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22nd September 09, London

Inclusive Design

Mark Boulton, Mark Boulton Design

Speaker: Robin Christopherson

Next up is Mark Boulton, for those that don’t know, he is the graphic designer, has worked in Sydney, London, Manchester for clients such as BBC, Tmobile, British Airways, Toyota, has his own design studio and an online design journal,, and he’s going to talk to us this afternoon up until the break, slightly shortened break, on inclusive design, all too often accessibility is left to the last minute, marginalised, seen as a second class citizen but we know it should be core to all design activities so I will hand over to Mark.

Speaker: Mark Boulton

I don’t know if you saw that sign previously, which had the goat. Kath tweeted me last night to say I was the tethered goat today. I still don’t quite understand that. The first thing came to mind was Jurrasic park. Well hello everyone. I got like the, I wouldn’t say it was the graveyard shift but it is a time when the chemicals are being pumped to make you go to sleep, so if someone is on your shoulder they are probably nodding off. I work in a bunch of agencies, I’m a graphic designer, I trained in type graphic design by a bunch of ageing bug designers way back when, I worked in ad agencies before going to Sydney and worked for a company called Spike, who were doing a lot around 98, there was a big boom, it has just started and they were doing cool interesting work. I came back and worked for and then my wife took us off to Cardiff where she worked for the BBC. And 4 years ago I started my own business, I left the BBC. All of that means that I have quite a well rounded experience in designing for the web. I worked in house for a long time, I have worked with bigger clients and small clients and now I run my own business, so I have got a fairly well rounded experience there.

I am going to talk about a few things day. I am going to talk about some problems that I see, and I am going to talk about inclusive design and what it means to me everyonone else may have different areas of what that is. I will go through some examples of where I have tried to employ some of the examples of current good practice and inclusive design in projects that I have been involved with and if we have time there’ll be a Q and A but if not, you can speak to me outside.

I want to talk about my experience of accessibility. Now, I worked almost exclusively on the web since 97/98 and predominantly I’m afraid it has been fairly negative. My experience of working with accessibility consultants, my experience working at the BBC. My first day at the BBC I was given a big binder, literally thrown on my desk, “read that”. I know a bunch of people here work for the BBC and I’m glad to see things have improved than 3 or 4 years ago.

So, a lot of designers still equate accessibility to being ugly design. I think that comes down to the very essence of what designers are and how they think. So, I know it sounds a little bit trite and contrived but I think the designer is something you are, not what you do from an early age. When I was about 3 or 4 years old I had to go to the doctors because I refused to write or speak I’d would just draw stuff. My mother was rightly concerned and it is something from a very young age. What I have done is to try to create something beautiful and when accessibility is thrust upon you as a constraint of the project, you equate it to ugly in your mind and that is a brick wall barrier that goes up with a lot of designers. I can see a lot of you nodding your heads and maybe that’s the experience that you’ve had.

How many designers s are in the room out of interest? A few of you. So it would be interesting thing to compare notes after this.

Inaccessible accessibility

I think accessibility has a problem in terms of definition. I think the accessibility industry needs to decide what accessibility is and needs to explain it in a way that people like me can understand. I think there is an awful lot of miscommunication going on and I think that is aided in part by lack of good education. Designers in the industry need to learn, we need to know this stuff. To throw WCAG specification on my desk and tell me to read it is not the best way of doing it. I am not saying: I’m a designer, help me understand it. Well actually I am. I’m a designer and help me understand this stuff, please. I have worked with a couple of great accessibility consultants who have, More recently I met someone who used to work at the RNIB on a project, she was fantastic! She could really make me understand what I was working on. I have worked with some dreadful accessibility consultants who talk in acronyms and specifications and quote paragraphs at me. I think it is the designers responsibility to be exposed to the needs of wider society. I think the designers are dreadful, we’re generally dreadful at 2 things: Dreadful at explaining ourselves. We find it very difficult to verbalise a very subconscious process. I think that is one issue with designers. The second issue with designers is that we tend design for our mates or a mental model of ourselves. We design something for ourselves. Now unless we get exposure to the people we are supposed to be designing for, we need exposure.

This is Mount Everest. There is a mountain of specification to learn and you have to understand what is going on in the accessibility arena. There is a huge wall of stuff and it is too big. It is far too big. Mount Everest is normally climbed by seige tactics, you rock up to Mount Everest with 60 people and a bunch of yaks and you spend three months climbing it. You can climb is guerill a style, which is two guys or one bloke climbing up and down. You can do it but it is not the norm. The same thing needs to be applies to a number of points in Christian’s keynote that really struck home about momentum and mass. It needs to start moving, there’s an incredible mass of incredible stuff, of a lot of things, but it needs people to move it along, it needs to gather some momentum and siege tactics is the way to do and I hope lot of people will start moving in small steps.

