Quick Tip: Start Thinking About AccessibilityOne aspect of usability that I haven't spent a lot of time exploring here is accessibility. Depending on your company or industry, this is a subject that may or may not mean a lot to you. A simple definition of accessibility is that it is concerned with making all of the functions of your application readily available to as many people as possible, regardless of ability. This may take the form of a well-designed webpage that behaves properly when accessed by a screen reader device for a visually handicapped user or making sure that if you design a drag & drop feature that there is an equivalent way to carry out the action for a user that is unable to use a mouse. Certainly making your applications completely accessible can add an entirely new dimension of complexity to the design process, but you can start by taking small steps when you are working in your prototype phase (you *are* using LFPs, right?). When you are working on an initial design for an application, take some time to consider any challenges various user types might encounter when working with your application. Then, try to figure out ways to mitigate these challenges while still providing a compelling experience for the majority of your users.
Let's take a very common example from Lotus Notes applications. Almost everyone can find at least one app in their environment that has views that utilize colored icons to denote some kind of status. Maybe it is a project tracking program and the adherence to the project schedule is represented by a red, green or yellow icon. Pretty standard, right, and easy to understand? Yep, most certainly...unless you are color blind. In this case, those icons might all look the same and without some other type of indicator, that user cannot determine which projects are in trouble and which are doing well.
How might we rectify this situation for our color blind user while maintaining our simple paradigm of using icons to denote status (which allows us to effectively use our screen real estate to show other important info)? One idea would be a slight redesign to use different shape icons in addition to different colors. Thus, our initial design becomes:
With this very simple tweak, we can still make effective use of icons to relay document information, still use color (which in this case is a powerful metaphor) and enhance the accessibility of our application for our visually challenged friend. Not a bad day's work for a small investment in time.
Accessibility is, as you would expect, a very broad topic and I've just scratched the surface with a simple example. What I hope to accomplish with this post is to get you thinking about the topic so it can be in the back of your mind the next time your start working on a design. Anytime you can overcome these small hurdles, your application is on its way to better usability. Good for you!
The screenshot here was respectfully taken from Automation Centre's excellent Tracker suite. Check 'em out.