers
Join us on October 11, where we’ll tackle these important questions with the experts you requested most: Abby Covert, Steve Krug, Erika Hall, Nate Bolt, Leah Buley, Cindy Alvarez, Julie Stanford and me (as moderator). The program includes Q&A opportunities with every expert–so you can ask your most top-of-mind questions.
Buy a ticket for yourself–or your team and build the user research toolkit you’ve wanted. Your ticket also gives you unlimited access to downloads and replays of the full program in case you can’t make it.
Thanks to all of you who participated in the survey. Hope to see you there! And hit us up with any questions and thoughts below.
Laura Klein is a Lean UX and Research expert in Silicon Valley who teaches companies how to get to know their users and build products people will love. She’s a Rosenfeld Media expert and author of UX for Lean Startups (O’Reilly). Her newest book, Build Better Products, comes out in late 2016. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog and podcast at Users Know.
I’m thrilled to let you know that our next virtual conference—User Research for Everyone—takes place October 11. If you have a team or colleagues (e.g., developers and product managers) that need to get familiar with the basics of user research, this is spot on. Or if you’re a new user researcher or just need to brush up your skills, you’ll definitely benefit from attending and learning from a fantastic lineup of speakers.
User Research for Everyone is a one-day affair that works well for a team ensconced in a conference room (don’t forget to order in). Or join in from home in the comfort of your slippers and PJs. If you have to get up and walk the dog, no worries—the entire day’s recordings are included with your registration.
Laura Klein and I are curating the event, and we did extensive user research to develop the program and speaker lineup (and if you helped: THANKS!). So we’re pretty confident that you’ll enjoy what we’ve come up with:
- Just Enough Research with Erika Hall
- The Right Research Method For Any Problem (And Budget) with Leah Buley
- How to Find and Recruit Amazing Participants for User Research with Nate Bolt
- Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing Discussion/Q&A Session with Steve Krug and Laura Klein
- Creating a Virtuous Cycle: The Research and Design Feedback Loop with Julie Stanford
- Making Sense of Research Findings with Abby Covert
- Infectious Research with Cindy Alvarez
One last note: the early bird registration deadline is September 13. Hope you’ll join us in October!
Want to join the Rosenfeld Media team?
This is a new position, and it’s a critical one—you’d be responsible for managing two major revenue streams: our corporate training (60+ courses that are taught onsite by our our 50+ experts) and sponsorships at our events (like Enterprise UX and virtual conferences like User Research for Everyone). It’s a full-time role, with benefits, a good base salary, and unlimited commissions. Position description below; apply here.
Corporate Sales Executive
Rosenfeld Media is well-known for publishing cutting edge and well-loved user experience (UX) books, producing successful conferences, and top tier on-site courses for many major corporate clients. We’re seeking a Corporate Sales Executive to create and grow relationships with corporate clients who sponsor our conferences and contract with us for corporate training.
As our Corporate Sales Executive, you’d be responsible for growing two critical aspects of our company:
- Our Corporate Training Business. We provide short (1-2 day) on-site courses on various facets of User Experience (UX) Design for a variety of corporate clients. Our 60+ courses are taught by what’s very likely the world’s leading roster of UX experts. You will reach out to existing and new contacts to set up corporate training programs.
- Our Conference Sponsorships. Our growing conference business includes the very popular Enterprise UX conference, as well as a variety of virtual conferences that reach thousands of attendees globally. You would craft and sell sponsorship packages for our events that align with our goals, our sponsors’ objectives, and our attendees’ needs.
The ideal candidate is able to:
- Generate new business. You already have great relationships with a network of potential buyers in corporate training and HR departments, or among IT and design groups. And you’re comfortable creating more through research and cold-calling.
- Grow our existing business. You’re the sort of professional we’d feel comfortable introducing to our network. That means you’re open to hearing about our experiences with our current clients, and then learning more from them directly.
- Pivot effortlessly. You’re comfortable with the fact that you can turn a corporate training lead into an event sponsor, and vice versa. And you can also introduce them to our other lines of business (e.g., registering for our conferences and purchasing our books).
