Mobile web experience: could do better

People are increasingly using the internet on mobile devices and companies need to provide an equal user experience for visitors accessing their online information in different ways.

However, a recent Gomez/dotMobi report says that mobile web performance is getting worse (in the airline, banking and search industries at least): there’s an increasing gap between ‘traditional’ and mobile websites, with the former getting faster and the latter getting slower.

Are two websites better than one?

Many organisations (such as Vodafone) are producing two websites: a ‘traditional’ one for PCs and another version for mobile browsers. This is generating a lot of discussion in the industry (including among accessibility professionals) regarding the need for – and wisdom of – separate websites.

The arguments are wide ranging, from making the same content available to everyone (without forcing people with different browsers to use a different version of a website) to providing a good user experience across all devices.

It also raises issues of doubling maintenance efforts (and …

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Corporate websites and the case for accessibility

As more and more companies provide and actively encourage their stakeholders to access corporate information online, accessibility is becoming an even greater issue.

Accessible websites benefit everyone, both visitors and business. But research shows that many corporate websites are still failing to reach even minimum accessibility standards.

Accessibility is a legal requirement for many businesses

Service providers in the UK have been legally required to provide accessible websites and applications since 1999. According to the Disability Discrimination Act, businesses have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to make use of its services, including those provided online.

A website’s design should make sure all users can have full and equal access to both services and information. If not, they run the risk of being accused of discrimination against people with disabilities, followed by being sued and receiving a lot of negative publicity.

All visitors benefit from more accessible websites

However, an accessible website isn’t just for people with disabilities. All …

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Simple, clear copy (in any language)

One of the first rules of web copywriting is to use plain English, to give every reader the best chance of understanding your content. Your website is available to the entire world and will have visitors who have a first language different to your own. Don’t forget, however, that native speakers also have differing reading and writing abilities.

Writing in a simple, clear style benefits all users; it makes your website easier to read and understand (communicating your messages more effectively). Concise copy fulfils accessibility requirements for both people and search engines, making your website also easier to find.

Reading ability will vary within your own audience

The W3C’s WCAG 2.0 has a reading level criterion that says if the ‘text requires reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level’, a version that is not more advanced should also available.

This caters for ‘people with reading disabilities [which may include highly educated members of the intended audience] while also allowing authors to publish difficult or complex web content’.

Consider users …

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Mobile websites…or not?

Twitter has been buzzing about Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox newsletter, in which he says:

“To solve the problems [users experience on mobile devices], websites should provide special mobile versions.”

My initial thought was that it makes sense in some cases. This is from the perspective of corporate, not e-commerce, websites, because this is where my experience lies.

Does it depend on audience need?

While mobile users may wish for the same experience as other users, for some audiences (such as investors) it comes down to wanting access to business-critical information as quickly as possible.

If this is via a simple site with limited navigation, then surely the minimal investment makes sense? An example is the Rolls-Royce dedicated mobile site, which has been around for some years.

Accessible websites already cater for mobiles

However, I’m not an expert in this area and it’s been interesting to read others’ opinions, especially in relation to accessibility. A Read More

‘Universal usability’? What’s that?

I’ve stumbled across* an interesting website called Universal Usability. It’s the (free) online version of ‘Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers’, a book by Sarah Horton.

Sarah describes universal usability as going ‘one step further’ than accessibility. Not only does it try to make content and functionality accessible to all users, it tries to make them usable too.

The book covers a range of topics, from document structure to interactivity, with lots of useful examples. A number of sections interest me as an online writer, including text, images (alt-text), links and editorial style.

Much of it is common sense and is similar to recommendations made by groups such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Other parts are simply best …

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Accessibility 2.0 conference

Accessibility 2.0 is a one-day conference looking at practical solutions to accessibility problems in Web 2.0 applications. It is being held in London on Friday 25 April, 2008.

The event is being held by AbilityNet, a charity that helps disabled people use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology.

The day will cover areas such as user-generated content, tools to watch or avoid and assistive technologies.

There is also a session looking at how to build a social network for disabled users. It will use the Disability Information Portal (DIP) as a case study. This is a Web 2.0 site for disabled people, developed by Leonard Cheshire Disability.

It sounds like a very interesting day – registration closes at 3pm on Wednesday 23 April, so book soon if you want to attend.

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Think about the font

One of my favourite blogs is ilovetypography.com. A recent post talks about choosing the right typeface for the job, be it print or online.

The entry’s first guideline is to ‘honour content’, because some typefaces that look good on paper look awful on screen. If it’s not readable, your copy is wasted!

The writer adds that ‘choosing type for the web is easier owing to fewer choices’. It is generally agreed that san-serif fonts are better for page copy for all site visitors to read. They are better for dyslexic readers, for example, because letters are less pixellated and therefore sharper than many serif fonts.

The post adds that these choices are beginning to increase, due to ‘sIFR and ‘web fonts’, so it’s all the more important to think carefully about the type we use’.

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Accessibility – but at what cost?

I was recently asked to take a look at a colleague’s new company website. They’re using a digital agency to redesign the site for a modest, but not insubstantial, sum.

She is new to managing websites and is relying on the agency to provide recommendations regarding site content, including its structure and presentation.

As the project is coming to a close, I was surprised to hear that she had been given no advice regarding, at a basic level, suitable alt tags for images or text layout. This would have taken the agency only a couple of minutes to explain and improved the accessibility of the site for many users. So why didn’t it?

The site was also lacking basic nagivation and orientation features, such as a breadcrumb trail. Which leaves me wondering, how many other digital agencies are charging their clients for basic advice they’re never receiving?

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