Design for All: Building Easy-to-Use Tools and Applications for Everyone
July 20, 2018 in Informed Decision-Making
By Tracy Compton
Last month on this blog, the FMP team focused on the change management process and how being strategic during change has significant benefits to organizations. Often the IT work we do at FMP has a significant change management component – we are either modifying a tool, creating a new tool, or creating dashboards to inform and make important business decisions. It is our goal to make change as smooth as possible by both thoughtful communication and developing tools that are easy to use by everyone.
The tools and systems we help develop are used by federal agencies, state and local government, non-profit organizations and by our private sector clients. Some are as simple as an Excel spreadsheet that will be used by a few people while other projects require us to evaluate the best way to interconnect multiple systems to share data and increase efficiency. During each project engagement, we have early and frequent discussions on how to reduce the stress of change and how we can build our tools, applications and websites to make the transition as smooth as possible.
How do we make that transition the easiest we can? At FMP Consulting, we focus on creating tools with user-centered and universal design principals. We believe that understanding the needs of our users leads to delivering high-quality products that can be used by everyone – especially in times when people using our tools, applications and websites have diverse needs and requirements.
What is User-Centered Design?
User-Centered design is the process by which a tool is created by understanding the user of the tool, their requirements, and ways of using the tool and then building the tool to fit those needs. It is an iterative agile process that allows for modification of design based on feedback from users and the team.
We put users and their needs first by learning about them and having them participate in the review of the functionality of the tool. Our usability experts advocate on behalf of the users to the programmers and clients to make sure the tool will meet their needs.
Why User-Centered Design?
Because it is the best way to make an application, tool or website that efficiently fits the need of the users. It makes better tools. Having early and frequent feedback from the people using the tool you are developing creates a product you can be confident works well for them.
- It reduces the cost to develop and the labor to use. Making changes early in the development process reduces re-work and creating tools developed with user input allows their feedback on increasing efficiency and ease-of-use.
- It helps determine a minimally viable product (MVP). Your users will tell you when a tool is ready to be used in its most minimal form. This can be released for use by your users while you build additional features.
- It increases satisfaction. It creates better tools, built quicker, with input from users. What’s not to love?
What is Universal Design?
Universal design is the method to develop an application or tool that can be used by almost everyone regardless of age, ability or disability. There are seven key principals to universal design and each of these individual principals could have a blog post written on them alone (Would that be helpful? Let us know).
In quick summary, the universal design principals are:
- Equitable Use: Making sure your application is accessible for everyone instead of providing “accessible” versions. Example: A website that is tagged properly so screen reader users can successfully navigate and use it.
- Flexibility in Use: Designing with the understanding that different people use and learn in different ways. Example: A training video that has captions as well as a full transcript available.
- Simple and Intuitive: Creating an application that is easy to understand regardless of the user’s language and educational or concentration level. Example: Using plain language principals in writing content for applications.
- Perceptible Information: Developing a tool that presents the information in a way that can be understood by all users. Example: Providing sufficient color contrast for people with color blindness or making sure font size on your application can scale for elderly and people with low vision.
- Tolerance for Error: Making sure your tool reduces/minimizes the risk of making a mistake. Example: Creating “Are you sure?” pop-ups on an application and making buttons large and easily selectable.
- Low Physical Effort: Creating an application that requires low physical effort. Example: Creating a “skip navigation” link for screen reader users so they can jump right to the content to reduce the number of keyboard clicks.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use: Creating an application in a way that can be used by anyone, no matter their mobility. Example: Ensuring your application can work with voice control assistive technology.
Why Universal Design?
There are many short and long-term benefits of making sure your application is usable by the largest group of people possible by applying universal design principals. Here are a few:
- It reduces the long-term costs of managing multiple versions of a tool or application.
- It reduces the potential risk of litigation.
- It increases the potential user base for your application.
- It creates easy to use, easy to understand applications increasing the probability that it will be used successfully.
FMP takes great pride in assuring the applications it develops are accessible by everyone. We don’t believe in making applications accessible for only compliance or contractual requirements sake, we are committed to providing applications that can be used and enjoyed by all people. It is our goal that a diverse group of users can use the products we develop equally, successfully, and enjoyably.
If you are interested in learning more about FMP’s capabilities in this area, please reach out to us at BD@fmpconsulting.com.
About the Author: When not advocating for universal design principals and the needs of the user in application development, Tracy is usually found driving her kids to dance or swim class.