New beginnings

Things change.

Lots of things have changed since I last wrote a post on this blog, and yet, funnily enough, my last case study about train accessibility seems to have been a fitting post to have at the top of the pile for so long.

After five and a bit years working in the culture sector, I knew that it was time for a change. I had earned my wings at Europeana, and felt the need to tackle new problems.

Six months of freelance work followed, dealing with problems in various fields from medical start-ups, hotel booking sites, and a social app to arrange meet-ups. It was a fun and rewarding period which touched on many bases of UX – it was also a welcome change from the more familiar problems I had been facing.

Freelancing has many benefits, but it also has a number of challenges. Trying to get across the importance of user research was a common theme, and there is still a horrible misunderstanding that solving problems within a GUI is a part of UX, but not all of UX… in fact, there are many asking important questions about whether we actually need an interface to tackle some of the problems we face.

Another issue I found was that I was unable to dig a little deeper, learn more, immerse myself in the organisation, and sector. For someone who deeply values the importance of understanding and researching the problem first I found myself missing these elements the most, as I looked at competitors, and pumped out UI fixes. Validating designs on short-term projects was also a challenge. If user research is hard to get buy-in, then usability tests proved to be equally tricky.

The list of gripes seems long, but the positives outweighed them immensely. I felt happier, more awake, I travelled, I read more, I studied more, I had time to do other things (although this blog didn’t get the love it warranted).

Then this happened…

I have now been working full-time for the past six months at AssistiveWare, a company that builds apps to empower people with assistive technology software for iOS and Mac.

The fact that I have been blogging about accessibility for the past few years, and the fact that this company is based a mere 20-minute cycle from my house, meant it was too good an opportunity to miss out on.

In a short period, I’ve managed to make great strides in the website project, reworked the ‘new user’ flow for Proloquo2Go, and have reworked the entire edit section for Proloquo4Text (although the latter has not hit the app store yet). These two products are Augmented Alternative Communication apps primarily used by nonverbal users.

Although I won’t go into great detail here I tried to simplify the user flow for Proloquo2Go, combining language and region into one setting and adding some delight at the end of the process by introducing a SymbolStix greeting.

Proloquo2Go 4.2 Language selection screen

Redesigned 'Select Language' screen

Old Proloquo2Go language select screen

Old 'Select Language' screen

Welcome screen after setting up a new user

Redesigned 'Welcome to Proloquo2go' screen

Old welcome screen

Old 'Welcome to Proloquo2go' screen

For Proloquo4Text I created some remote tests which focused primarily on the editing area, the feedback was wholly positive, but it wasn’t until a nonverbal Proloquo4Text user came to the Amsterdam office that I realised what sort of impact was possible. He took control of the iPad and simply typed in the word ‘beautiful’.

Proloquo4Text edit screen, the before and after

Proloquo4Text edit screens – before and after

There are a lot that I miss from freelancing, many listed earlier, but there can’t be many more rewarding things than being able to play a role in improving an individual’s life.

More articles to read

Accessibility for UX Designers

Notes from an Accessibility workshop with Derek Featherstone.

Case study: UX Lead challenged with designing search for the award-winning iOS communication app.

Case study: Personal project, exploring design solutions for train accessibility.

© 2018 Dean Birkett

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