Phones and Accessibility

When the iPhone was first announced in 2007, the one aspect I thought could be a bad idea for at least one group of people was the lack of any keypad. The all glass interface seemed most unfriendly in terms of not being able to feel the keys – at the time, an essential method for people with poor or no sight.

But there have been other developments in that time too. Below is an amazing video of a blind person using his iPhone to take pictures and post them to Facebook. Keypad interaction not required. But what’s most beautiful is the comment ‘I never had a camera before’. It’s a great example of how technology can be a great leveller and bring equality in so many different ways.

Video source: Kottke org – How blind people use Instagram

Intranet design for aesthetics vs function

Picture of a pocket watch on Flickr

Whilst presenting earlier this year, I caused a mini-storm amongst some members of an audience by saying that branding of intranets is a vanity project. Some read this to be against visual design. It wasn’t. Designing to improve usability can lead to significant business benefits and should be part of any Intranet project. Corporate branding is about making a visual statement. In my opinion, that makes it a vanity project.

Vanity projects are not bad, I just get concerned when they take priority. I’ve been in meetings where people have wanted to create a bespoke design for the Intranet just so that ‘it doesn’t look like <insert product name>’, regardless of the costs or benefits and showing little interest in the purpose or content of the Intranet. This most often occurs when someone in the room fancies themselves as an amateur Steve Jobs.

Today I stumbled across a post by the wonderful Kevin Kelly from April 2011. It wasn’t the post so much that reminded me of this debate, but a rather brilliant comment:

As someone solely responsible for maintaining a very large hotel, here are a few other other things I’ve noticed about the nature of maintenance — There are mostly two types of maintenance — interior systems (plumbing, HVAC, electrical, lockware, audiovisual, web access) and exterior surfaces (carpet, paint, wallpaper, tile, upholstery) Maintaining interior systems requires special technical knowledge while exterior surface repair emphasizes craftsmanship. Interior systems speak to convenience and comfort while exterior surfaces address aesthetic desirability. In terms of the individuals who carry out these repairs, it is a rare soul who is equally skilled in the interior and exterior, as most seem to specialize in one or the other, i.e. with regards to expertise, there is seldom overlap.

If you look at just about every device, virtual or physical, this observation rings true.

Great products have thought through both the interior and exterior design. Good products usually have a strong interior let down by a clunky exterior, or over-complicate the interior, but ‘good enough’ may be sufficient if the desired outcomes are achieved. The label ‘lipstick on a pig’ is reserved for those with great aesthetics masking empty promises. Desirability is only possible if convenience and comfort are satisfied.

Image used in this post via Flickr, courtesy of Michael Hanscom

Why design means compromise

Catching up on podcasts, I was recently listening to ‘An hour with Bill Buxton’ recorded at Microsoft’s Mix conference in 2010. Bill Buxton is Principle Researcher at Microsoft Research and an early pioneer in human-computer interaction

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Simple usability

Message to attach a file in Gmail

I’m currently living inside Gmail for all email as a problem with my ISP settings is giving Outlook some headaches and it can’t send/receive email for the moment.

I clicked Send on an email to a client this morning, and up cropped the above message. Yes, I had indeed talked about attaching a file and not actually attached it. Hardly the first time for me 🙂 But that’s the first time an email client has stepped in to help. The feature may have been around for years for all I know, I normally send attachments via Outlook.

Today, by simply having a trigger that checks the content of an an email and if it includes the words ‘find attached’ then the email should also have a file attached, Gmail saved my butt from another ‘Yikes, did I forget to attach the file…?’ moment.

Usability isn’t just about going ‘oo’ and ‘ah’ over a more intuitive interface with touches and swipes or a beautiful design that makes you stop and stare. It’s about technology being a help rather than a hindrance, often in ways you don’t (need to) know about until the right time or situation occurs.