Show 91: God Bless America

Paul Boag

On this week’s show: Paul gets to grips with the fact that the whole world isn’t British, Marcus explains how to deal with the client from hell and Julie Howell shares her expertise on accessibility

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News and events | Dealing with the client from hell | The international web | Julie Howell on Accessibility

News and events

There are tons of news stories which have sprung up since I last recorded a show. In fact I have spent all morning wading through my RSS feeds. Unfortunately as always I can only squeeze a few into the show so you will have to check out my delicious feed for the rest.

Gerry McGovern on Intranets

The first story I wanted to mention is a couple of posts by Gerry McGovern concerning intranets. I am constantly getting emails asking for me to talk about intranets on the show but somehow have never gotten around to it. Fortunately Gerry has and if you are somebody who works on intranet sites then you should take the time to check them out.

The first, tackles the basic problem of how to get senior management engaged with the intranet. Gerry observes that generally speaking management don’t consider the intranet an important asset to the business and so the site never gets the backing it deserves and requires. In the post he suggests the solution is in how the intranet is portrayed to management and goes on to propose a better approach.

The second article Gerry has posted on intranets is a breakdown of a report on what staff really want from their intranet. Basically, staff overwhelmingly want a better organized intranet where they can quickly find people, policies and procedures, and forms.

Gerry goes on to look at the numbers behind this conclusion and links to a summary of the results in PDF form.

SXSW Panel Picker

Probably the biggest web design news since I have been away is that SXSW have launched their annual panel picker. For those of you who do not know, SXSW is the biggest web design conference of the year and takes place in Austin Texas. The massive event has democratized their selection of panels by opening it up for you to vote on.

By going to the SXSW panel picker you can browse over 680 suggested panels and vote for the ones you like the look of most. Although this sounds great in principle, as Andy Budd points out, it can turn into a popularity contest for the speakers and not necessarily an assessment of the quality of the subjects.

That said, I need you to all vote for the three panels I am associated with whether you think they are any good or not! I don’t even care if you are attending SXSW or not, just get on the site and vote. Hell, I have crafted this podcast lovingly for you every week for over two years the least you can do is vote for me :)

Seriously though, I am hoping to be on three panels (yes I know this overkill) and am really excited as it is my first year speaking at the conference.

My panels are:

Hopefully at least one of these will come off.

HTML characters lookup

My next news item that I wanted to mention is a useful little tool which has recently been launched. I love this tool because it solves a really simple problem in a very easy to use way. Basically all it does is allow you to look up the HTML code you need to include ampersands, spaces or other characters which need to be escaped.

Let me explain the problem in case you don’t know what I am talking about. In HTML certain characters are reserved for use in the code. For example if you type an & it will interpret that as code and not text. It is therefore necessary to code up these characters in a special way. This online tool will tell you exactly how to do that.

You simply type in the character you wish to use and it returns the code you have to use. The site uses AJAX so results return incredibly quickly and if you are a mac user you can even download a dashboard widget.

Very useful indeed.

Moving from Print to the web

My final new story for today is some help for you print designers out there who are struggling to make the transition to the web. It is not always an easy process not just because of learning the technical side but also the mental shift involved.

Well, if that is you I would like to make two suggestions. First up, I would like to recommend an article I came across that takes you through the process of moving from print to the web. Its extremely good and makes some excellent recommendations about where to start.

Secondly, you might want to think about getting some training on CSS and XHTML. There are a number of courses out there but if you are UK based I would like to particularly recommend a beginners CSS course being run by Rachel Andrews and Drew McLellan. These guys are both experts in their field and they have a session coming up in October. Of course this course is ideal for anybody starting out with CSS, not just print designers!

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Marcus’ bit: Dealing with the client from hell

Found this rather frustrated boagworlder (Cadore) in the forum – read on…;

Hello everyone, I was wondering if I could get some feedback on how to proceed with a problematic client.

I have a small business client who contacted me about a website. After talking with her she decided she wanted a basic two column layout with some navigation, she would provide language, etc. All was good, but here is the main problem: I design the header or banner, whichever you call it, and she says it looks great, she loves it. Then we move onto the navigation, she likes the navigation, but now the header seems “too busy” – take a step back. One thing that cracks me up is she said in emails she wants to have a large amount of leaves throughout the design. So, I incorporate leaves and she says she is thinking of not having any leaves at all now. It’s like she wants to do the design for me? Me designer – you client. Do you understand what I am saying, every step forward she wants to go a step back. Now she has a problem with the navigation, and the background image, that she has loved and hated 4 times already. Does anyone have any advice how to deal with a client like this. I was thinking of having her sign off on every little things, but this doesn’t make for a happy working relationship. Any advice on you have proceeded with a client like this would be appreciated.

