types of design and tests
To solve the issue of Web site accessibility, different groups are needed. Here, we offer you a brief introduction for Web developers about the different accessible design strategies, philosophies and methodologies, focusing on the methodological framework known as Inclusive Design.
A controversial concept used as strategy to improve Web site accessibility is Universal Design, known in Europe as Design for all, that is a product and environment design so that great amount of people possible can use it, without needing to adjust it or get specialized design.
Although when a Web product complies with certain general accessibility criteria, it benefits all users, including the non disabled people or the ones limited by context of use, the fact that one final design may imply an interface equally useful for all kind of users is not that clear. An example would be a clearly textual design that, although accessible for users without visual disability, it would not be so for blind people and quite inaccessible for deaf people, since a much more visual design (images, animations,…) would be more appropriate for them.
Besides general design strategies, Web developers need specific methodologies to design usable and accessible Web products. Although User-Centered Design (UCD) methodological approach assuming that the whole design process must be carried out by the user, his needs, aims and features- accepts the need for user participation in design process, it does not represent a work framework in itself to meet disabled users’ needs.
When we talk about Inclusive Design, we are talking about a UCD improved methodological approach, trying to meet the needs of a wider range of users represented by the "average user".
The Inclusive Design process follows the same reiterative stages than UCD; that is to say, a continous Design-Protoyping-Evaluation. We show you below techniques and methods to use, focusing on Design and Evaluation stages.
Planning: Requirement Determination
Every project begins with planning. In this requirement determination stage, the objectives of the product to develop must be set, users’ needs, how the product is going to meet those needs and what the technical requirements are for that purpose.
Since we are talking about Inclusive Design, it is clear that one of the project aims is to meet all users’ needs through and accessible and usable design, even for disabled people or people on an unfavourable context of use.
Therefore, object and needs must be determined on this stage, also for disabled users, elderly people or users limited by context of use (who will access the product through non-standard devices such as electronic agendas, WebTV,...), since, although they will share aims with the "average user", their access needs will be different.
This information about the user ("collected through surveys, observation, interviews") will be compared with the project aims, so as to determine which project requirements to begin working with.
This user modelling is based on determining users’ classes or profiles so as to design with the objective of meeting the particular needs of each user group. This modelling is always carried out based on the users’ information obtained on the planning stage.
Types must be defined based on common characteristics among users, such as the user’s information needs, for instance. On an Inclusive Design process, we can also determine types and profiles dividing users according to their access restrictions, distinguishing among different types of restrictions and putting users with similar or equivalent limitations together.
The problem of this user modelling technique is that when the audience is too large and heterogeneous, a complete audience categorization is not possible. This user modelling technique is based on the determination of users’ archetypes, which represent patterns of behaviour, objective and needs. These archetypes, called "people", are narrative descriptions of users, who, although fictitious, have profiles and characteristics based on research on Web site actual audience. All the features and characteristics of the archetype must be based on real information collected from Web site users, since if the data were invented, this technique will not be useful at all. "Scenarios" must also be determined: descriptions of situations of product used to contextualize "person"-system interaction.
The "people" determined, that cannot be over 3 or 4 different ones cannot represent all Web site users, because that is not their mission, on the contrary of what the audience categorization was intended for. The objective of this technique is to act as support for the decision-taking on product design, allowing the developer to design focusing on the user. This user can be considered "real" since, although it does not belong to the real world, its description is based on it and therefore represents a large group of real users.
In the context of Inclusive Design, we can define "people" having as a feature a type of disability or individual limitation or "scenarios" with reduced product accessibility. Thus, the designer will have in mind a “real” user to design for and will be always aware of which type of design will mean an accessibility problem for the user and which one will not.
As we said at the beginning of this page, a unique design cannot meet the interaction needs of all users. A quite common option among self-called “accessible” Web sites is to provide alternative versions, such as the popular "only text" version or the different languages. These "versions" are useful to increase users’ coverage, although they imply problems for synchronized content management and update.
A more efficient option, although technically more complex, is to design interfaces dynamically adjustable to users’ needs. A Web site could, for instance, detect if a user is accessing through a standard browser, an audio browser, a tactile one, etc., and dynamically adjust content shape and presentation.
The best way to assure Web site adjustability is through the division into content, presentation, logical structure and interaction. The division into content, presentation and logical structure, as well as the benefits derived from this design method, is widely known by Web developers. However, the interaction element abstraction is not so widely known. Different users will need different ways of information presentation but also adjusted interaction elements. On the Web, the basic interaction element is the link and, due to its behaviour simplicity, it will not need this abstraction; however, other more complex elements (such as selection lists) should be introduced and they should respond to interaction in a different way according to the user’s characteristics, abilities and limitations.
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