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WCAG 3.0 – the next generation of accessibility guidelines

WCAG 3.0 is coming and everything is changing including the name.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 were released in 1999. By the time WCAG 2.0 were released in 2008 the web had undergone huge changes and WCAG 2.0 gave us a new generation of accessibility guidelines to follow. We are now at the same point again; the way we design, build, and use technology has changed in the intervening years and so the time has come for the next generation of accessibility guidelines to emerge.

Let’s start with the name. Too much has been invested in WCAG as an acronym for it to be set aside, so with a small sleight of hand, the new version will be the W3C Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 3.0.

When you look for information about WCAG 3.0 you’ll find references to the Silver Guidelines and the Silver Task Force. This is because work on WCAG 3.0 is being done by the Silver Task Force of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. It was called the Silver Task Force because it needed a name and a name for the new guidelines had not yet been decided. The name came from the chemical symbol for silver, which is AG, which also happens to be the acronym for Accessibility Guidelines.

A common criticism of WCAG 2.x is that they are hard to read, hard to understand, and hard to interpret. They are also constrained to a structure (Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA) that is completely rigid and there are gaps that mean certain groups are less well recognised than others, people with cognitive disabilities for example.

While WCAG 2.1 and the forthcoming WCAG 2.2 attempt to close some of those gaps, they are still confined to the same basic framework of principles, guidelines, SC, and levels. WCAG 3.0 aims to move away from that to a whole new architecture.

 

Guidelines, outcomes and methods

We know that WCAG 3.0 will consist of multiple guidelines; each guideline will have multiple outcomes; and each outcome will have one or more methods.

The guidelines will be written in plain English. They will be based on functional needs, grouping multiple outcomes together, and will be independent of specific types of technology. The idea is that anyone will be able to read and understand the guidelines, that they will focus on a person’s ability to do something, and that meeting the guideline does not depend on any particular type of technology.

We know that WCAG 3.0 will consist of multiple guidelines; each guideline will have multiple outcomes; and each outcome will have one or more methods.

The guidelines will be written in plain English. They will be based on functional needs, grouping multiple outcomes together, and will be independent of specific types of technology. The idea is that anyone will be able to read and understand the guidelines, that they will focus on a person’s ability to do something, and that meeting the guideline does not depend on any particular type of technology.

One of the proposed guidelines is: Provide text alternative for non-text content.

An outcome associated with that guideline is:

Outcome: Text alternative available

A text alternative for non-text content is available via user agents and assistive technologies, which allows users who are unable to perceive and / or understand the non-text content to determine its meaning.

The outcome is associated with one or more functional categories. In this case the categories are:

  • Sensory – Vision & Visual

  • Sensory Intersections

  • Cognitive – Language & Literacy

  • Cognitive – Learning

  • Cognitive – Memory

  • Cognitive – Mental Health

  • Cognitive & Sensory Intersections

The outcome also has one or more methods associated with it. For example:

Bronze, Silver and Gold

We know that WCAG 3.0 will not use Level A, Level AA, or Level AAA. The thinking is that levels like this are OK for making statements of legal conformance, but they are not a good reflection of real accessibility. A website could pass 29 of the 30 Level A SC and 19 of the Level AA SC and still not declare itself to be accessible under WCAG 2.x as used in law. So a more nuanced way of measuring conformance is needed.

This is still up for discussion and could change before WCAG 3.0 are released, but the current proposal is that it will be a points based system. Each guideline will be given a score between 0% and 100%, and a score of 100% equals 1 point.

Let’s take a (likely but theoretical) guideline as an example: all informative images must have a text description. If there are 100 informative images on a page and 90 of them have text descriptions, the page would score 90% or 0.9 of a point.

As each guideline is assessed the total number of points is updated. The proposed model then goes on to use a three tier system, using Bronze, Silver, and Gold, instead of Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like the old Level A, Level AA, and Level AA model, you’re right in one sense; whether we like it or not, laws and policies will always demand a rigid statement of conformity. For everyone else there is an important difference though – the points based model means that progress from one tier to the next can be measured, and that implicitly encourages efforts to reach the next tier.

There is another subtle but vital difference with this model – it recognises success, instead of focusing on failure. Under the WCAG 2.x model if you fail an SC, that’s that. Under WCAG 2.x, a single informative image with a missing text description fails SC 1.1.1; it doesn’t matter how many other images there are, or how good their text descriptions are, that one missing text description means you’ve failed to meet that SC. Under the proposed WCAG 3.0 model that same missing text description might mean you score 0.9 instead of 1.0, but it recognises all the text descriptions that were provided whilst still acknowledging that one was missing.