I have talked loads about getting contracts in place, making sure everything’s agreed up front etc etc. But, agreeing on the look and feel of a site is not so easy to nail down before you start working on a project.

Certainly do all of the following before you start:

  • Find out who will be signing off the design.
  • Encourage the client to make this as small a group as possible.
  • Talk to these people. Obviously, talk to them about project specifics (see below) but try to get to know them a bit. Get an idea whether they’re conservative in their outlook, arty, whacky…; whatever. I remember seeing a panel at SXSW where a Swedish creative director said that he insisted on getting drunk with his clients before starting the job…; there is some wisdom in that!
  • As them for examples of favourite sites, particularly in their sector. Ask them why they like them.
  • Ask them for any other marketing material that they have, particularly items they like.
  • Discuss their brand (even if it’s just their logo) and the importance of continuity. Make sure that you are aware of any limitations.
  • Discuss colours.
  • Discuss imagery. Ask for imagery that you can use.
  • Discuss layout.
  • Finally, when you’re discussing these items, make sure that you provide examples, choices, potential solutions etc. Your client is almost certainly not an expert web designer therefore they need ideas from you; alternatives if you like.
  • However, you must explain why you’re recommending a particular idea. You need to communicate that you are an expert. This is actually the crux of the problem I think. Successful designers communicate their ideas before they ‘put pen to paper’ and provide solid reasoning for their choices afterwards.

Summarise all of your discussions in an email. Insist that they agree (or not) upon all of the points in the email before you start.
Ok, so that’s all done, now you have a choice:

Limited iterations

This is when you say to the client:

‘Ok, we will put together a design concept for you. You can come back to us with any modifications/comments once that will be incorporated into the design concept, anything after that is chargeable’.

I think this works well for small client, low budget work because everyone knows where they stand and possibly expectations are lower. Also, constantly going back over a design can affect the bottom line of a small project a lot more than a big technical project.

Averaging things out

The problem with this approach is that it can piss off your clients. You can end up looking petty or, even worse, you can end up making changes for free after the agreed cut off point (“it was only a 10 minute job”)…;

The approach that we have ended up with at Headscape takes the view that clients won’t pay time and materials for design concept work (they need a fixed price), so we have estimated what we think the average time spent on this work and charge that to all clients. This price is per concept but effectively allows unlimited mods to that concept. If a client wants multiple concepts then they pay accordingly.

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Paul’s corner: The international web

Just before I went on holiday last week I posted an entry on boagworld. On my return I was gob-smacked to see it had generated the most comments of any post I have ever added to my site.

The whole thing started with an email I received from a first time listener to the show. He was complaining about a joke I made at the expense of my american listeners. Those who listen to the show regularly will know that this is not uncommon and this listener felt the comments were inappropriate. I posted a throw away line on twitter about this and accidently started a debate on political correctness and international differences. Overnight I found myself thinking a lot about the subject and this lead to a blog post on the international web.

I started by apologizing if my humor caused any offense but the main thrust of the article was looking at the broader issues of engaging with an international audience. I found the challenges of working across multiple cultures fascinating and felt it applied to all aspects of web design (not just podcasts).

However, unfortunately the majority of comments I received focused on the apology rather than the points I was trying to raise. I really appreciated the encouragement found in the comments but would like to come back to this issue of culture and cultural differences when designing for the web. This is a challenge that we all face and I want to cover the 5 points I mentioned in my blog post again for the sake of those of you who do not read my blog.

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Ask the expert: Julie Howell on Accessibility

Paul:
Today I’ve been fortunate enough to grab a few minutes of Julie Howell’s time. Julie is the director of accessibility at a digital design agency called Fortune Cookie and is also the former digital policy development manager at the Royal National Institute for the Blind. She has also been involved, I believe if this is right Julie, that you were involved as the technical author for the PAS-78 or do you call it P.A.S 78?

Julie:
It’s pronounced PAS. Also RNIB is for Royal National Institute of Blind People if you want to…

Paul:
Oh, I missed out the People didn’t I. Oh well, there you go.

Julie:
Well it’s a recent change anyway.

Paul:
Ah, it’s to keep me guessing. Anyway good to have you on the show.

Julie:
Thank you.

