I watch as person after person pulls furiously on a door handle before giving it a shove, flying through the doorway much to their surprise and quickly patting down their disheveled attire.
(I'm allowed to laugh as it makes me feel better about doing it myself shortly before, only much less gracefully).
The problem here? The door handle was giving the wrong message. What looked like a handle was indeed a hinge.
My point is, the need for accessibility is everywhere and it is as important in web design as it is in architecture.
When designing for web we must consider various factors such as colour contrast and text size but many forget to consider screenreader users (Screen readers are audio interfaces that convert text into synthesised speech so that users can listen to the content). Luckily there are a few simple things that can be done in order to improve usability for screenreader users, and ultimately all web users...
Unlike sighted web users who can scan a web page and pull out at random what they consider to be the important information. Screen reader users tend to listen to a page from start to finish, top to bottom, left to right. So it is best to have the important parts towards the top of the page.
Descriptive page title
The first thing a screen reader user hears is the page title. It is imperative that this gives users a clear idea of what to expect from that page. Obviously this benefits everyone as anyone can use the page title to orientate themselves and confirm they are where they want to be on the website.
One of the most important usability features for screen reader users is on-page headings. The page structure can then be more easily understood. Although text on the page may appear to be a heading for sighted users, screen readers read through the HTML code so it must be labelled as a heading within that. The screen reader will then announce it as such.
Descriptive link text
Screen reader users can call up a list of on-page links and browse a web page that way. They simply activate links of interest to them. Therefore non-descriptive link text like ‘click here’ is meaningless out of context so avoid it like the plague!
Using lists within the HTML code is super useful as screen readers announce the number of items in each list before reading them out. This way screenreader users have a better idea of what to expect when hearing a list of items, for example site navigation.
A bit like the way an answer machine tells you how many messages you have received rather than just reeling them off one after the other. You feel more prepared for what you're about to listen to. The use of lists (using the <li> tag) is a behind-the-scenes change to the code that shouldn't really affect what the website looks like.
The great thing about these screenreader friendly tips is that each and every one of them will improve overall user experience.
We as humans like to know what to expect and are comfortable with what feels familiar. It's always good to bear this in mind when designing for web and there is no reason this should jeopardise your creativity. Maybe give the web equivalent of dodgy door handles a miss though, just a thought!
Created on Wednesday August 26 2015 03:06 PM
We are very pleased to announce Stefano Franzin has joined the technical team at Focus.
Originally from Italy, Stefano is a full stack web developer with many, many years of open source coding behind him in both PHP and Ruby on Rails. Stefano brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the team and is already knee deep in some of our larger projects.
When not coding Stefano enjoys travel - especially out and about on his 600cc motorbike - and making his own musical instruments. We're currently persuading him to try both at the same time.
Created on Friday August 21 2015 03:04 PM
2015 marks 25 years of photoshop.
Some of you reading this will no doubt be younger than this incredible software (!) and wondering how on earth people ever coped without it. For those of you who remember just how you managed, consider this a walk down memory lane…
This Lynda.com video is fascinating and walks you through the process designers used to go through before they could "photoshop".
Watch it, and you will be in awe. You'll understand why things are the way they are in Photoshop and just how difficult things once were that are so simple today. 30 years ago, to get a piece of type, designers would have to jot down the required copy and request for example 'Helvetica, 24pt, on 24pt leading', send it to a typographer, wait 24 hours, and only then would they receive it printed on paper for them to glue to their mock-up. And if it didn't look right? same again, including another 24 hour wait. Deadlines must have been tough to meet!
Never again will I moan about anything to do with photoshop. It's only Wednesday but I have managed to roll my eyes at something every day this week:
Monday: "How dare auto select, auto select when I don't want it to be activated anymore but hadn't actually deselected the option?"
Tuesday: "Why doesn't Photoshop simply know which layer I clearly had in mind for that effect?"
Wednesday: "My computer is soooo slow, I just had to wait like 0.5 seconds before what I was typing would appear" - at least it wasn't 24 hours!
Is anybody else with me on these or have you got even 'better' ones? We'd love to read your comments!
As an 80's baby, I have reached an age where I'm socially permitted to bleat on about "When I was at school" so here it is:
When I was at school… I studied Graphic Design and it wasn't all fancy software and special effects at the click of a button, oh no, it was of course tasks like build a buggy that can protect an egg. Useful.