These are some words that are generally thrown around when talking about accessibility: compliance, adherence, limitations. And going back to the way that I think and the way that a lot of other designers think, is that we want to create beautiful things. And layering on, I know the constraints are the mother of all inventions, without constraints you can’t really design. That is slightly different, but having these layers of complex, very complex limitations layered upon one another, compliance, adherence, limitations. Every time one of those is presented it is another I am turning off, dialing down my switch from 10 to 1, because it becomes very difficult to operate within an environment like that.

I think that accessibility is too entwined with academia. I think there are too many surveys, too many reports, too many recommendations with a logo slapped at the top that are presented to designers to say: This is best practice. Next week there is another one and then another one. And they are presented in language that academics understand, perhaps, or lawyers. I don’t. I think this is Jakob Nielsen. I think that accessibility got to bed with Jakob Nielsen way too early. And I don’t think it has quite got out of bed with him yet. It is a horrible mental image and I will move on.

It’s someone else’s problem

This is Lords Cricket Ground, so in hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote some fascinating things: First one is how to fly. Does anyone know about that? Throw yourself at the ground and miss. You get distracted by something like a nice lady walking by. The second one is this, someone else’s problem field so I will quote this: Someone else’s problem field is a cheap and staggeringly useful way of safely protecting something from unwanted eyes. It can run almost indefinitely on a flashlight battery and is able to do so because it utilises a person’s natural tendency to ignore things they don’t accept, like for example aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which an SEP is applied will cease to be noticed because the problem in understanding it an accepting its existence, become someone else’s. Someone else’s problem. They are not invisible, but unnoticed. I think accessibility is suffering from this. A lot. It is big teams and little teams, and right throughout processes, this question of saying “We will do some testing on that later”. Pushing it under the carpet. Where does all of this stuff fit? All of these problems? How can we move beyond these problems into integrating accessibility better with design?

The planes of user experience

Well, has anyone read this book: Elements of user experience by Jesse James Garrett? It is getting on now. If you haven’t read it, read it. There is some good fundamental concepts in there. Jesse talks about, this is a diagram of his interaction model with the elements of user experience, it is 5 planes like 5 sheets of glass on top of one another, starting at the bottom with strategy and then on to scope, structure, right at the top is surface and they correspond to strategy user needs and site objectives, scope is the requirement, structure is the interaction design and skeleton is the information design and right on the top is visual design. I actually disagree with that last one. I think it marginalises visual design as the pretty look and feel which good designers will tell you that it is not.

This in many ways this has been misinterpreted by the industry as a linear process, it is kind of Waterfall model in reverse. So the project lifespan starts at the bottom and goes to the top. I don’t think that is what Jesse was getting at, he was describing a way of splitting down a project into various means and stacking them to create a whole user experience but most importantly, the user experience starts from the scope. Projects start from the strategy and that is when designers need to be involved.

Building to requirements

But what is missing from the diagram is a accessibility. Where does accessibility live within this group, of activities? Well, if it is at the bottom and goes all the way up to the top. It should be part and parcel of every activity, it shouldn’t be user testing at the end of, like we have all been in that situation. I’m sure we have all produced a project that all the way along the business case for accessibility, the buck was passed again and again and maybe some testing was done post launch, maybe some pre launch, and it still feels to me like things haven’t moved on from that.

I am really talking fast, I am going to run out of presentation here. I will talk about inclusive design and what it means to me. This is a car park, Manchester airport domestic terminal car park. My Dad designed this, he is an architect who designs car parks for a living, it’s his speciality, not the most interesting thing in the world, but I bend his ear about all this kind of thing. Apart from walking around cities always looking up at the buildings and bumping into things is that I’m constantly in a car park, whenever I park a car I look at wayfinding, ventilation, and can I find my way in and out. An airport car pack is worse. You arrive at the airport, you always are in a hurry, you are either arriving from the plane or arriving to take off. You just want to get out of the car park as fast as you can so there is that. But there are also a lot of other parameters in car park design, and especially in one I will talk about in a minute, there is access, wayfinding, ventilation. Ventilation is a big problem in carpark design. There is best use of space. People want to stack in as many cars as they can in the given plot. This car park in particular overlooks the apron at the old domestic terminal at Manchester, so the domestic flights would come in. The big issue with assassinations and terrorism protection in there. Because you could stand on top of the car park and point a gun and easily and shoot someone getting out of a plane. So that was one of the constraints of the project, was how can we incorporate that, or answer that kind of requirement within the fabric of the building so it doesn’t look like we are just putting a building a really big brick wall so no one can climb up and put a gun over the top. My father came up with quite an ingenious solution. If you go to Manchester airport, go to domestic terminals, have a look. There are metal Louvres blinds that are angled in such a way that you can’t bend a rifle around to overlook the apron. It still retains the ventilation, it still retains the fabric of the building, it doesn’t look like something that has been slapped on as an extra. Someone has gone ‘terrorism, terrorism, stop assassination”, and so I talked to my Dad about it and I said how do you deal with that within, you are putting a building up, how do you cope with access and accessibility and how does it work within the design process. He really surprised me with his answer. He said “it is not a problem”, I was pretty gobsmacked. Really! if you are designing for a public space and it is a fairly important building, if you don’t meet certain requirements the building will not get built. It is as simple as that. Especially if you have a rampant planning officer who will make sure the building won’t get put up without adhering to those particular guidelines.