Paul:
And obviously, unsurprisingly we have Julie in here to talk about accessibility [laughs]. You know, it’s kinda a no-brainer really. So I thought the best place to start is, well Julie, it strikes me, and I know a lot of the people that listen to our show, that the world of web accessibility seems to be a bit of a mess at the moment. We’ve kinda got WCAG2 that seems to be taking forever to come out. We’ve got now this thing called the WCAG Samurai, what’s all that about? They seem to be in competition with WCAG2. Then whenever you go into or if you are brave enough to venture onto an accessibility forum, they all seem to be fighting over tiny details and you are terrified to say anything incase you get jumped over. Do you think that accessibility is in trouble and if so, what can it do to dig itself out of the hole? What can the accessibility community do?

Julie:
You know, I don’t think there’s as big a problem as is being suggested. I think that what you have to keep in mind is perspective and context. There is heated debate on some areas of the web about accessibility, how accessibility will change or how the guidance might change moving forward in the great big wide world of web design. But in the much bigger world of commercial companies posting content on the web, there isn’t that concern. Everything seems quite stable. It doesn’t worry me at all that the techies or the geeks, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, are having heated debate because it’s really important. That’s how things change and improve and move forward. What is important is that we as people who are part of what I call the accessibility movement, who care about accessibility and who care about the lot of disabled people, keep presenting consistent guidance to the people who really can make the difference to disabled people. That’s businesses who are putting their services onto the web. The fact that there is heated debate about the technicalities I think is positive not negative.

Paul:
It strikes me that there is a little bit of confusion among the business community about what is actually expected of them. Things like the Disability Discrimination Act. They’re not sure how it should be interpreted in reality. Do you think there’s a case or there’s a need for more legal cases to be taken up so that the boundaries of accessibility are better defined?

Julie:
I think there’s a few things in there. I think that the greatest problem that we have, rather than it being arguments about the technicality, is actually a PR issue. We have guidance. We have the Web Content Accessibility Guidance and the other two separate guidance published by the Web Accessibility Initiative. We also have the document published by the British Standards Institution, PAS-78, and I guess we’ll talk about that a little bit more. What we lack is any consistent and well resourced drive to raise awareness of those documents among the community that needs to now about them and that is businesses. That for me is the missing part of the puzzle. Of course the guidelines will keep changing because the technology is changing at such a fast rate. So that I think is healthy. But what we really do need is more effort put into helping businesses understand the guidance that we have. Businesses should not be engaged in the technical discussions because that’s not where they fit into all of this. Businesses want clear, succinct, and that’s a huge problem I have with WCAG2, succinct guidance so that they just know what to… Businesses are saying to us, and I’m saying “us” as in the voluntary sector, the government, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), that they care about the disabled peoples access and they want to do something about it. They just don’t know what to do. They are confused about which guidance to follow and to my mind, that is due to poor PR and not having any single government department or agency in the UK responsible for pushing the guidance. We’ve got individual organisations and voluntary organisations such as RNIB and RNID doing great work on their own but there’s no government force or business force behind it. Championing the guidance that we have and saying “Actually, there’s no confusion here. The guidance has been published, it is stable and this is all you have to do to follow it. Go forth and get on with it”.

Paul:
Let’s talk about PAS-78 a little bit in context of the business community and what they need to know. Correct me if I am wrong but my understanding of that document is that it was meant to be advice for people that run websites, website owners, to really get them up and running. Is that a fair assessment of what it was about?

Julie:
Erm… I’ve never heard it described that way.

Paul:
[Laughs]

Julie:
[Laughing] I would say that it’s there to provide clarity. We were concerned by the feedback that we were receiving that people in the business community were confused about the range of accessibility guidance that was available on the web. If you go to a search engine and type in “web accessibility”, you get all sorts of stuff back and some of it seems to be conflicting. So what we wanted to do with PAS-78 was pull all of the web accessibility guidance that’s produced by WAI, and also that’s produced by the software developers such as Adobe and others like Microsoft, all together into a single document that can be read within a couple of hours if you want to sit down and read it end to end or could easily be dipped in and out of, which was the definitive guide to the process of making a website accessible. The existing technical guidelines are not for business managers so we have written a document that is in a language that business managers can engage with, can digest, and puts everything together as a process. So it talks about guidelines and it doesn’t seek to create any new guidance. It points to guidance that’s already been published by WAI and others. But it also explains this is a process. This is what you do at this stage and it’s very important to involve disabled people at this stage; at this stage you should write an accessibility policy, later an accessibility statement. These are some of the questions you might want to ask when you are appointing a web design agency. So it puts all of that together in one document. That’s what we were seeking to do really. There’s a few words I used when I was launching it. Two of those words were harmonise and consolidate. It was nothing new. It was bringing together all of the guidance so there was absolutely no doubt. If anyone in the business says “I don’t understand what to do to make my site accessible”, PAS-78 is the only answer they need.

Paul:
OK. So where would they find and get hold of that?