It wasn't until I began university as a 'mature student' (seriously? - I was only 23!) that I discovered the joys of Photoshop. I must admit though, it terrified me and initially I avoided it when and where I could. My classmates were only 5 years younger than me but they had used it throughout school and it came so naturally to them.
Now, millions of people use Photoshop everyday and do wonderful things with it, bringing our imagination to life. It has totally transformed our visual culture and changed how we see the world we live in. Adobe have created an intriguing timeline that may just surprise you. Take a look back at the years.
Happy 25th Year Photoshop (and thank you for making life sweet!).
Created on Wednesday July 29 2015 02:20 PM
"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge" - know who said that? You have two guesses... if neither of them were author John Naisbitt, you don't win a prize (well you don't win one either way but it feels good to be right doesn't it?)
Accessible Communications Consultant, Katie Grant, kicked off her engaging talk with that very quote. Katie quite rightly pointed out that information often comes at us faster than we can make sense of it, regardless of disability. So if you're the one dishing out all that know-how, you might want to consider whether it is meaning as much to your audience as it is to you. You should be thinking about:
Language - keep it clear and simple.
Tone of voice - is it appropriate to your audience and your organisation?
Message - should be clear and targeted.
Structure - have a clear intro and overview of the subject.
Content - keep complex data separate.
Readability - pitch at the correct reading level.
Web accessibility should focus on people with all types of disabilities - visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities - including older people with age-related impairments.
Potential audience groups who may benefit from an accessible website also include:
- people with long term health conditions.
- those for whom English is not their first language.
- people with low literacy levels / poor social access.
- people with neurodiversity conditions such as autism.
Some say what has caused a lack of awareness is a lack of empathy. Hearing from those who require accessible websites is so valuable and there was a lady present who kindly shared her needs and preferences with us. She has a few conditions including dyslexia and favours websites with accessibility bars that have the option to change the background colour (you can see this on many sites designed by Focus i.e. www.afclocaloffer.org.uk)
Focus work with many charities and enjoy enriching the lives of others through our technology but there are benefits to be had by all when accessibility is considered seriously. Legal & General spent a lot of time and money making their website accessible. In doing so they experienced many side benefits: visitor numbers almost doubled, maintenance costs halved and there was a huge increase in traffic to the site. Even though it's a few years old their case study is an inspiring read and you can view their case study online.
The message is simple. It's a pretty good idea to make accessibility the aim behind communicating any information. Whatever your reasons are for doing so, the benefits are countless.
Created on Monday June 01 2015 12:18 PM
Last week Jenny and I went along to the Bristol Health Tech meet up - an event exploring how health and technology are working together to share information and improve communication between different kinds of services.
Hosted at the Engine Shed, there was a big turnout with lot of networking and scoffing of bahjees, samosas and yummy fruit juices.
Kicking off the talks was Bristol Health Partners Director David Relph. He gave a really engaging presentation (seriously, one of the best I've ever seen) explaining how the NHS partners work together, and the different areas they cover in terms of service provision and location. We learnt how the pioneering technology project that Relph and his team are working on is changing not only the way patients are being treated, but also making the whole system far more efficient.
By joining up patient notes from every touch point that a patient has within the NHS - doctors, social workers, GPs and many other professionals can access a wealth of information from within one system, despite all 17 NHS partners individually using different systems! Currently in trials, the project so far sounds like it's proving successful. We'll be really keen to hear how it progresses over the coming 12 months.
After a networking and chocolate break :-), next up was Paul Wilson, CEO of Bristol Is Open. Used for research and development work, Bristol Is Open is an innovative experiment that connects partners together across a network using different elements of connectivity:
- A fibre-optic network running through ducts between the University of Bristol, At-Bristol, Watershed and Engine Shed
- A mesh network, using 1500 lamp-posts as a self-healing canopy of connectivity across the city
- A next generation (5G) wireless test running along the Brunel Mile (Temple Meads to the SS Great Britain).
All of this is controlled by a system running at University of Bristol. Customers get a virtual 'slice' of this network, to run and collaborate on their projects. An example of this is at Watershed - one of their cinemas has been upgraded to a high definition 4k projection environment.