So, inclusive design to me is what that is. It is about taking all the requirements and baking them into the project right from the very beginning. If accessibility is one of those, then so be it. It seems like a good definition. Inclusive design is not a new genre, it seeks to ensure that the mainstream products, services and environments are accessible to the largest number of people. In that respect access is just another design parameter you have to cope with right from the start of the project. It is not something extra. I have been talking to a few people today and in in the run up to this conference. Business needs kept cropping up as a subject. As long as there is a business need, yes, accessibility will be put true. It’s a real cop out. Good design is good design no matter what it is in my view. I am almost turning this into a rant so I will move on. Always a danger of me ranting off.

When everyone is a designer

These lovely people here, specially the guy with the little cup, four people sat round a table drinking coffee, all very happy with themselves. These people represent the people we design websites for. Or do they? Of course there are people who consider themselves in the minority groups, people with disabilities. But there are also people who design their own stuff. Design it for yourself. This is a great book by Ellen Lupton on DIY design. I had been talking up to this point about design being people like me, professional designers doing this kind of thing for a living. Actually, everybody is a designer, the tools we are producing, tools that Microsoft produce, the tools a lot of companies produce, a lot of web applications now help people design stuff who may not have had a design degree or may not have schooling to make good decisions, which is why we end up with comic sans all over the place (it’s a font). I think it’s OK. I don’t hate comic sans. This sign is from Thames Valley police, saying: “Please no driving off this site without first paying for fuel. It’s a criminal offence and and your vehicle will be seized, and you’ll be liable to pay for your fuel”. It is set in comic sans and it is sending mixed messages. It is designed by somebody who wasn’t a designer, who wanted to make a friendly sign.

A while ago I had a little bit.. Andy Budd wrote about Balsamiq, the wireframing tool bitching about Comic Sans. I think Comic Sans is the right tool in the right circumstances, for people with learning disabilities for example, but in the wrong context, it is the wrong tool. I tweeted about this in May, early May. And I am still getting flamed occasionally for it. It is under the hash tag of comic sans and somebody has created their own hash tag, Boulton has gone bloody mental. It maybe all of those things but it has no place in this designers toolkit. The fault of people thinking they have to stretch the logo and cover it in comic sans are idiots. Comic sans has such a passionate negative response. Everybody hates it. Specially designers. It is crazy. It is just a type face. But in the wrong hands at the wrong time it does bad things. Like this door here, push pull normal door. How can we take, as designers, take that on board and think about, okay if it is the tools, how can we create tools that help people make good design decisions? Right from the start.

Working on Drupal

So, for a while I have been working with Lisa experienced designer and Anne on the redesign of Drupal, which is a content system, it is open source. Drupal has good accessibility, meaning that it checks all the right boxes, Universities like it because – well that’s why. But right now the UX is pretty broken, it is very hard for new users to get up and running with it and it is very very hard for content creators to actually write content. When we did initial testing, the biggest thing that came up was, how do we create content. Not great for a content management system. Some figures. This was from a keynote, Bruce is the guy who invented Drupal. The figures are a bit inaccurate maybe but will serve 28,000 pages instead of 20,000. Drupal will be downloaded roughly 200 times in that time. 7 new Drupal sites will launch and six of them will be ugly. That’s probably double now, actually. The ugly bit still, I don’t think it is getting better. This is a screen shot of the Drupal admin system showing the list of themes you can choose. Really not that pretty. So Lisa and I worked, ironically, this is a wordPress site, it didn’t go down well with the community. We started working project in the open. This is a screen shot of the site that we started to engage the community. You had to do that in open source, no way we could go off, design it in a bubble and come out and say ta-dah!!. It wouldn’t have worked. We had to be respectful to the amount of effort, time life and livelihood a lot of developers had invested in the product. We went away and did a bunch of things to help engage the community in the process. One of the most difficult things I think that we found with the project was actually creating a framework for discussion. I think that is one of the challenges with accessibility. Certainly commercially, to try and create frameworks in which accessibility can be baked into the process right from the beginning.

