Universal Design; Remembering to remember.

London Tube Map No step access

All stations vs. Accessible stations on the London Underground.
Source: Mappable

Full-screen version with slide control

This brilliant animation shows how severely restricted access can be for TfL customers with mobility impairments, luggage or bicycles. It also succinctly reminds me of the following universal experience design issues…

Technical Debt

Not factoring for accessibility from the outset makes it either prohibitively expensive or impossible to substantially improve the Tubes step-free access infrastructure.

User Empathy

As Don Norman says: “knowing how people will use something is essential. Knowing about the people is essential.” It’s super-easy to become too grounded in your process, design assumptions and product. I love how this visualisation can act as a touchstone for resetting your empathy for those for whom you are designing.

Being observant

I’ve seen the access points on the tube map hundreds of times, but I’d never noticed the bigger picture – how few there are and how this could impact the utility of the system for those requiring step-free access. In retrospect it’s obvious and a reminder about how lessons from the built environment can helps us craft more effective digital experiences.

Show not tell

Showing people a problem, or an opportunity, with a system is a great way to affect persuasion. The simplicity and clarity in this visualisation is something to strive towards in our consultancy and interfaces.

User Acceptance Testing

User Acceptance Testing “I’m just trying to find out if I’m doing what you want me to do.”

Enterprise IT project User Acceptance Testing (UAT) should really be called “User Amelioration Training”.

Two projects, two teams, two meters apart, two very different approaches.

Google PageSpeed Insights User Experience beta


  • Google has extended their PageSpeed Insights tool to include machine tests for aspects of the quality of mobile UX.
  • Suggests that future PageRank algorithms will increase their onus on UX, in concert with query relevance.
  • Currently in beta and does not affect your score.
Google PageSpeed Insights User Experience Beta

The image links to the PageSpeed Insights test for this site.

Why should you care?

Search Engine Optimisation

Whilst this is currently in beta, and does not count towards your score, it suggests that Google is considering increasing the onus it places on UX when considering whether to serve your content in a SERP. I assume that this means that the PageRank algorithm will eventually be updated to down-weight results from sites that do not render properly, or perform poorly, on mobile devices.

Conversions and Competitive Advantage

Building a site or application that is perceived to be fast to download and to render will dramatically affect conversions and experience.

The latest data from a 2014 Radware Report, suggests that 57% of users abandoned pages that took longer than three seconds to download (median download time was 5 seconds). Furthermore the median load time for the top 500 ecommerce sites has slowed by 21% year-on-year.

Consequently building sites and apps that are fast and which are optimised for mobile use will help place your content ahead of the competition; both in practice and in Search.

It’s just good practice

Ultimately serving content in sympathy with user tasks, scenarios and contexts of use is just good web publishing practice if you want to succeed on the web.

In this regard web performance for UX is similar to factoring for the needs of diverse users and their accessibility requirements. It’s simple to do, guidelines, like WCAG and BS 8878, exist to provide practical assistance in compiling with best practice, the benefits are likely to extend across many audiences and they may be expensive to retrofit.

What does PageSpeed Insights UX beta test?

Firstly it can only test structural attributes that are easily understood by machines and so the usual caveat applies…

  • be careful with literal interpretations of any recommendations
  • remember that machine testing can’t check for content or subtle usability issues


Size tap targets appropriately

I assume that PageSpeed Insights uses an interpretation of Fitt’s Law to check whether the links, or buttons, on your webpage can be easily tapped on a touchscreen. This aspect of mobile UX is similar to factoring access issues, like motor-control impairments, or use-case scenarios, by ensuring that the interface is operable through suitable target sizes for its controls.

Avoid plugins

Essentially: you will be penalised if you place the burden on the user to find and install Flash, Silverlight, Java or any other proprietary software to serve your content. This suggests that Google advocates the use of native and open web technologies, like HTML5, to support rich media across all devices.

Viewport configuration and sizing

The viewport is the actual viewable area of a browser window, including any chrome from the application itself.

Google prefers content that can be served in manner that is in sympathy with the constraints of the users device. In practice this means using responsive design rather than an “m.dot” custom mobile site.

They also require that you explicitly configure your metadata to instruct the browser to control the pages dimensions and scaling so that it fits the users screen properly.

Use legible font sizes

Pretty straight forward to understand, and a final example of how usability, accessibility and mobile optimisation intersect.

Enterprise IT: the complexity-simplicity tradeoff

Making life easier for employees requires much more ongoing hard work from management and IT. It takes management time to save employees time and managers are simply not prepared to make that sacrifice.

…painfully true and why the User Experience function needs to be included in Enterprise IT software selection, intranet information architecture and/or the boardroom.

Updated, 12th March

A great and timely article from the Harvard Business Review on The Rise of UX Leadership. The core argument is that more senior managers are buying-into user-centred design for their products (the ‘Steve Jobs’ approach).

However it cautions that these leaders need to have a real understanding of UCD if they are to affect designs that are aligned with validated user needs, else they may end-up shipping products with that still have feature bloat, or are too complex, albeit unintentionally.

As usual Leisa Reichelt is right on the money with when it comes to practical UX matters noting in a recent interview that…

…it’s very easy to say that customers are your number one priority, but for most it will require some pretty fundamental change to actually follow through on this, and most aren’t up for it.

Lean UX and co-location

Nothing is more effective than walking over to a colleague, showing some work, discussing, sketching, exchanging ideas, understanding facial expressions and body language, and reaching a resolution on a thorny topic.

Jeff Gothelf

Finally got around to reading my copy of Lean UX that I won at UX London 2013 (!)

Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Accessibility