Julie:
Well PAS-78 is free. Now it’s freely available because of the Disability Rights Commission. If you go to the DRC, the DRC have a licensing agreement with the British Standards Institution. So if you go to the Disability Rights Commission website you can download a PAS-78. It’s available in a variety of formats including accessible PDF. After all the medium is the message. The website address for that is http://www.drc-gb.org/pas.

Paul:
Well that brings us nicely onto WCAG then doesn’t it. What are your impressions are of WCAG2, how the WCAG Samurai stuff fits into that and what your current thinking is on all of this?

Julie:
Yeah, we live in interesting times as they say. I’ve been involved with WAI to a lesser and greater degree since 1995. A long time. I’m very conversant in the processes that are there. Now I’m a policy person and a disability rights campaigner. I’m not a coder. I’m not a geek, meant in the nicest possible way, and I’ve got no interest in become one either. I used to design websites but that was back in the day and it’s all very different now. What I care about is disabled people getting access to the web. I care that businesses are enable to make that happen. So as your listeners know WCAG2 has been in development for a really long time. That in itself troubles me because that makes it seem like disabled people are a huge nuisance and very, very difficult to cater for because an organisation catering in specialising to disabled peoples needs on the web takes many, many years to come up with guidance. I don’t like the message that puts out and I think that fuels some of that kind of confusion and misunderstanding and hence that’s why we did the PAS. It was so much quicker and it puts out, I feel, the right messages. People joke about it now don’t they. How long it’s taken WCAG2 to appear and that is because it’s subject to a very rigorous process of course but taking a long time. Now it’s in its latest drafting stages and I have to say… I’m sure you’ve read it or at least looked at it. I haven’t read it because I don’t have the time to read a document of that size. However, it’s not for me. It really is a technical manual now and as a technical manual, what is important is that those of you who are developing code and need to read the technical stuff are engaged by it, will read it and use it effectively. So that’s where the checking needs to be done. I think in the past where we’re getting some of these struggles at the moment, is because WCAG1 was a document for all. So you could read it if you were a developer and you could also have a good read of it if you weren’t and get something out of it. Looking at it now, it looks like a technical manual. Then, for me, it comes back down to PR. If it’s a technical manual then they to call it such and make it clear. If you put that on the desk of any business director general / CEO and well you can imagine the reception that you’ll get, who wants to read that? That said WAI always produce very comprehensive guides to their guidelines and curricular to help the various groups to apply the guidance correctly. They will do so in this case and again for me it’s down to PR. It needs to be made very clear to each individual group, developers, business owners, advocates as well, which guidance is for which group so that we don’t get people belly aching “Oh this is too long”, “I don’t have time to read a document of 100+ pages”.

Paul:
What hadn’t occurred to me there until you just said it, the fact that this applies not just to people like Adobe and Microsoft but also applies to me potentially. If I’m developing a web application that enables users to contribute and upload content then in effect I’m being an equivalent of a Facebook or a Myspace and I need to be aware of those kinds of accessibility issues there are well. It’s quite interesting.

Julie:
It is and then it gets more interesting when you look at it in the context of the law in this country. We have the Disability Discrimination Act and that puts, and I choose these words very carefully, a legal duty on “service providers”. Now software developers are not covered by the DDA. However, the line is blurring. If a website is inaccessible, say a blind person goes to a site to do some shopping and it’s inaccessible, who’s responsibility is it? Whose legal duty is it that the site is accessible? Well it’s the owner of the business because it’s their service. But there’s an argument that the developer who coded the site has aided and abetted the discrimination. But we don’t have any case laws so this is all theoretical until we do get some case laws to back up what were saying. However software developers are not subject to the DDA. There’s a blurry of the lines, in my opinion, between a service provider and a software developer. But if I was to take an educated guess, if a disabled person experienced an instance of discrimination as defined under the Disability Discrimination Act and that happened because they tried to utilise a server via somebody’s page on a social networking site, who would be responsible? That would be very interesting. We also have the DDA, the Disability Discrimination Act. I have Multiple sclerosis. Everybody knows this. I’m very open about it and it really informs my work. Being somebody who stands to benefit, stands to live my life as I choose to and prosper because of the DDA, I can tell you from this side of the fence that the DDA is a very weak piece of legislation as it is. We don’t to date have any case law regarding websites but even if there was a case, it would take quite a number of cases to have any useful body of guidance other than what we already have and know as is published in PAS-78. Really that is your best guide. So yeah, interesting times that we live in. What I would say is that would hope that anybody who is responsible for social networking has a social conscience and cares very much about the ability of every member of society to be able to use the content, to both access it and create it. Unfortunately, disabled people don’t always figure in the planning process when people are putting together solutions and this is again where the web accessibility needs to keep on ramping up that awareness effort to get everybody to understand and to be thinking about disabled people at the earliest part of the conceptual process for new technology. It’s an issue we’ve always had that with web accessibility we’re always running to catch up because new ideas that come to market on the web really, really quickly and the trick to it, in my opinion, is getting close to the innovators, throwing in their face and keep on reminding them. Today we’re talking about accessibility of social networks, tomorrow it will be something else but I’ve got no idea what it’ll be.