So we did it by, we split up, I am not sure you can see on the screen grab here, but we split up the process and the designs into very specific areas so the Header, the Dashboard, my profile, add content, and we worked down there. One of those top level items was accessibility. That gave us a framework in which people could discuss accessibility, move things forward. There was a central reference point for that. So this was back in January and we moved things along. By February we got to a point where we had a bunch of designs principles. One, make most frequent tasks easy and less frequent tasks achievable. Design for the 80%. That is contentious and still is to this day. 3, privilege the content creator. 4, make the default settings smart, which is what I am going to talk about now.

Make default settings smart

One of the principles that came out of that initial body of work was wherever possible help people make good design decisions as they build sites using Drupal, this is a screen shot of Lisa’s handwriting, probably a good job I read that, it is not the easiest to read. Who are designers? There are more than professional designers. In that sense, if you are making designs decisions and you are not a designer, you are a content creator, you are my mum setting up a blog, how can accessibility be baked into their designer process? That’s a considerable challenge. You certainly can’t do that by throwing them WCAG guidelines, my mum would run a mile. The one thing we worked through on this, we provided smart defaults. This is a screen shot of tiny MCE, WYCIWYG editor, are the 82 choices. You have 82 chances to screw it up! So, I am not sure you may have heard about this experiment. In Columbia business school, an experiment by the general personality and social psychology. Team showed a bunch of shoppers choosing between jam. Big jam stall, loads of jam. About 24 flavours available. What they did was reduced it to just ten – no I think six. Sorry 6. From 24 flavours of jam down to 6. Purchases increased ten times. By limiting choice we can really help people make smart decisions.

I love this slide. It is Hong Kong, crazy bamboo scaffolding. Appealing to the architect’s son in me. We need to scaffold the experience, help people make good design decisions. They may not be designers who come to an event like this. They may not be designers at all. It maybe my mum creating her knitting site. How would she know anything about accessibility best practice, unless they were provided in the tools that allow her to create her site?

Accessibility as another design parameter

I am going to walk through quickly through what I think designers can do. I think what I think the accessibility industry can do to get this mass moving a little. Designers need to expose ourselves – now. Not in the sense you maybe thinking! You need to be going to events like this. You need to be not reading – not reading the WCAG 2 guidelines. You need to be speaking to people like Anne McMeakin or you need people like Anne in a room with you for a week when you are working on a project to sit with you and go ‘you might want to rethink that a bit’, then explain to you what designing to a base experience is and layering richness on top of it is, so it doesn’t degrade the experience. Designers need to treat access as a design parameter, not as something separate. It is another constraint to work with, something to be considered right from the start. Designers need to get help. We are dreadful, really bad at asking for help, I think. Designers need to put their hands up and say ‘you know, help me’. More importantly designers need to say ‘I don’t understand’. The amount of developers I have spoken to, I say I need help with this, I need help, HTML 5 for one. I have not said I still don’t get it at the end of the 15 minute conversation, because I am embarrassed I could be there all night. Designers need to swallow their pride a bit and reach out to people who can help us understand this stuff. This is where I upset a few people.

Make accessibility acccessible

What can the accessibility industry do? First and foremost, make accessibility accessible. Currently, I don’t think it is. For everyone. If you look at inclusive design, really we should be as an industry, accessibility industry should be eating its own dog food and it is not. Accessibility industry need to reduce barriers to participation and understanding, by helping people, consultancy not talking about consultancy in the form of go to a company, take a briefing, go away, do a survey, get findings, slap a logo on the top. That to me isn’t really what should be happening. It is about building relationships with people, being on site with people, spending time together on a project. I don’t think that happens nowhere nearly enough. I am not sure why. I would love to know why – if anyone has any ideas why, I would love to discuss it. .

I think accessibility needs to move beyond specs and acronyms. I think it needs to move to writing plain English for my mother to understand when she is creating her knitting site. I honestly think the accessibility industry is looking way too much at its own naval and needs to be reaching out more, speaking the language other people speak. Lastly, I think that accessibility need to Nurture cultural change. The industry is in a great position to do that. It happened with web standards. They wanted it to happen so badly with accessibility and it’s not. Web standard had specs and acronyms, and it took grass roots movement to get momentum. It’s not there with accessibility yet. To get the change we need to speak to people in a language they understand. I am going to end a little under time. Thank you, Kath.