Timetable

It takes time to produce a W3C Recommendation, the formal name for a standard that has been published under the W3C’s Process for peer review and production readiness, but the first milestone on that journey is called a First Public Working Draft (FPWD). The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is currently preparing to publish the FPWD of WCAG 3.0, and if they agree it meets the criteria, we could see it released sometime in the next few weeks. An FPWD is still a long way from Recommendation though, and there is still much to be discussed, and much will change before WCAG 3.0 is formally released. In the meantime you can track progress and get involved in the discussion via the WCAG 3.0 (Silver) Github repository.

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Blogs Apps communications design ux

5 UX design principles for communications platforms

Perhaps the most important goal for any UX design is clarity. A user logs in or adds something to their cart without thinking too much about how they’re doing it. They just get the job done be it on your app or your intranet.

The following five principles are based on getting stuff done simply, quickly and clearly because of good UX design.

What goes where and why — Structure

If you don’t understand your content — what it says, where it lives, how to find it — your users won’t either.

Before you can begin to think about UX design, grab your content and shake some logic into it. You’ve got to lay it all out and put it back together in an order that makes life easy for users.

Use speech cards, post-it notes, Google Sheets, mind maps, whatever you prefer; and figure out how to best organise your existing content and predict where future content will go.

To get you started, here’s Toby Ward and his intranetblog.com, with some sample intranet architectures: Intranet information architecture: don’t reinvent the wheel.

Keep in mind the titles, labels and copy users will expect to see and search for too. If you do this, you’re taking a big first step towards good UX design. You’ve got everything you want, now put it together.

Where you put what and when — Details

Especially important when you start to break down the purpose of each page on your platform.

Think about each stage in a user’s journey, whether they’re navigating somewhere or completing a task. Figure out what needs to be shown and at what point.

Decide the weight of the headline, the length of a summary, where the tags go, related links and share icons… whether this content is fair game for comments, or if it’s locked down and read-only.

For consistency’s sake use templates, so if there are multiple publishers on your platform, the UX design is automatic and they can’t go rogue. This, significantly, establishes familiarity which is an essential part of clarity.
Every element and component should justifiably be there, that justification being the users need it to be there. Collect the data, do the user testing and stakeholder interviews, and then design, just as Paul Boag advises in his blog: Why Intranet design is so bad and how to fix it.

How long is it and does it scan — Interactions

We’re not going to get into the quality of content here. How well written something is or how evocative an image might be. No, we’re assuming that’s done.

What we want to do is set the boundaries for that content to work as best as it can.

Get your grid patterns and layouts right and users will effortlessly absorb your information. Flowing down the screen with a focus and concentration that’s all (well, 70% at least) down to your UX design skills.

  • Line length: Think about line length, are lines longer than 14 words. They shouldn’t be.
  • Font size: Think about font size, is any of your text less than 12 pt. It shouldn’t be.
  • Headings: Think about headings, are there consistent subheadings. There should be!

Also…make sure it’s obvious that a link and a download are different. These are the small details that make a big difference on a subconscious level. And in 2020, they’re just expected.

For instance, think about examples of outstanding UX design you interact with every day. Strive for that, be minimalistic and tidy.

What goes where again and again and again — Standardisation

In 1996, Bill Gates predicted that content would be king. He was right. Although in today’s internet of everything, where content is blasted out everywhere every millisecond, for UX design to work well… consistency is king.

When users rely on your communications platform to do their jobs, they want to be two steps in front of every click and tap. They should ‘get’ your design without too many trial and error experiences and soon just know how it works.

Standardisation is multi-layered, but for brevity and your concentration span, we’ll focus on the consistent placement of information.

If your sub navigation is always on the left in a three column grid, don’t move it to the bottom right of a four column grid in another page. If your downloads are at the bottom of a page, don’t move them to the top for the sake of mixing things up.

Because here lies the problem: if UX design is not standardised it competes within and against itself. Sounds messy, it is. Don’t do it.

Make your communications platform a clear and obvious space because everything’s consistent and in the right place.

Where everyone can go, without a problem — Accessibility

You cannot achieve good UX design if you have not considered all of your users.

From the visually impaired to the physically disabled, accessibility standards include the elderly and people with slow internet connections too.

The key here is usability.

To have factored into your UX design what works for everyone. Are links clearly links? Is an image necessary and if it is, does it have alt text? What happens if a user tabs through the screen; does the content hierarchy make sense?

This topic is just too big to cover here and do it justice, so here’s the link you need (and we subscribe to) for WC3’s ‘Accessibility principles’.

