Last week, we began looking at the time-honored 10 Usability Principles, and made parallels between them and accessibility. Because, at their root, these heuristics call for clear, clean experiences, it’s not a stretch making that connection. In fact, it only exemplifies how accessibility is deeply-rooted in user experience.
We tackled the first three last time. Now, we’ll look at the next three, then wrap it all up with the final four next week (it is, after all, college basketball tournament time, so why can’t we have a final four of our own?).
All blockquotes are from the Ten Usability Heuristics.
4. Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
Call things by the same name everywhere on your web site or application. Switching around terminology will throw people off. This includes being consistent with links, buttons…all calls to action. You never know who is getting to your site or application on what page, so make sure it feels like a unified experience everywhere.
The Accessibility Slant
Keeping naming conventions the same once again benefits everyone. Someone trying to get through a site with a screen reader appreciates knowing that what’s called one thing on one page, is called the same thing on another. If they are drilling down into a site and therefore quickly skipping through unnecessary information, things should be as predictable as possible.
We’ve talked a lot lately about those with cognitive disabilities. Changing what you call things, particularly key elements like buttons or calls to action, only leads to confusion and frustration.
5. Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
It’s not wrong to have messages telling the user something went awry. But it’s far better to make things so clear that the chance for mistakes are next to nil.
Take for example a form that someone has to fill out on a web page. Identifying up front which fields are required, as well as some basic instructional text before the form, is much better than having them fill out the form, hit Submit, and then finding out what fields are mandatory.
Zappos identifies clearly which fields of their My Account form are required, with asterisks but also by identifying what the asterisk means right up front, before you even get to the form itself.
Another example — imagine you’ve got an application that controls some piece of equipment. If there are settings the user can, if careless, seriously mess up the equipment by altering, maybe put some safeguards in there, like “Are you sure you want to do this?” confirmation prompts.
The Accessibility Slant
Let’s take our form example again. A well-constructed form that clearly identifies the labels for each field, which ones are required, and what format information should be entered (such as stating that the date should be typed XX/XX/XXXX), when encountered with a screen reader, will be presented to the sight-impaired user in a clear, orderly manner.
That same user may avoid the form altogether if the labels are missing or the sequence of the form is confusing. Or, they may get very frustrated when they think they’re filling it out correctly, but then are constantly met with error messages after submitting.
Should we even get started again on CAPTCHA? Nah – just check out my post True Tales of Accessibility Ignorance for the pitfalls that that technological gem often presents.
6. Recognition rather than recall
Make objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
If you have a multi-step process, like a shopping cart, don’t stick all the instructions at the very beginning and make people remember them as they progress through. If Step 5 has important instructions, make sure they are located on Step 5.
Tooltips and an ever-present help section are a couple ways that provide lifelines to users of a website. Don’t make someone hunt down information when it’s just as easy to have it right there, in context.
The Accessibility Slant
This one certainly screams “Be considerate of those with cognitive disabilities!” If someone has troubles remembering or really has to focus and pay attention to what they are doing, it’s unreasonable to expect them to remember key information they read several pages ago.
People may come in to your web site from several different ways, with screen readers or just standard browsers. It doesn’t do them any good if they jump to your “Buy This Product” page but haven’t a clue how to buy your product because all your detailed instructions were off on the home page or the help pages or who knows where.
If your language is consistent, your instructions are up front and in context, and you don’t have glaring ways for users to catastrophically screw up, your experience is well on its way to be user friendly. Principles like these sure seem like common sense, and yet so many web sites and applications fail miserably in meeting them.
Four more to go!