Category: business

Making sustainability accessible

Last week, I spoke at a Future Economy Network event about the importance of accessibility as part of sustainable development. There are slides on SlideShare, but the essence of my talk is outlined below.

Leave No One Behind

This is one of the core principles of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If something does not work for all people, it is prone to risk and not sustainable.

If we exclude people in our work, then we create products and services that are less sustainable. And as we look to the future, our idea of what it means to be inclusive and sustainable is likely to shift. We have a growing, ageing population. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2060 there will be twice as many older people than younger people. This relates to the ‘people’ pillar of the triple bottom line and the definition of sustainability:

Around 1 in 5 people have a disability – more than a billion people in the world. Looking after our planet is a team sport. We need to include disabled people. We need their help.

Sustainable goals

Accessibility is a measure of social sustainability. In fact, disability is explicitly mentioned 11 times in Agenda 2030, and relates directly to 5 of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs):

  • Goal 4, Quality education: Access to knowledge and awareness.
  • Goal 8, Decent work and economic growth: Access to employment.
  • Goal 10, Reduced inequalities: Social, economic and political inclusion for disabled people.
  • Goal 11, Sustainable cities and communities: Accessible human settlements.
  • Goal 17, Partnerships for the goals: Data and monitoring of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

And accessibility impacts on yet more of the goals, for example, “Access to health services”.

Inclusion is encompassed by yet more parts of the goals and their targets and topics:

  • Gender equality
  • Financial inclusion

Through a COVID lens…

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resilience of many businesses, but also every one of us as individuals. We have a greater understanding of what it is to feel isolated or excluded. But for many disabled people, the pandemic has amplified the effects of social inequality around the world.

Disability inclusion isn’t a tick-box exercise. It’s vital to achieving the SDGs.

Web Design Roles

As the Web evolves, it’s inevitable that the job of creating websites evolves too. As those out there in the industry will already know, the roles of the “Web Designer” can be diverse, especially on larger projects, making it more of an umbrella job description.

Anyway, I’ve decided to write about some of my thoughts about the job of a Web Designer. I also thought it might be interesting to ask people what role (or roles) they see themselves as playing in the world of Web Design.

What is Web Design?

It’s probably not a great idea to start out with what is really an aside, but bear with me on this one.

Jakob Nielsen recently wrote that “Web Design” is a misnomer. It got me thinking and I’d have to agree to some extent, but my view is slightly different to Nielsen’s. People don’t design the Web itself, but the sites reached via the Web – “Website Design” would be more accurate, but I’m just pedantic. I guess it doesn’t really matter what is the accepted phrase for referring to people who build websites – I know that I will call it “Web Design” anyway.

What I don’t like is how Web Design is often misconstrued to mean putting something pretty up online. We have known for a long time that the Web is an information medium at heart and not a visual one. This is an important concept that I feel many designers and design agencies forget on a regular basis. On an ideal Web, all designers would take information gathered by the client (or help them collate information) and allow that content to drive design. The classic maxim applies: Web Design is not Print Design. Neither is it just about Graphic Design, so simply slicing up a Photoshop comp and putting it online is not enough.

So what was the point of my aside? I wanted to raise a couple of questions. If so many designers don’t know their job and how to do it properly, how do people really know what to expect from them? How are prospective clients to know whether their website is going to fit with their purpose? Does it matter?

Roles of the Web Designer

What is perhaps a little more difficult to define is the role of the Web Designer. Recently, I’ve been thinking about all the different “modes” I have when building a website. Being self-employed, these modes can be wide and varied, and I am increasingly appreciating the need for collaboration on projects to make them stronger and generally just better.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and it can be important to develop a specialism or a style which sets you apart from the crowd. A problem here is that I like to explore and to learn. Hence, I will often try to vary my roles so that I can develop my skills in different areas and keep what I do interesting. I’ll have to admit now that this can cause some areas to be weaker than others between projects. This is a compromise I do not want to make if I can help it. It’s near impossible to fulfil all the roles required by Web Design today, so collaboration is an important aspect, whether it be with other agencies or freelancers.

A common distinction in roles seems to be between Web Designers and Web Developers, but even these roles can overlap. As I see it (and I could be wrong) designers are responsible for structure, layout, visual wonders, etc while developers are more geared towards developing server-side magic, applications and interaction. But there’s a lot more going on than that.