- See things through. Your work doesn’t end once the sales process concludes; in fact, seeing the relationship through impresses our clients and provides you with more opportunities to learn from and sell to them.
This is a full-time position, located at our Brooklyn, NY office. We offer an attractive salary and an incentive package with no earnings limit. Generous benefits include health insurance and paid time off. You should also value the fact that we’re a small company that values transparency and takes pride in its informal, open, and honest culture.
Here are some things that we require. You:
- Have at least five years sales experience, with a proven track record in IT, HR, events or other relevant field
- Ae an organized self-starter who enjoys working independently
- Communicate really, really well—both verbally and in writing
- Have a bachelor’s degree in business or a related area
Want to apply? Send us:
- Your resume
- Your salary history
- A cover letter which indicates that you’ve spent at least a moment or two learning about our company
Please use this form to submit your resume and cover letter.
Big news today: Rosenfeld Media is launching a new line of books called Digital Reality Checks! They’re designed to help all kinds of digital professionals—not just from the UX tribe, but IT, marketing folks, and others—make sense of the expensive, often overhyped software tools that large organizations depend upon.
The first one in the series—Theresa Regli’s Digital and Marketing Asset Management—is now available for purchase. Oh my god: digital asset management has become a huge problem in almost every organizational setting, and I’m thrilled to help address it. Buy it in paperback or ebook from our store or Amazon.
Future Digital Reality Checks books will cover similar challenges, like web content management and marketing automation. Expect to see 6-8 of titles over the next couple years.
You might be scratching your head a bit. “Digital professionals” don’t necessarily sound like people focused on UX. Or you might find these topics a bit unfamiliar and technical.
But we’ve already noticed that you are changing. The kinds of people who read our books and attend our conferences are no longer purely UX folks by any stretch, and interests are bleeding together.
For example, one of the most popular themes at both Enterprise UX 2015 and 2016 conferences was design systems. People are clamoring for better tools to support creating better experiences that scale well in large organizations. In many cases, the outcome is dependent upon the efforts of all sorts of “digital professionals;” in other cases, those professionals are the beneficiaries of strong design systems. As Peter Morville would say, they’re all intertwingled.
This shouldn’t be surprising, and it’s nothing new: disparate tribes came under the UX umbrella years ago. We’re only going to see more convergence, bigger umbrellas, and the sunset of disciplinary tribalism. I’m not fan of tribes and priesthoods, so I find it thrilling!
And it’s exciting for me that Rosenfeld Media can play a small role in accelerating and strengthening those connections through our publishing and conference planning efforts, just as we have for UX. We’re so happy to help mix marketing and IT people into the pot. We’re stronger together.
I’m also thrilled to have a partner in all this: Tony Byrne and his team at Real Story Group, who are writing the Digital Reality Checks books. They’re a fiercely independent group of analysts that has taken a very no-bullshit approach to the enterprise software space—an area that’s typically marked by marketing hype and vendor/analyst conflicts of interest. Real Story Group’s analysts really are focused on understanding digital reality, and they take the same jargon-free, plain language-approach to their craft that we’ve used in Rosenfeld Media’s UX books.
Bottom line: a new line of books for for digital professionals that get at the real story of enterprise software tools. Digital and Marketing Asset Management today, and more to come. And even if it’s not up your alley at the moment, I’m pretty sure someone you work with will benefit from reading it. Please let them know about it.
PS We’re going to launch another new book series in the coming weeks called Two Waves Books. I’ll tell you more about that very soon…
The most interesting places happen at the in-between places.
Val Head’s new book, Designing Interface Animation: Meaningful Motion for User Experience, sits smack dab in between two sub-genres: books that provide broad overviews of animation, and books that show you how to implement animation for interactive products.
Designing Interface Animation is the book you should use to make sense of animation so that you can create a plan for using it in your site. It won’t explain animation’s history, and it won’t show you how to code interactive animation. It provides the missing link—to help you develop a pragmatic, practical plan for where and when to use animation in your products and apps.
