On Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion in Design

An Interview with Exago BI Product Designer Duke Kisch

Sep 21, 2018

Nicole Hitner

So today, September 25th, is World Interaction Design Day, an event launched by Adobe in partnership with the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). You are Exago’s UI designer, but you also have responsibilities that bleed into UX and IxD (interaction design). For those a little fuzzy on these terms, what’s the difference between UX, UI and IxD design?

Over the past 10 years in software, being a ‘designer’ has transitioned away from just being the person in charge of drawing pictures. There are now multiple fields of design dedicated to making software more accessible to the most important person of all - the user. Web and mobile applications have become a ubiquitous part of daily life, where it has become paramount to give users as enjoyable of an experience as possible to stay competitive. The design of a website or app is just as important as its functionality!

User Experience Design, User Experience Research, User Interface Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Visual Design - these are just a few of many design roles that work together in a pipeline, creating the entire visual and interactive framework of an application (sometimes before a single line of code is even written!). For small companies, one person may be tasked with many of these roles all at once, but as a company grows, these roles become large dedicated teams focusing on user research and design consistency.

UX Designers build flowcharts, construct wireframes, and conduct user research that helps teams decide which features should be added to the product, and where. They may work closely with UX Researchers, who talk to and interview users to figure out how to enhance the product to be as intuitive as possible.

UI Designers create the visual identity of the product, by turning those early wireframes into high-fidelity screenshots. Icons, buttons, element hierarchy and spacing, colors, and fonts are all assets created by this designer. An Interaction Designer then digs even deeper, providing animated and interactive prototype designs of what happens when buttons are clicked, how pages are transitioned, and what loading indicators look like. The assets and instructions provided by these designers eventually make it to the Front-End Developers, who produce an application that just “feels” right.

 

This year’s IxDD theme is diversity and inclusion in design, which, according to Adobe “challenges the interaction design community to look at how language, culture, gender, age, and ability are reflected in design, and how designers can use their skills to improve accessibility to products and services for the community at large.” How much do you think about accessibility in your work?

Today, accessibility to the digital world is more important than ever. Billions of devices sit on our desks and in our pockets, connecting us with anyone we wish at the touch of a button. Almost every business and service worldwide has some kind of technological presence, and most of the time, these applications require human input to function. We may sometimes forget that a sizeable percentage of people require some assistance in accessing these devices and applications in the same fashion as everyone else. Technology is meant to enhance and enrich our lives, not burden them!

To that end, I’ve dedicated my design time to making the Exago interface more and more accessible to those with visual and physical disabilities, conforming to the Revised 508 Standards for IT Accessibility. Everyone with access to Exago should be able to use the application to the best of their ability, with no hindrances.

 

In Spring of this year, you wrote a 26-page report on accessibility in Exago BI. How did that report come to be?

The document is called the VPAT 2.1, or the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, and provides explanations on how to meet official standards and guidelines in accessibility, specifically the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (or WCAG), Revised Section 508 Standards (US), and EN 301 549 (Europe). Our product must support several dozen of these criteria for us to be truly accessible, and the good news is we’re nearly there!

At last year’s Client Advisory Board meeting, one of our clients brought up 508 compliance, stating that many of their end-users were likely to be disabled in some way. Since then, we’ve done an entire assessment of Exago BI to find out which portions of the interface people may have difficulty getting through, filling out a VPAT along the way. We were pleased to find that Exago was pretty close to supporting all of the criteria, and we’re dedicating our design and development time for the next version of our product to be the most accessible it has ever been.

 

There are accessibility design quandaries around a number of UI elements many of us take for granted, such as right-click menus and color themes. Can you talk little bit about some of the more interesting design challenges you face?

When you look at something for a long time, you start to get used to it - it becomes familiar. Upon learning that our UI didn’t fully pass the official WCAG contrast ratio tests, I redesigned the application from scratch using darker colors and more defined buttons, and what a difference it has made! I had taken my own eyes for granted. Upon using hard data on what is/isn’t truly high-contrast, I’m happy to have produced a new default theme of our product for v2019.1 that will work for those who are hard of sight, to keep our clients’ environments accessibility compliant without needing to modify any colors on their own.

For those who are legally blind, there’s another step we’re taking to make Exago BI even easier to use - Screen Reader compatibility. JAWS and NVDA are two examples of software that make computers easier and more productive to use for the blind by reading out whatever the cursor is pointing at. We’re going through every menu to make sure every element has a polite descriptive property, in an effort to make the interface much easier to navigate.

With every release, we continue to support to those who find it challenging to use a standard mouse by adding in more methods to tab through content, and more hotkeys to navigate to certain menus. Our goal is to make Exago completely accessible with keyboard-only input, an enhancement I’m sure our own developers are likely to use more often themselves!

 

AIGA Upstate New York is hosting a number of IXDD events in the area today. Click here to learn more!

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