Sounds techy - you bet it is! But it's super clever and part of Bristol's plan to be a smart city. Find out more on the Bristol Is Open website.
The event was a really good learning curve - and made me feel proud to be working and living in such a forward-thinking city, doing exciting work that is really shaping our future. Plus, Engine Shed is a pretty cool venue, too.
Created on Thursday April 30 2015 02:38 PM
Back in May 2010, one of our most popular blog articles took a quick look at the web sites of the leading four political parties just before election night. It turned out that Labour had the worst performing web site in terms of code validation - and look how that turned out for them.
So clearly, the true test for how an election will end up is a test of their web site against W3C standards (obviously). Five years later, and it's time to do it all again before we all go off to the polling station.
Here's how the seven (seven?!) main party web sites fared:
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: 7 errors and 3 warnings, that's a worse performance than 2010 for the Tories.
2. Liberal Democrats.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
3. Labour Party.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: 16 errors and 11 warnings. Much better than 2010's stats of 286 errors and 45 warnings. But web site usability not helped greatly by the instrusive splash / signup page on entry.
4. Scottish National Party
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: No! Our first fail.
Validation errors: 3 errors. But lots of points lost for all those tablet and mobile users.
5. Plaid Cymru
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: No! Disappointing again.
Validation errors: It gets worse, the W3C validator is unable to validate Plaid Cymru's web site due to an encoding issue. Doesn't bode well for May 7th.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: Oh dear Nigel. 115 errors and 33 warnings.
7. Green Party
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes!
Validation errors: 4 errors and 1 warnings, not bad at all.
So it's quite clear - on the 8th May we'll have a Green Party majority, and UKIP will be in the pub fixing those validation errors. But some time on the naughty step please for the SNP and Plaid Cymru for those mobile-unfriendly web sites. *
* yes, we know there are other parties, but this is a bit of fun and in no way endorses any political party or policy - apart from having a responsive web site.
Created on Friday April 24 2015 02:57 PM
At the heart of this rather apocalyptic term is a fundamental change to the way that Google is ranking search results. Up to now, web sites that are suitable for display and use on a mobile phone were highlighted in their search results, but Google are now ramping things up and taking the 'mobile friendliness' of a web site as a significant factor in how highly your site will be ranked on their results pages. So if your web site isn't optimised for being used on smartphones and tablets, you could start to lose some valuable Google rankings.
This could spell big problems for business-critical sites such as eCommerce stores and SaaS platforms, with USA Today claiming at least 40% of 'top web sites' could be hit. The commercial aspect of search engine rankings are vital for online businesses, particularly where the majority of their traffic comes from Google searches. But just as important is the effect this will have on non-commercial sites, where users often search Google to find relevant information, advice or support.
This is, of course, another good reason to ensure that your web site is optimised for mobile - something that we at This is Focus have been doing for over three years now. For our customers, 'mobilegeddon' means their web sites will appear healthily in search results, with a nice reassuring 'mobile friendly' label.
But there's other important reasons for optimising your web site for mobile:
User experience: ensuring that whatever device your users employ, they can obtain the information they need.
Accessibility: why should users who only have access to a specific device be penalised?
Sustainability: new devices surface so quickly. Being 'mobile friendly' is more than 'doing a mobile version of your web site'. There are many combinations of screen sizes - iPads have mini-versions, iPhones have big versions. Our technology means we take screen size as the key factor in how a web site is displayed - not just the device accessing it.
There's no doubt that Google set trends and in some ways, govern the way that web sites are delivered. Google react to how users search for information, and they clearly think that this core change in their ranking tech is delivering users the content they want in a format they need. It could be the first of a series of changes they implement that favour well designed, robust and useful web sites.
Handily, Google have provided a nice online tool to check if your web site is 'mobile friendly'. Simply visit:
https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and enter your web site address. If it fails, then please do feel free to have a chat with the This is Focus team to see how we can turn that red cross into a green tick....
Created on Friday April 24 2015 11:17 AM
After some deliberation, Annette and I decided that two laptops AND an ipad between us definitely wasn’t technology overkill, so we headed off for the BAWA Centre in Filton – the venue for the WECIL conference 2015. The subject of the day was Direct Payments and employing Personal Assistants; an area of Adult Social Care that we both felt we would benefit from learning more about.