Stephen Fry, I will end up with a lovely quote from Stephen Fry about design. It is, he said it about the iPhone but it could be applied to any design. “It is not the surface, not the last thing that needs to be considered, it is the thing itself”. [Phone rings] That’s, how embarrassing – that’s my phone going off. Sorry about that. 0800 number as well. Trying to sell me something. God, how to ruin the end of a presentation! I couldn’t have planned that any better. Thank you very much

Q and A

Speaker: Kath Moonan

You have loads of a things you have said there to pick up on in the next Panel. But questions anyone.


I agree with everything you have said, not to offend any graphic designer – I have been a graphic designer myself. got into development after and 4 years of graphic design – you said accessibility – it should be accessible to people. I have not read a single book on accessibility but I think I can do accessibility stuff when I develop stuff for the web, because design isn’t about pretty things, it is about communicating. It is as simple as communicating to the lowest denominator as possible,. If I do that I have designed well. That’s what I think. It is just that point I wanted to make.

Speaker: Mark Boulton

I agree, one point I didn’t make that prompted me to make it, that this notion of inclusive design is designing for everyone. That’s completely opposing to most good UX design process, that means you never design for everyone. It is a constant battle in the industry. That duality goes on a lot. Unfortunately it is the other side that is willing that battle. Just another point.

Speaker: Kath Moonan

Couple of other people but something I am burning to say, which is the thing about the graphic designers designing for their mates is that I am a train fan artist, still work in the arts when I am not at and I also spent 7 years in education teaching, so I know what I’m talking about. Every fourth person I have met is dyslexic, you know within the arts, so actually what is happening is designers are not designing for themselves either because if you sit with a bunch of 6 designers one of them is very likely in my experience to have some kind of issue or difficulty with reading, and I think we have got loads of points I’m going to pick up on and also just on there, I want to say one of our greatest designers in this country, Richard Rogers, is completely dyslexic. We need to take him as a hero and as an example of what you can do as a designer who works with an impairment.

Question from the floor

I have to say you remind me of Sue Pollard, which is great. I work for the equalities and Human Rights Commission and I completely agree with what you are saying about how the people who are enforcing accessibility can’t get it right themselves so we will get some work commissioned and we will say “Can you make sure it is accessible please” And the designers say boring bullshit. I’m interested in the people who are working at your level, if they had gone to university, is accessibility a module or is it something like you pick up because it is something that gets built in because I think that is the key thing. You can tell designer s they need to be accessible but it should be built in to the roots of becoming a designer, however that is.

Speaker: Mark Boulton

It is a big problem with education designing in general. Unless you learn industrial design to a degree, a lot of design is a solitary exercise, as taught in university it is a you are a problem solver, we will give you a brief, you go away and solve the problem and come back with a solution. Very rarely in that process in any kind of education in university are you taught to go at and speak to other people, to incorporate their feedback throughout the process. That is a big problem and that, there is a big problem in people like Chris Mills will tell you about the education, he has done the web standards curriculum for Opera but it does miss out on a couple of real core issue ease think. And certainly accessibility, I don’t know of many traditional educational establishment s which teach really good standard space design and take accessibility and usability in that kind of thing. Chris sn will proom me wrong.

Speaker: Kath Moonan

We will do one question now and we will pick this up during the panel if that is okay. Then we will grab a quick coffee.

Question from the floor

I want to pick up on something you mentioned in your talk. User centered design seems to be thought of as a really good thing but whenever I have been with designers using experience of people, it seems to go along the way of designing scenarios and personas and by choosing a persona you are narrowing to one or two scenarios and all the user ability falls off the table because none of the personas are disabled.

Speaker: Mark Boulton

I think you are absolute low right, I think the user centered design, there are element s of that that are completely opposing to way that designer s are schooled, away that a lot of designers think. A lot of, it could be argued that a lot of really great design requires a vision and quite often a singular vision. When user centered design takes the approach of incorporating everybody’s syntax and designing for everybody, it is pain that I have gone through with drupal project, so it is very close to my heart. Someone wants black and someone want fight, you end up with grey and no one wants grey. There is a balancing act, all the credible evidence and things suggest on one side with UCB and all that goes with that, and then on the other side you have got people like Steve Jobs and apple who are creating, he is a figurehead that designers aspire and to look up to and it is a single vision. He is like… I am going to do this! and almost screw the consequences. That duality is really evident. It is evident in my world. One day I am screw this, I’m going to design something beautiful. And it is very difficult balancing act. And of course one of the losers in that instance is accessibility it shouldn’t have to be like that. But that’s it for now, thank you very much. (applause).