Good UX design = clear communications.

We hope you found our brief tips useful. And clear.

If you have any questions about the advice or topics we’ve mentioned, please get in touch with us.

As a consulting team, we work with enterprises across the world. It’s our job to ensure their professionals can connect with the information they need to get work done each day.

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Blogs communications consulting design Solutions

5 technical considerations when designing or procuring a new platform

Driving digital transformation can prove to be a challenging exercise with the vast number of options available. How do you choose a platform which aligns with your digital strategy and ecosystem?

The short answer is it completely depends on your strategy. Nonetheless, there are 5 considerations that should be reviewed whenever you design or procure a new platform.

Buy vs build

One of the first considerations for procuring a new platform is whether to build a bespoke solution in-house, buy one off the shelf, or go down the SaaS route.

There are advantages to each approach, but the main questions to answer are:

  • What problem are you trying to solve, and is there an out of the box solution/service which already solves it?
  • What are the associated costs?
  • When does the solution need to be delivered?

The last two points are notoriously difficult to get right if you plan on building a solution. Off-the-shelf and SaaS solutions commonly offer a transparent and fixed cost, or at least a predictable cost in terms of the latter, and are much faster to deploy and roll out to the wider business. The main trade-off here is less control over the application.

Data management & Integration

There’s nothing worse than having to manage the same data across multiple applications. In an ideal scenario, applications should only be concerned with the data they need to function, and any data that needs to be shared across applications should be managed between those applications to avoid duplication and a management overhead nightmare.

APIs can help alleviate this problem and help avoid reinventing the wheel by encouraging integration between applications in favour of rebuilding.

When deciding on a platform, consider:

  • What data needs to be shared between this application and existing applications?
  • What are the available options for managing data externally?
  • What APIs are available?
  • Would it be easier to integrate with certain parts of the application rather than replacing everything?

For example, if you need users to be able to authenticate against the application, you can automate the provisioning and de-provisioning process. This may come with an initial setup cost but will save a lot of manual intervention in the future.

Analytics

This is somewhat related to the previous point. Generally speaking, the more data that is available over APIs, the more analytics can be gathered to help drive insights. This isn’t just related to APIs, there are plenty of other tools such as Google Analytics and Matomo which provide a different set of analytical tools, driven by the web traffic to the platform.

To be clear on the definitions:

Data: Information within the platform
Analytics: Discovering patterns and trends from that data
Insights: Obtaining value from those analytics to drive improvements throughout the organisation

The main considerations here are:

  • What analytics tools are available? (e.g. Google Analytics)
  • Outside of analytics tools, what is the availability of data which could be extracted by other means? (e.g. APIs, CSV extracts)

Analytics tools can help you answer many of the questions you face, to name a few:

  • Which areas of the platform are most popular?
  • How many users are using the platform on a regular basis?
  • Are there any parts of the platform which are redundant, and need a rethink/remove?
  • Where should we be focussing our energy with the platform in question?
  • What devices are users using to access the platform?
  • What time are users accessing different types of data?

Cross-platform support

Cross-platform support is basically a guarantee nowadays, especially with web applications. It’s easier than ever before to support working from mobile and tablet devices as well as a desktop.

More and more users expect this level of support from applications, whether that be to just check their calendar on their daily commute or to completely switch to a smaller device for certain types of work just based on preference.

Choosing a platform that enables this flexible approach to work will provide a better experience for end-users. Pair this with analytics and it will be easy to see which types of work are most popular with different platforms, and where to optimise certain areas of the platform.

Security & updates

Last but definitely not least, security. With cyber-attacks constantly on the rise, it’s crucial to make sure that your users and information are safe. As attacks evolve and become more advanced, so do the methods used to prevent them. Information security is something that needs to be constantly monitored and prevented, which in itself is a story for a separate blog. When specifically talking about securing a platform, one of the most common considerations is how to keep the platform as up-to-date as possible without disrupting other workflows.

This is one of the reasons SaaS models have become so popular. Updates (not necessarily security-related) and maintenance are handled by the supplier, often without any disruption, allowing you to focus on your users.

Talk to us

If we can support you with designing or procuring a new platform, or you’d simply like to learn more, please get in touch.

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4 key stages for effective business analysis

4 key stages for effective business analysis

With any internal communications platform, it is vital to embed an experience that supports your culture and is focused on meeting user needs.

In order to achieve a platform that meets all of your organisational needs, the process has to begin with a thorough analysis from all stakeholders and target audiences.

