Anežka Řepík of Design for All: Accessible design is a competitive advantage in business
Anežka Řepík is a design thinking specialist who is part of Zlín Design Week and recently co-founded the Design for All project, which deals with accessibility issues and how to design products and services for the widest possible audience. We talked with Anežka about universal design, the unmanaged websites of health institutions, the Scandinavian model or the need for interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Design for All project deals with universal design, accessibility. It focuses on making the world around us, the things and services we use every day, more usable and accessible. Did you think about this when creating your new website?
Definitely. We wanted the site to meet basic accessibility requirements, it was one of the criteria in the selection process we did. We taught ourselves about accessibility during the process of creating the site. Not only on the website level, but also on the content level, on the communication level. Most of the time, we only notice the topic of accessibility when it's missing somewhere. We had to think a lot about seemingly simple things. How to communicate, how to use language, details like alternative labels or naming buttons well. It's important to be consistent, because if you aren't, the site will be hard to read for some people and it will just be a mess. Our site is certainly not perfect, but we have tried to think about its accessibility in the context of the theme of universal, i.e. accessible design. In order to at least get closer to the theme that we ourselves espouse.
Universal design is guaranteed with solidpixels, whether you build the site yourself or ask us for help. So go ahead!
You mentioned the basic requirements of accessibility. Which ones do you think they are?
One of the basic ones was readability, or that the site works even when using a screen reader. For example, the right font contrasts are important in this regard; these were addressed by a graphic designer on our team. You took care of the technical side and its details, so that blind people can, for example, navigate the site using the tab key. We took care of the semantics, we mainly dealt with the correct structure of the texts, such as different types of headings, alternative image captions, etc. This way, we support the already mentioned screen readers. Accessibility is not provided by just one person, but appears in the work of different roles. In terms of usability, we also emphasized a relatively high degree of modularity in the production of the site, because we wanted to be able to expand it. At the same time, we knew that we would have more content over time, and in this respect, autonomy and convenience in managing it was important to us - so that, for example, when we handed over the agenda to other people, we wouldn't have to deal with the fact that it was difficult for them to operate the site, which could result in content with errors.
"Some websites are only superficially fulfilling accessibility in order to meet the legal minimum. Yet website accessibility is not just useful for someone who has a permanent disability. People with a temporary disability will also appreciate it, it could be someone who has had an operation, is stressed and so on."
Can you think of any website that does not meet the conditions of universal design?
There are plenty of them. Although I'm probably not the most qualified person to evaluate other sites. Web accessibility experts like Radek Pavlicek or Ondřej Pohl would certainly have better examples. In general, I can think of websites that are old and have not been updated for a long time, for example, they were created in the 1990s or at the turn of the millennium. They often have a crazy visual design, they are cluttered, lack mobile versions... Some websites are only superficially accessible, just to meet the legal minimum. Yet web accessibility is not just useful for someone with a permanent disability. People with temporary handicaps can also appreciate it; it can be someone who has had an operation, is stressed, etc. For example, municipal or city websites should meet accessibility conditions as much as possible, because they offer services to citizens, taxpayers and serve everyone.
The health sector is also quite specific in this respect. Sometimes one can be glad if a given institution or doctor has a website with up-to-date information at all. I recently went to Thomayer Hospital and tried to find out beforehand if and how to park there, which was quite difficult, even though the website looks quite modern. A good googling helped me in the end. The contrast of the information on the site with the real situation proved to be another obstacle. Because of it, I wasn't prepared for the situation of paying for parking - because the machine didn't take large bills or metal coins. These are small things, but they are exactly the kind of things that add another level of stress, frustration and annoyance to an already pretty unpleasant situation. In short, a persons health is on the line and they are having trouble parking.
"With universal design, companies create loyal customers because they are more satisfied thanks to removing barriers and know they can find functional things with that particular brand. They then have no reason to go elsewhere. In addition to expanding the target group, universal design leads to higher satisfaction, hence loyalty and building a long-term positive relationship with the brand. It is then a very good competitive advantage."
One of the goals of Design for All is to show the benefits of universal design for users and business through the Design and Marketing Conference. What are the benefits in particular?