Timing couldn’t be better, as it’s getting so much cheaper and easier to take advantage of animation. That’s all the more reason to think it through—before taking a blind and potentially disastrous leap into coding.
Designing Interface Animation is now available for purchase in paperback and four DRM-free ebook formats. You can also pick up a copy from Amazon. If you want a taste, head over to the book site, where there’s an excerpt as well as an FAQ, lots of nice testimonials, and a really swell foreword from Ethan Marcotte.
Val Head is a web & UI animation pro specializing in motion style guides and web animation training. Her newest book, Designing Interface Animation, is available for purchase. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her UI Animation newsletter and Motion and Meaning podcast.
This is part 4 in the series Whose Job is User Research.
In this series I’ve been gathering perspectives from experts who develop different types of products. This time I spoke with Celia Hodent, Director of User Experience at Epic Games, a company known for cutting-edge technology and design in the video game industry. Celia also holds a PhD in Psychology so she has tremendous insight into how to use user research to improve the gaming experience.
Who Owns the Research?
It turns out that building games isn’t that different from building anything else. The user experience is a concern for everybody on the Epic Games development team. Research helps them understand more about their design. “The goal of UX research is to test whether design intentions are the ones actually experienced by the target audience,” Celia said. Research also identifies all usability issues that need to be resolved.
Like other great UX designers I’ve spoken with, she says that research should not be separated out from the design process. Research informs and supports the whole design process–which means that everybody needs to be involved.
“Owning the research is not just about conducting the research,” Celia says. “It guides the product team so that they ask the right questions, pose hypotheses, and make sense of the research results in terms of actionable items.”
Who Does the Research?
At Epic Games, Celia relies on expert researchers to conduct the research in the best possible way.
“When it comes to research methodology though,” Celia says, “the people handling research should be the ones who know how to design and carry it out.” Celia outlines four key steps:
- Defining the right experimental protocol to test the product team’s questions
- Running the research
- Analyzing data
- Communicating the results to the entire development team, as well as with other support teams such as Analytics or Customer Service to cross-check results against their data
Professional researchers, and sometimes outside researchers, can also help to reduce bias. “It is very hard to stay neutral when conducting research, even more so when you are part of the development team,” Celia says. Therefore, an expert researcher is more likely to get to the bottom of the research questions without preconceptions or confirmation bias.
When Do You Call in Researchers?
A common mistake Celia has seen companies make is reducing research to usability testing. Too often, product teams forget to involve researchers until after design is complete. By then, all they can do is find bugs.
Instead, Celia recommends bringing researchers into the entire game design process. “Whenever design iterations are conducted,” she says, “which happens as early as pre-production, the designers should pair up with a researcher to run quick-and-dirty tests.” You can use paper prototypes and interactive prototypes–before engineers start implementing a feature. It saves a great deal of time. You’ll find the high level UX issues early—they are cheaper and simpler to fix before you’ve implemented anything.
What To Do If You Don’t Have Researchers?
The truth is that many teams simply don’t have people familiar with good user research techniques. Celia has six tips to running research yourself:
- Prepare your test well: be clear on what your design questions are and design the test to obtain relevant answers.
- Tailor your protocol to your research questions and what you’re testing. For example, to test how gamers understand your heads up display (HUD), you can simply take them through a survey showing screenshots. But, if you’re testing how a new feature is introduced to a player, you’d use a “think aloud” protocol. Ask the participant to play through the game while explaining what their thought process. This shows you if they understand the interface as they go.
- Test with people who don’t know you or your feature. People who know you will be more motivated to make an effort to figure things out just to please you and won’t be as open or honest in their feedback.
- Encourage participants to ask questions out loud during research sessions. Avoid answering their questions to see how difficult it is for them to figure it out on their own. You won’t be there to help customers when they play them in the real world.
- Ask fact-based, non-leading, exploratory questions. For example, “describe how you can use this feature” or “what was the objective of the mission you just played?” Avoid opinion-based questions like, “Was the feature easy to grasp?”
- Look at everything as a whole when analyzing the results. Avoid highlighting only the part of the results that confirm your intuition. This is called “confirmation bias” and it can mislead you.