Ensure you have the means to discover and analyse the following:

  • What do your users want from the platform?
  • Who are the stakeholders, and what does success look like for them?
  • The process of transitioning business needs into technical requirements
  • How can you design the platform and the service model to allow you to continuously evolve your platform when your user needs change?

1. Understanding your users (User research)

The success of internal communications depends on analysing your end users, then fully understanding their behaviours, needs and motivations for using your current internal communications platforms.

To gather this information, a range of processes are available and one or all may be appropriate to your users:

  • User interviews can offer more in depth understanding of what does and does not work, perhaps to take place after a questionnaire or survey has helped to identify the main challenges your users are having.
  • Interactive Workshops that analyse a number of tasks that users would usually be asked to complete. Observations of your user’s behaviours can help to identify any challenges faced when completing the tasks.
  • Platform analytics allow a better understanding of the types of journeys your users are taking. Identifying recurring trends will help to understand challenges your users are facing.

Once feedback is gathered, analysed and combined with any available data analytics, you will have a better understanding of the bigger picture of the challenges your users face with your internal communication platforms.

This thorough evaluation of your previous or existing platform(s), will determine what things worked well and what things didn’t, helping you to create a plan to ensure your new platform meets all of your users’ needs.

2. Understand your data (Data mastery)

At this stage, you have established what you need to achieve and you are able to move on to the ‘how’.

Data Mastery & Integrations

It’s really important to understand the information your users are looking for on your platform, the types of data that provide this information, and where that data should be mastered.

Often, it’s a lot more beneficial to master your data in a ‘single source of truth’ and then integrate this into your platform(s). This prevents information becoming outdated and inaccurate across multiple platforms. For example, an Active Directory mastering all of your user data.

By analysing the data that will be included on your platform, you’ll have a better understanding of the stakeholders that you’ll need to engage as part of your project to avoid any surprises and gaps in resource.

3. Identifying your stakeholders (Stakeholder engagement)

Determining your success criteria demands an understanding of the requirements in all parts of your organisation. Different departments will have different goals so it’s important to implement a solution that meets as many needs as possible.

Defining the objectives involves identifying exactly what your stakeholders want. Do they need a tool to improve engagement and collaboration, or do they value a place to house all of your documentation such as policies and manuals more?

A successful solution requires you to connect the dots between all stakeholders, creating and structuring success criteria for your communications platforms, to deliver a meaningful outcome for each of your stakeholders and their users.

  • Creative stakeholder workshops can be useful, with the primary focus of understanding the collective thoughts of the wider team of what is and isn’t working with your content and communications strategy.
  • Stakeholder interviews, and using questionnaires and surveys, can also establish a clear understanding of their thoughts on current and prospective content and communication strategies.

Once you have established stakeholder requirements your information strategy reviews are made much more straightforward.

Everything achieved so far will be identified, and you will have a much clearer view of any challenges that may prevent you from delivering.

In identifying who your platform stakeholders are, you will also introduce accountability to the platform which will ensure the system is always valued and invested in.

With all this addressed, you are in a position to outline your initial vision, what you want to achieve and also establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress.

4. Identifying the best solution (Solution mapping)

Once you’re aware of:

  • the challenges your users are facing
  • the stakeholders who are going to help you make the platform a success
  • the types of data and information that will be on, or plugged into, your platform

all that’s left to do is select your preferred solution. At least you thought.

All of the above provides you with half of the information you need, the second half is actually understanding whether there is a platform on the market for you to procure out-of-the-box, or if you need to build it yourself and therefore find the resources to do so.

On many occasions, an out of the box product will never meet 100% of your requirements from the outset, so it’s important not to expect it to.

Categorise your final requirements into:

  • must haves
  • could haves
  • should haves

and focus primarily on finding a solution that delivers 90% of the former and allows you to get the ball rolling.

Then, work with a trusted supplier to define a roadmap that helps you achieve the final 10% and targets the could/should haves in the following 3-6 months.

Alternatively, if you have the resources to do so, map your requirements into technical specifications, along with user journeys, and the challenges that will be overcome, before designing and developing a new platform.

You don’t have to do this alone, there are some great suppliers out here with decades of experience in your section and others who have lots of learnings to share.

Remember, whether you procure an out of the box product, or develop a solution yourself, be mindful of the following.

  1. User research and data analytics to drive each of your requirements for the platform
  2. Ensure your platform works just as efficiently independently as it does when connected to others
  3. Your platform should allow you to iterate easily, and evolve when your business needs do so

Talk to us

If we can support you with Business Analysis or you’d simply like to learn more, please feel free to talk to us.

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