Universal design helps companies expand their target groups. Users with specific needs become potential customers for them, and sometimes companies can attract groups they had not originally considered by improving the accessibility of their products. One example is OXO, which produces kitchen utensils. They decided to target people with arthritis and designed potato peelers that are easy to use because they have a wider grip. It's the perfect tool for anyone who suffers from hand stiffness, slight tremors or lack of sensitivity. Originally the product was aimed at this fairly marginal group, but it works well for children too. By taking this approach, companies also create loyal customers, as they are happier due to the removal of barriers and know that they will find functional things with this particular brand. They then have no reason to go elsewhere. In addition to broadening the target group, universal design also leads to higher satisfaction, hence loyalty and building a long-term positive relationship with the brand. This is then a very good competitive advantage.
It's actually free CSR.
In essence, yes. Instead of focusing on "good activities" separately, companies can integrate the principles of universal design and the "good approach" directly into their core business. It pays off in the long run. In the 1970s, this is how Stokke's design for a growing chair for children came about. This design has remained unchanged for more than fifty years. The chair is very popular and still sells well, and even with second and third hand sales, the price has not fallen too much. That seems very sensible from a business point of view.
"Scandinavia is a great role model, where design is approached in a comprehensive and broad-spectrum way. Interdisciplinary cooperation plays a big role there. There is always a lot of collaboration across different sectors on the problem at hand, for example, municipalities, investors, architects and citizens often communicate and share their know-how."
In the case studies on your website, you draw a lot from the Scandinavian and Norwegian environment. You deal with public space, transport or even visual identities. Do you think Scandinavia is a good model in this respect? Why is that?
Scandinavia can certainly be a great role model for us, especially in the way it approaches design in a comprehensive and broad-spectrum way - by that I mean that design is not just about product design or graphics, but also about services or processes. At the same time, design is a long-term investment. Interdisciplinary collaboration also plays a big role in the approach to problems and their solutions. There is always a lot of collaboration across different sectors on the problem that is being solved at the moment, for example districts, investors, architects and citizens often communicate and share their know-how. In Oslo, they invested in a new visual identity in this way. Instead of introducing the new design everywhere at once, they integrate the new visual style gradually, as soon as a new poster or website for a particular institution or event needs to be created. This phased approach ensures that everyone working with the new design learns to use it effectively, and it takes into account the limited resources of some smaller institutions.
You are part of Zlín Design Week. How is this project connected to Design for All? What new things are in the pipeline and what will the next edition be like?
In the last two years, the main theme of Zlín Design Week has been universal design. This multi-year coverage of one topic has allowed us to go more in depth with the topic and get it out to the people better. This year, the theme of universal design was the subject of a conference for designers and marketers, as well as workshops to pass on the know-how of the field. Speakers included industrial designer and Norwegian astronaut candidate Nima Shahinian with a talk on space accessibility and the NextStep space programme. Workshops focused on digital web accessibility, while another focused on accessible tourism. We engaged local stakeholders such as tourist information centres, galleries and others to understand the meaning and importance of accessible design in practice. For example, we addressed how the timing of buses can negatively affect attendance at guided tours because visitors unknowingly arrive late, or how it can be difficult to get to certain places because of the terrain. We wanted them to realise that the parts add up to one visitor experience and so even relatively small details matter. The aim of these activities at Zlín Design Week was to inspire and show how to transfer theoretical knowledge into practice. It is often difficult to implement changes in organisations that may not be completely open to change. That is why we wanted to give the participants concrete guidelines and arguments on how they can implement changes in their organisations. After all, this is exactly what the Design for All website, which was created with your help, is trying to do. It offers case studies, inspiration and a list of experts that institutions and teams can turn to when they decide to tackle the topic of accessibility.
"The process of working with solidpixels was very smooth. We set clear deadlines at the beginning and it was nice to see how quickly and efficiently you worked. In fact, I was quite surprised that things were done so quickly on your end that we were the ones being waited on."
What do you enjoy most about solidpixels and working with it?
Definitely the maximum independence in site administration, intuitiveness, easy orientation. Among other things, we chose you because of your experience with accessibility. The project was supported by the EEA Grants, so a number of other official conditions of the tender had to be met.
How did you perceive the process of creating the website? Was there anything that surprised you?
The process was very smooth. We set clear deadlines at the beginning and it was nice to see how quickly and efficiently you worked. In fact, I was quite surprised that things were done so quickly on your end that we were the ones being waited on. I wasn't expecting that. We also appreciated the quick and direct communication, which was not unnecessarily formal but at the same time very professional, you sought the best solution for our requirements and were accommodating.
Universal design is guaranteed with solidpixels, whether you build the site yourself or ask us for help. So go ahead!
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