Paul:
OK. So just before we wrap up let’s bring it back down to the more mundane day to day level. There will be a lot of people that are listening to this podcast and listening to our conversation thinking “Wow! This seems really overwhelming. It all seems very complicated. There seems to be talking about us having to get disabled people in to do testing, that sounds very expensive. There are legal obligations here and that sounds very scary. There are these various technical guidelines and they all seem very confusing.” Just to those people that are web sites owners that have perhaps buried their head in the sand so far about accessibility. What little step would you suggest to them? Just to get them going. Just to make the first tentative steps into the world of making their site more accessible.

Julie:
The first document to read is PAS-78 which is free of charge. It’s only about 60 pages and that’s in large print. It really is quite an easy read. We made sure of that when we wrote it. PAS-78 sets it all out in plain language. It’s very much written with the business audience in mind. I’d also offer some encouragement. Have a look at some of the case studies, you can easily find them on the web, of big companies that have applied accessibility and are profiting from it. An example being Legal & General, the one that I talk about a lot at the moment. Legal & General had a 300% increase in the take-up of one of their financial products via their website after they made the site more accessible.

Paul:
Wow!

Julie:
300% in a matter of months. You wouldn’t dare set that as a business target. It astonished me and I’ve long believed in this stuff. 300% is amazing. There’s also been a lot written about Tesco. Tesco take millions more in extra business away from their competitors because they’ve made their site more accessible. Accessibility is a good news story. There is money to be had through accessibility. If you make your website content available to the biggest possible audience that you’re tapping into a much bigger pot of money. Disabled people as a group in the UK alone are estimated to have an annual spending power in the region of £85 billion! An incredible amount of money that someone needs to exploit, to capitalise one. Disable people are very happy to be marketed to. Perhaps more so than other groups because disabled people, in particular blind people, are not exposed to advertising and therefore not exposed to a lot of choice that those of us that can see take for granted. Accessible sites are also interoperable sites. They work well on different platforms. If you make your site accessible for a PC you’re making it accessible for many other technologies including a mobile phone which people are using increasingly more now in the UK. Yes, there is a legal imperative as well. I wouldn’t be afraid of that though. There’s a long process involved in that. The DDA to safeguard disabled people’s rights to participate in society. Now indeed when a disabled people feels and finds that they have been discriminated against because of the way a web service is presented to them, of course they are going to feel angry and upset. I have long said I have never understood why I should be able to use a product or service to buy some tickets online because I can see but my blind friend can’t. To me that’s completely unacceptable and unnecessary discrimination. However it’s not a case of “Oh I’m not happy” and we’re all in court. There’s a process there of conciliation. The DRC is involved in that process or it can be, as well as a number of disability organisations because what we want is not to take anybody to the cleaners. It’s to make the web more accessible. The key to that is my mind is dialog. When I used to work at RNIB, if a blind person contacted me having found a website they couldn’t use and it was one of the bigger ones. This is what happened with Tesco. 40 blind people got onto us saying they couldn’t use Tesco and they wanted a legal case to be taken. This was tremendous because it’s alerted Tesco to this issue and it meant that we were able to start a dialogue, the result of which is hundreds if not thousands of blind people are now able to do online shopping for their groceries and delivered to their home which is wonderful. Tesco is not unhappy because it’s bringing in a lot more money through that channel where it wasn’t bringing in any previously from disabled people because it was inaccessible. What we are trying to achieve here is sustained change that will see disabled people included in society to the degree that it would seem outrageous and ridiculous not to do so. Big changes happen. I never thought I’d see smoking banned in public places. I can’t believe it. My goodness if we can do that as a society we can change the way we behave towards disabled people, stop belly aching about the issues and talk to each other about working towards solutions. I’m optimistic that in 20 years we’ll see disabled people much more included in everything that we are all doing now to keep the debate about disabled people and accessibility alive, contributing to a brighter future for disabled people. We should just keep on doing what we are all doing.

Paul:
Excellent. Thank you so much Julie for taking time to come in and talk about that. It was really interesting. I hope to get you back in again in the future before too long.

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