Future of web design: Inclusive web design by Robin Christopherson, and a couple of misses

 by Martin Belam, 1 June 2010

I've been slowly blogging the notes I made at 'Future of web design' in London, including an overview post over at guardian.co.uk. Today I wanted to mention a great session from Robin Christopherson, and a couple of other sessions, which, for varying reasons, didn't work for me.

"Accessibility in Web Design" - Robin Christopherson (AbilityNet)

Accessibility is a concept that is still much misunderstood in businesses. Robin Christopherson argued that "the future of web design is inclusive design". Making accesibile designs meant they could be used on the desktop, the tablet, the mobile phone and the TV screen, as well as by the old, or those who were wanting to use the web hands-free whilst driving.

He was full of praise for YouTube's auto-captioning software, and also suggested that Opera Mini was by far the most accessible mobile browser, particular for they way that it could force a site to render in a linear fashion, eliminating the "faff" of horizontal scrolling.

Robin singled out Project Canvass as an important development, explaining that, with his own sight impairment, there wasn't a single digital set-top box on the market that allowed him to change the channel on his television or switch audio description on.

He also recommended using textcaptha.com as an anti-spam mechanism. Not only was this captcha method better for those with sight issues, but the revolving list of questions also includes tests that can be passed by those who have low cognitive skills.

Robin's presentation was bang up to date, with a short video clip looking at the accessibility features on the iPad. With them fully enabled, the screen becomes unnecessary, leading to the much vaunted device having a battery life of around 50 hours.

A couple of misses...

A couple of presentations on day one didn't work very well for me.

I desperately struggled to understand Remy Sharp's "jQuery for designers: All you need to code", and I caught some of the principles he espoused. He suggested it was best to build without using jQuery, and then work out the start and end points of your interaction without jQuery, and then add a sprinkle of jQuery one chunk of code at a time. However, once he got onto actual code examples I found myself quite befuddled. I either need to set myself time for a long session using Firebug, Firequery and jQuerify to get to grips with the concept, or accept that HTML and CSS is as far as I go client-side.


Sorry, did you feel you'd been interrupted by an advert there?

Well, judging by the reaction on Twitter, that is exactly how most of the audience felt during the 20 minute advertorial delivered by Allan Haley - "Wed design redefined, with web fonts".

The inadvertently funny bit was when he was repeatedly bellowing "Fonts were there" - 'when printing was invented in the 14th century, FONTS WERE THERE. When the hot metal printing press was developed in the 18th century, FONTS WERE THERE. Something something blah blah blah phototype, FONTS WERE THERE'. It sounded like the bit in LCD Soundsystem's "Losing my edge" where James Murphy is frantically claiming "I was there!" at every seminal moment in music history from Jamaican soundclashes to Ibiza beach parties.

My main takeaway from the presentation was an intense curiosity as to how the typeface industry has managed so far to avoid massive digital disruption in their licensing model.


Whilst there were a couple of things that didn't hit the spot, in the next and final installment of my notes from 'Future of web design', I'll have my thoughts on two inspiring talks about user experience by Aarron Walter and Aral Balkan.


I've never seen accessibility this way. For me accessibility is to make a side readable and easier to navigate for people with limitations and disabilities.

To involve the presentation on different devices with in the optimization of a page is a really good tip. I will definitely include it in future projects of mine.


It's good to see someone addressing accessibility issues directly. I saw your 2007 post about rating the accessibility of news sites - good stuff. BUT, a couple comments on this post.

I disagree that "accessibility" is the term to use when designing for a range of devices (PCs, mobile devices, tablets, etc.). In my opinion, "accessibility" should be limited to discussing designing for physically or mentally impaired users. For device issues, you could refer to "inclusive" design, or "cross-device design". I fear we do a disservice to impaired users by lumping device issues together with issues related to usability by impaired users.

It's possible that impaired users will be attracted to certain devices because those devices are accessible. That's fine, page designs need to include those devices. Still, accessibility is independent of device inclusion and we shouldn't lull designers into a sense of security by overloading the words.

As long as I'm here, I also feel that accessible designs should allow the user to choose the text size with the browser setting. MSIE and Firefox allow the user to adjust the default text size, but many web sites hard-code the font (including the text size), and the browser setting has no effect. Microsoft.com does a good job of handling the text-size browser setting. Your site does not. If I change my browser text-size setting, your blog text does not change. Custom text-size features (like the Guardian news site) are nice but ultimately unacceptable. It's hard enough for impaired users to change the browser setting, but at least they only have to do that once. When web sites ignore browser settings in favor of custom settings, impaired users must adjust them for every site (and presumably must accept cookies to persist the custom settings). By the way, "zoom" is not the same as "text-size". Maybe I want text to appear larger, but not images.

I think you just agreed with me.

Keep up to date on my new blog