We arrived nice and early and set up our stand, right next door to Well Aware and not too far from the tea and coffee. The room filled up and Claire Charras (WECIL's Online Systems Project Developer and friend of Focus) welcomed delegates, following up with an introduction to My Support – a new online PA matching registration service.
Keynote speaker Alex Fox CEO of Shared Lives Plus was up next and spoke about the changes around Direct Payments and the potential effects of these changes; his thoughts on the importance of tackling isolation through Community engagement really struck a chord. SLP appears to take a different approach to Social Care which poses the question - when considering wellbeing, do we need to think less about how much money is needed and more about how much Community is needed? Certainly food for thought!
Throughout the day we had lots visitors to our stand and plenty of interest in ‘what on earth we do’…. perhaps we needed to rethink our banner (!) Once we got over any initial confusion the feedback on our websites was excellent; everyone seemed to engage with the concept of our solutions and had lots of questions for us. We took the opportunity to give demonstrations to on-lookers and hopefully raised awareness of the exciting work going on at Focus.
I think everyone in attendance would agree that the day was an all round success and we came away with an enhanced understanding of the changes heralded by the Care Act 2014. The team at Focus would like to say a big thank you to WECIL and to Claire in particular for inviting us along - we look forward to seeing you all again soon!
Created on Tuesday March 31 2015 02:47 PM
2015 has already seen the Focus team working with a number of new clients, one of those being Bristol charity Alive!
Alive! are a great charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people in care. They get people dancing, singing, painting, reminiscing and using new technology - such as their 'Memory Apps' project which engages older people with iPads.
Alive! are growing quickly and like any expanding organisation, things need to change 'in the office' to help support that growth. So the charity have turned to the tech team at Focus to design and build a bespoke customer relationship management system, which will provide a single, centralised resource of data and information for the charity to use. On top of this, we'll be automating some business processes to save administration time and putting in place functionality to ensure smooth and consistent communication between the charity and their customers.
This bespoke approach is very much our thing at Focus - having implemented a web based project management portal for one of the world's largest ink manufacturers, as well as a bespoke digital mailing application for one of the UKs leading utility groups - we've seen the difference our tech has made to the day-to-day running of businesses and organisations across all sectors.
We'll be making sure the transition to the new system is seamless and will also be running a series of workshops and training sessions with the Alive! team, as well as the publishing our ever-popular screencast-based online help, which always receives really positive feedback from our customers.
We're looking forward to cracking on and ensuring Alive! can spend their time on enriching the lives of more older people in care.
Created on Friday March 13 2015 02:30 PM
Jordana, Jenny and I recently attended Bristol Parent Carers (BPC) annual conference, and this year’s theme was ‘Shape the Future’.
BPC is an independent, local organisation of parents and carers of children with disabilities and special needs. The group works in partnership with Bristol City Council and the NHS to shape service provision for children and young people with disabilities and special needs.
I’ve been attending these conferences for the last few years, and I have to say this year seemed better than ever. A brilliant turn out of parents and carers; plus key professionals from Bristol City Council and NHS Bristol, all eager to talk to parents and carers of disabled children and get to grips with their challenges.
We girls wore several hats throughout the day; interested observers, knowledge gatherers, IT consultants (!) and a few more too!
The key subjects of the conference were:
Children’s Community Health Services
Priorities for 2016
Bristol’s Local Offer.
Back in September 2014 we proudly went live with www.findabilitybristol.org.uk - which is our online solution for Bristol’s Local Offer. We were excited to be launching it ‘proper’ at the conference, and get some on-the-ground feedback and input from both parents and carers, and the professionals offering the services found on the website.
During the afternoon ‘Local Offer Live’ session, we helped set up multiple tables with a laptop or tablet running the website (IT consultant hats :-), and liaised with groups of parents and carers who were using the site in earnest. The outcome of this is lots of real feedback from actual users, which is totally invaluable and can only lead to improvements and enhancements to the website - a really positive result.
We had lots of chats with lovely people, and all feel like we’ve not only improved our knowledge base, but also enjoyed participating and helping out with the day as a whole. I’m now really looking forward to catching up with the core Local Offer team later this week to discuss our findings from the day.
Created on Tuesday March 10 2015 05:31 PM
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