Here are some of the roles I can think of which I perform, and others that I have seen in use:

  • Project Manager
  • Website Designer
  • Website Architect (implying working with information architecture / structure?)
  • Website Developer/Engineer
  • Internet Developer (another misnomer?)
  • Graphic Designer or Web Graphic Designer (I’ve seen this role described as a person who “tries to make Web pages look the same in every browser”. I’m not totally agreed on that one. Anyone for “CSS Engineer”?)
  • Multimedia Designer
  • Web Typographer
  • Flash Designer
  • User Interface / Interaction Designer
  • Web Usability Specialist
  • Web Accessibility Specialist
  • Web Marketing Specialist
  • Search Engine Optimisation Specialist
  • Copy Writer, Web Editor or Web Writer
  • Web Writer
  • Web Hosting Technician
  • Webmaster
  • Software Engineer

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s what came to mind while thinking about what I do, or have done in the past.

What Roles Do You Play?

So what do you do? Are you a multi-tasking stress monkey like me? Are you a jargon-loving, Planetarian-playing techie? Are you the arty, expressive graphic designer? I want to know, damn it!

Educating the People

Right, so this blog hasn't been fed too well so far, but as I've said before, it isn't on a high-fibre diet yet (i.e. it isn't a regular thing).

So far, the blog's quite empty. It hasn't helped that I've been away for the last week! (For those who have asked, I had a nice birthday week, thanks! I've been visiting folks back home and growing a bit of a beard so I don't feel so out of place on Accessify Forum). I've not written a whole lot about the Web Design business, which I'd like to start doing, so here's one for ya!

Letting Everyone Down

I'm finding it increasingly saddening to find websites that suck – especially when the website belongs to a Web Design company. I get annoyed at the number of Web Design companies I stumble across whose websites are utterly atrocious.

Now, before I get too far down this road, I must admit my own design failures. For example, the November 5th website has had its moments – sometimes embarrassing ones – which have mostly been down to its age and the fact that I've learnt a lot over the last year since its launch. I'm also aware that there are still issues with the site, something I hope to iron out with the redesign I'm working on.

Anyway, last week I found a website that purported to be dedicated to getting the best online marketing that money can buy. They are an off-shoot of an established Web Design company and so have little excuse for the poor quality of their own website. Guess what? It works fine in Internet Explorer on Windows, but does it work properly in any other browser? Does it bollocks!

They pretend to have a clue about SEO. They don't appear to have discovered the advantages of designing with Web standards. Their navigation bar just doesn't work in anything but IE. No idea about accessibility. A lovely marquee is thrown in there for good measure.

Sound familiar? Right. Sorry, rant over.

Companies like these are letting their customers down. Companies like these are letting the Web Design and Development industry down. People who hire companies like these are letting themselves down. Last, but not least, these websites let their users down.

So, what do I propose? Education.

An Exercise in Education

I get the feeling that some people really don't know that the Web is evolving at a phenomenal rate. I like to think that I'm keeping up with the flow, and I am always learning thanks to the many resources on the Web (I'd particularly like to thank all the folks over at Accessify Forum). In my quest to improve my own expertise, I have found many sources of information, so many that I can't always keep up with the information hit.

The resources are out there for designers and developers, and they are looked for. However, I've found that there are few resources that are aimed at other audiences. What about website owners? What about the average user? There are studies into what the users expect from websites, but do they know what they should be expecting from a website?

What's my reason for jabbering on about this? Well, I'm trying to get to the bottom of why people hire bad design companies, or more specifically, companies who don't know what they are doing. I can only think that it comes down to a general lack of knowledge. Well, the resources are out there for the design companies to learn from, and a lot of us try our hardest to show our clients the advantages of what I've come to call “best practices” (of course, there isn't always a best way of doing things), but where do our clients go to for advice on what to expect from us as designers? In the UK, I have found basic advice on sites such as Business Link, but nothing much more.

A recent article by Mike Davidson about browser evolution got me thinking more on educating people about the Web, so I thought it was about time I posted something here about my ideas.

So, for some time I have been playing with the idea of starting a new resource aimed at people who don't necessarily have (or need) technical knowledge of the Web – the businesses and organisations who own websites and are our potential clients. However, I am wary as to whether such a resource will be useful to people, and whether it is looked for. Would there be any value in a website that educates its visitors about what to expect from the websites they commission?

I know that people don't just hire whoever they stumble across first, or whoever bamboozles them first with technical jargon. Even people who don't have a clue about the technicalities of the Web aren't stupid. People look for benefits, but how do they know that they are getting those benefits? And how do they know whether they need those benefits and not others? I think these people could do with a helping hand.

So, it's time to educate about “best practice” – the importance of accessibility, marketing performance, usability. But it's not just other designers who need to catch the bug – others need to know about what to expect from Web Designers.

And it's open to the floor…