Killersites Forum Blog – Who Do You Have to Design For?

Hey Everyone,

So here it is!
The first of our Forum Blog series of insightful posts and discussions from the Killersites Forum Community. Similar to our “Ask A Web Nerd” blog series, this one will showcase some of the best and brightest forum posts and discussions. Enjoy!

Who Do You Design For?

This is a standard question for most of us, we design for your customer, that is the person paying us… but it it really so? Or is it just about the old stand in “Target Audience”? No, not really. We need to design for “The Customer”, the person who is going to your customers site. They are the target, they are the ones who will make the site a success or a flop. You have to design the site to meet their needs and that is where accessibility comes in.

But “Our Customers” do not always see that. Then you have to be good at selling it to them, that is my weakness. This was proven once more this last week. here is what happened:

I worked a year ago as a help desk type person for my district. One day in a meeting the representatives discovered I was a web designer and jumped at the chance for some free work for their services. My boss agreed, the help desk work was free to for them. Germany had just passed a accessibility law sort of like the DDA or Section 508. Requiring all Government offices to have accessible web sites. That was my Job, build a accessible web site, it took a year but it worked and it rates well with Google.

Now a decision has been made to build a Content Management system into it, so I spent two months working on that, looking for a good CMS. I found one I am happy with, easy to build into my site and easy to use. Only real problem I thought was that it costs money and it is only in English. As it turned out the only real problem was the editor it uses, XStandard. It is in fact a excellent editor for CMSs. It is made for web site using CSS layouts and formatting. So what is the problem you may ask? It does not offer underlining. That is what it comes down to really.

You see all formatting is handled in the CSS, all text sizes and colours, it was a finished site. But now with the CMS the employees of the organisation can and are expected to add, update and edit, or remove text on the ages for their section. That is what CMS is for. With XStandard they simply type in their text and add simple formatting and save, my CSS makes sure the pages text looks alike on all pages.

But these employees use MS Word. They have their habits and one of those habits is underlining text to make it stick out as emphasis. XStandard does not support this. So I simply explained that you do not underline text on the internet, that suggests a link and not emphasis. It will irritate the user when they click on it and nothing happens. Underline is also a visual indicator, a blind user has no knowledge of it and so the fact that that text is important slips by them. One should never use mere visual emphasis, that is why we have things like and that have a syntax meaning a screenreader understands and passes along.

This was a argument that was accepted, then simply dropped as unimportant as we do not have many blind users and no reason to make the site only for the blind and not the visual users. Well that was not my point, my point was simply that by using and you make the important text look important to visual users and sound important to those listening to the site. Besides those with say poor eyesight, or cognitive or reading weaknesses can find it very hard to read multiple lines of underlined text. the answer of course was that we do not have many disabled users…… so, I pointed out we do not know how many and I was hired to make the site accessible to all users! But the argument went on with the fact that the employees are used to underlining text in their paper based work and e-mails etc., we cannot simply forbid them to not use a tool they are used to. XStandard does not support underlining text, or colour changes, or text size changes. All that is meant to be done in the CSS, all XStandard does is allow for syntax, making text headers or quotes etc.. It does not allow users to choose formatting as that is done by the designer, that is what he is payed for. The employee simply needs to supply the content and make it logical using syntax.

Now I am told we cannot expect the employees to change the way they do things. Well why not? I built the web site to be used by “The Customer”, a design that causes no problems for “The Customer”. Now it is to be changed to suite the needs of a few employees who will rarely do anything with it anyways. The very person who hired me to make the site accessible is now having me make it so any employee can change any of the text in any way they like. They can justify text or maybe align it center (causing problems for dyslexics and other cognitive problems for instance) or align it right because they like it when every other of the 170 + pages is set left normally. They will be able to set text sizes at will in the HTML overriding my CSS and disallowing the disabled from changing the content to meet their needs by replacing the stylesheet.

I will continue to argue this until the job is done in hopes I can change their minds but see little hope. Those I am dealing with see the usefulness of the site for the employees to be more important than the usefulness of the site to “The Customer”. Should we expect our customer actually have to learn the rules that pertain to web sites? Should they have to change their habits to work in this medium? Is that to much to ask? No, I think not because the web site reflects the owner, how well the web site can be used by the user reflects on how much the owner cares about the user. If a web site is hard to use but looks pretty, that tells me that the owner cares little about the user and is on a ego trip.

If you are a designer/developer, remember you have to make your customer happy, but you are the expert and in the end it is your job to make “The Customer” happy so they keep using your customers web site. If you read this as a web site owner, remember you are offering a service or info or product to your customer and have to meet their needs, so if you really care about the user, then you should learn to use the tools you have to serve them better, not just make your life easier and to keep your habits. We developers Build our web sites for the “The Customer”, the end user. If we do not make them happy or they cannot use a site due to barriers, then we have failed.

Written by: Kyle (LSW)

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010 at 6:02 am and is filed under Forum Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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