‘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 practice in terms of writing good copy for websites.

The site’s a good refresher for online writers and it’s a good place to start if you’re trying to find some basic guidelines.

*I was going to write about information architecture and content. Next time….

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.

Who are you writing for?

This is the first question all writers (should) ask themselves before putting finger to keyboard.

When you know who you’re writing for, you can create an article that’s relevant and interesting – quality content for your readers.

At the most basic level, online writers usually consider two main audiences – people and computers. Humans and spiders. Your readers and the search engines.

By writing primarily for one audience (your readers) you can also satisfy the other (the search engines).

If you create a targeted article for a specific group of readers, it is likely that it will be keyword-rich fodder for the search engine spiders.

Readers are also more likely to share the article with their peers and link to it – something else the spiders look for when searching out results.

But when you begin to write for the search engines, rather than your readers, your writing becomes less useful.

As Copyblogger says this week, ‘it’s only natural that once your readers realise you are no longer providing quality content and shifting instead to useless keyword-filled articles, they will not be thrilled to stick around.’

So, remember to write for the humans. Your readers will continue to return and the spiders are happy too!

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’.

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?