Digital accessibility for everyone

Modern software should be without barriers. But what kind of barriers can software have and for whom? And how can software companies eliminate them? The general understanding of accessible software mostly refers to the fact that people with disabilities or other physical limitations can use it well. For example, software designed in this way reduces the risk of confusion between color representations on the monitor in the case of red-green vision impairment, or makes it easier for people with Parkinson’s disease to use the mouse. This is an important requirement that modern software should fulfill.

Thinking the approach that all users should not have any barriers in the way of operation consistently further, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone experiences limitations to a greater or lesser extent when using a computer. For example, even for users with normal vision, elements of the program interface can be difficult to recognize on a bad screen, the environment can be too noisy to concentrate, or the mouse cannot be operated due to a current hand injury. Accessibility therefore addresses everyone!

Accessibility as a standard

For consumer software, reducing or eliminating operating barriers has long been standard practice. For example, I can increase the font size on my iPhone or have texts read aloud to me. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were established early on for the World Wide Web. As an international standard, they provide developers with guidelines for making websites accessible to as many people as possible. They have become the de facto standard for accessible user experiences and are even referenced in legislation on equality for people with disabilities.

Remove barriers – release forces

For me, following these standards does not only mean fulfilling my responsibility as a product designer. It also simply means a guaranteed improvement in product quality – for all users. After all, it’s not just users with special visual impairments who benefit from high-contrast displays or keyboard controls, to name just two examples. Entrepreneur and accessibility advocate Debrah Ruh put it succinctly: “Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” I think that fits perfectly with our claim at CONTACT: Energizing great minds.

Time scheduling – The hammer of project management?

If you have only a hammer as a tool, you see a nail in every problem. Mark Twain is credited with the bon mot ” If you have only a hammer as a tool, you see a nail in every problem”. Even if it is not clear beyond doubt who is actually the author of this statement, it remains probably the most succinct formulation for “Maslow’s hammer

So what does this have to do with project management?

When it comes to project management software, I often observe that users try to achieve a wide variety of goals with just one tool, namely scheduling. You can’t blame them, because many project management tools tempt users to do just that.

In the process, schedules are created from hundreds or thousands of daily tasks. It is not uncommon for me to also encounter tasks in question form, such as “Specification released?”, “Customer presentation done?” and so on, provided with duration, deadline and task links.

Over-detailed planning takes its revenge in the project

The dilemma: Such plans are only pseudo precise, with many detailed deadlines calculated from activity links. Although everyone involved actually knows that in larger projects no activity is completed to the day. Nevertheless, everyone pretends that the plan is exactly right.

Also, the practice of managing resource utilization by linking all the tasks of a particular person one after the other only works well until you have to change the planning. Then the whole scheduling structure is no longer right. But the scheduling tool continues to calculate the dates mercilessly according to the network plan. The more detailed the plan is, the more time-consuming it is to make changes in the course of the project. You move one task and many others move with it – but unfortunately not in the way you would have expected. You no longer understand your own, overly complicated network plan and require a great deal of rescheduling effort for new fake precision. Some people leave the plan unchanged and start improvising instead

Use the entire toolbox

Here it is obvious to think of agile approaches as an alternative. But you don’t necessarily have to change your project management completely. Many experienced project managers say: “Agile is nothing new. With me, it’s just not a task board, but a good old open points list.” And that’s exactly the key. Plan only as precisely as necessary and as really useful. The motto here is: Better good rough planning than poor detailed planning. Even if the rough plan probably doesn’t come in as thought, it’s much easier to correct and makes the impact on the project more readily apparent.

For detailed issues, a list of open items (LOP) with clearly defined responsibilities is the tool of choice. And for anything you want to schedule in question form, checklists that are reviewed regularly as the project progresses are helpful. If not met, put an action on your LOP. And perhaps you record and monitor risks and define countermeasures to take timely and effective countermeasures. This usually puts you in a much better position for a successful project.

So: Only use the hammer for nails. For everything else, feel free to pick up pliers, screwdriver or wrench!

Consistent UX in distributed product development

Enterprise software development is largely distributed. Solutions are built on a platform, but developed separately from it; the assembly of modules and their adaptation to customer requirements takes place downstream, in other locations. This means different teams, different departments, different companies are building something that is first a product for the customer.

Users expect software that is homogeneous , that reuses operating patterns, and that provides a consistent user experience. This is a major challenge when different departments, some of them distributed around the world, are involved and everyone participating in product development brings their own perspective to the table. As described in my previous article, a basic awareness of the topic of UX throughout the company is already a good prerequisite. How can we build on this and provide even more targeted support in terms of end-to-end UX?

UX influencing is key

Craig Villamor’s presentation “Resilient Enterprise Design” had a profound impact on my view of this challenge. Craig is a Design Director at Google and was previously responsible for the design of Salesforces software. In his presentation at the 2017 Enterprise UX Conference, he uses the four pillars of Design Principles, Platform Mindset, Design Systems, and Influencing in Product Development to show how successful UX design of resilient enterprise applications can succeed.

I would like to focus here on the last pillar, influencing. What is meant here is influencing all the players involved in product creation – at CONTACT, we call them “creators”. This support is also a central aspect of the UX strategy at CONTACT. But what does this look like in concrete terms?

Making it easy to do the right thing

It is not always a good idea to keep the design framework as large as possible: Too many design options can lead to uncontrolled growth and unnecessary inconsistencies. For example, fixed layouts for pages or control elements specify recognizable operating patterns. The manageable design options should then be explained as contextually as possible, in structures with which creators work directly – for example, right in the configuration interface. Such aids can be speaking titles and short descriptions for given layout areas, for example semantic sections in a context menu. In this way, creators can make the right decisions directly without having to go through the design documentation.

Support with the right resources

Good design documentation is also relevant: Design guidelines are the framework for design decisions in application development and configuration. It is important that they are not textbook-raised, but close to the creators’ problems. At best, the documentation for each UI component includes guidance on which use cases it is appropriate for – and which it is not. Examples show how the UI component is used correctly, for example in interaction with other UI elements.

Leading by example

Creators love examples in general: What can you do with this kit? What do possible solutions look like? CONTACT’s products offer an ever-growing number of specialized applications (Task Manager, Xbom Manager, Scheduler, Variant Management, etc.) that build on the InSync Design System and provide Creators with templates or inspiration for new solutions.

So if we provide distributed product stakeholders with guidance for design decisions, support with good application design resources and create lighthouse solutions for orientation, they can more easily create compelling products with a consistent user experience.