Want to know more about conducting research well? Check out Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal for practical, easy to use advice on getting more out of your research sessions. Or join us this October for a one-day remote conference User Research for Everyone, featuring 8 of the most respected experts in the field.
Laura Klein is a Lean UX and Research expert in Silicon Valley who teaches companies how to get to know their users and build products people will love. She’s a Rosenfeld Media expert and author of UX for Lean Startups (O’Reilly). Her newest book, Build Better Products, is set for release later in 2016. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog and podcast at Users Know.
I had a bit of a crisis last fall. My pal Andrew Mayfield asked me to keynote UX New Zealand. Of course I was dying to go to New Zealand. But they wanted me to give a new talk, and the very thought makes me sweat. What new things might I have to say about UX? Do I even do UX anymore?
After all, these days I spend my time putting out books and putting on conferences. Web sites and apps? Not so much. I’m not even sure I know the difference between a breakpoint and a touchpoint. So who am I to talk to UX practitioners about UX? 25+ years in the field, yet here I was, suffering from an acute case of imposter syndrome.
Many false starts, meltdowns, and 4am Keynote sessions later, I finally had a breakthrough. It’s not that I don’t do UX anymore. It’s that UX applies to way more than apps and web sites. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the last decade doing extensive UX work on traditional products, like books, and physical experiences, like conferences. So that’s exactly what I covered in my UXNZ keynote. Books and conferences are experiential, so yep: the work still counts as UX.
D’uh. I guess it’s one of those oh-so-obvious observations that aren’t so obvious when they pertain to you.
But it is a liberating feeling. And it’s renewed my excitement about UX, because:where doesn’t UX apply?
Conferences offer almost unlimited opportunities to UX the hell out of stuff. With our last virtual conference—Product Management + User Experience—we found that basing our program on user research was immensely valuable, helping us select both speakers and topics. And many of you agreed; there was a strong correlation between your participation in program planning and your desire to actually attend the event.
So we’re doing it again with our next virtual conference—Design Research for Everyone, which is slated for some time this fall. Here’s our question: What do people who aren’t UX practitioners need to learn about design research?
Please help us do our user research by letting us know who should speak and on which topics—and sharing this with others who might be interested.
What odd contexts are you finding ripe for UX? Please comment below; I’d love to hear your stories of UX in non-traditional places.
A couple years ago, more than a few people—including some of my staff—asked me why Rosenfeld Media wasn’t producing conferences.
With a derisive hand-wave, I crabbed that they weren’t worth the bother. We’d tried a few things, and long story short, I didn’t see the value. “We’ve reached peak UX conference.”
Well, when I’m wrong, I like to go big. Fortunately, those people didn’t listen to me and, in fact, persuaded me that the UX conference business was indeed worth pursuing. We’re about to hold our second Enterprise UX conference, which just might outdo our very successful freshman effort. We’re producing more virtual events (here’s an example), and we also organized our first Advance Retreat earlier this year.
There’s lots going on here, and we need help. Not just with conferences, but with managing our business of connecting UX experts who teach courses with corporate clients.
If you’re someone who strides event management, user experience design, and sales—or who thinks they could—let’s talk. Here’s the position description; have a look, and if it’s up your alley, apply by May 22. Hope to hear from you!
It’s book launch day here at Rosenfeld Media HQ! And somehow, we’ve reached the quarter-century mark: The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love is our 25th title.
Other fields, like filmmaking, have long understood the importance of narrative structure. In The User’s Journey, Donna Lichaw brings that same line of thinking to UX, and demonstrates how storymapping really can help us design and test just about anything—from landing pages to product strategies.
This last point is no exaggeration. For example, we were carefully following Donna’s advice when we developed last year’s Enterprise UX conference program. Thinking about story arc helped us make sure attendees had energy left over for the conference’s reception after an intense day of presentations.
So, while I’m biased, I really do think you’ll benefit from reading The User’s Journey, regardless of what you’re designing. And, at 160 pages, the book is short and sweet.