Takeaways from An Event Apart

Written by Ted Krueger
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If your idea of accessibility is making sure your site hits a specific WCAG score, you’re probably leaving out some users. Maybe accessibility is just one of those things you need to cross off before you deploy to production. We’ve all been guilty of this, I know I have. I think we need to be more empathetic toward our users to give everyone the best experience possible.

This week some of the RIMdev team traveled to the Windy City to attend An Event Apart. According to their website, this conference is the web design conference for UX and front-end experts. This was my second time attending and I highly recommend going. It’s not just a conference for UX or front end experts though. I think it’s a great chance for back end devs or engineers to go and maybe get a better understanding of what their front end team does and how they think.

On the last day, we talked about our thoughts on the conference as a whole. From what I gathered, it seemed to me that the theme this year was accessibility. Some buzzwords that were used frequently were “Accessibility”, and “Inclusive Design”. Khalid was thinking about it from a slightly different perspective. He thought, if the conference was to be summed up in one word, it would be “empathy”. After discussing it further, I think he was right.

He explained the difference between sympathy vs empathy and it made his explanation clear. According to Wikipedia, empathy is “Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.” As UI/UX experts, that’s exactly how we should be thinking.

Jeffery Zeldman led off the conference with a talk about “slowing down” your design for your users. A specific example of his was to make your users want to read a certain text. If you have important text that a user should be reading, you probably shouldn’t have it look like terms and conditions for an app. Zeldman says that we should give users a reason to slow down, using the design so that they want to read the content. Not feel like they have to.

Jason Pamental spoke about how we can use variable fonts to improve not only the look and feel of a site but the accessibility as well. Variable fonts are pretty cool. One font can contain all of the different styles rather than loading multiple fonts. This makes for lighter pages. They scale much nicer than traditional fonts. With a little bit of math, you can create some pretty sharp looking responsive fonts.

Patty Toland showed us just how many potential users there are in the world. Over 50% of the world’s population is online and not everyone has the latest and greatest device to connect. We need to ensure that page speed is included when we think of our users and the bandwidth that they have to connect with.

Val Head spoke about inclusive design when it comes to motion. It’s easy to design something with animation and forget the potential negative outcomes for some of our users. Head explained that there are many people out there who suffer from motion-related illnesses that can see a specific animation and it can trigger a negative reaction for them. For example, someone who suffers from one of these illnesses could be triggered by something as simple as a rotating icon when you hover over it. This is something that might seem simple to use. I love adding subtle animations to the site because they let the user know that something will happen or has happened after an interaction. I never considered the fact that some users could feel physically sick from an animation. I think what it came down to was not to overdo it. We don’t need to load our sites up with unnecessary animations and zooms. Although they look cool, they can cost a lot when it comes to speed and size, and from what I learned while Val Head was speaking, some users can feel very uncomfortable interacting with them.

Derek Featherstone is the Chief Experience Officer at Level Access. During his talk, he mentioned how sites often say: “‘We aren’t intentionally excluding people with disabilities!’” He explained that by saying this we’re admitting that were aren’t intentionally including them either.

Gerry McGovern told an anecdote about how a company wanted their users to be interacting with the carousel on the homepage. The data showed that users were clicking the navigation instead. Rather than figuring out why, or maybe deciding the remove the carousel, they decided to move the navigation to try and force users to interact with the carousel. This is a pretty extreme example, but it still goes to show how we can forget about what our users want or how they might be thinking when they visit our site.

I think it all comes back to empathy. As developers and designers, we do our best to research new techniques to truly give our users the best experience possible while building a great looking site at the same time. We certainly don’t have malicious intent when someone has a bad experience. It’s just difficult to think about everyone. It’s a big world out there. We need to be sure we’re doing our best to think of as many people as possible.

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