The world is full of ideas for amazing interfaces. But when it comes to execution, and turning the idea into an actual application, companies and agencies often drop the ball on making them accessible to audiences on various platforms.
It’s important to understand the relationship between your users and your products. What’s feasible from a business standpoint? What’s usable from a user’s standpoint? What’s accessible from a technological standpoint? We argue that it’s essential to use the right technology that provides a satisfactory answer to those questions.
Think about your target audience. Think about the core browsers and devices they use, and make certain that your solution will serve their needs. You’re rarely going to design something that’s only going to be consumed on one platform; rather, it’s expected (for almost any audience) that your experience will work across multiple channels.
Often, technology decisions are not made with users and stakeholders in mind. One of our clients launched an awesome new website with a home page element in Flash – it didn’t work on iPhone or iPad. Another client started a web application limited to Internet Explorer because of ActiveX inclusion. Needless to say, they inadvertently excluded a significant number of users.
The point is, it’s in our best interest as designers and developers to design for channels that suit our users and serve the business needs of our clients.
Understand Your Users
It’s crucial to understand where your target demographic “lives.” What is their preferred digital environment? Do the features of your product work well in those environments?
We recommend spending time versing yourself in the nuances between environments and technologies. For example:
- HTML 5 works on all browsers, but certain features don’t work well on Internet Explorer.
- 3D touch is an innovative feature of iOS, but Windows and Android don’t support it
- Flash doesn’t work well on mobile.
- ActiveX works only on Internet Explorer.
The above list is just a small sampling of the environmental issues that face designers and developers. The list goes on.
It’s also important to think through accessibility standards. Your website might need to be 508 compliant – “In a nutshell, 508 compliance means that all users, regardless of disability status, can access technology. It’s a way to break down barriers and provide new opportunities for all Internet users.” We could write an entire post solely on that issue. But generally, how a technology impacts users with unique needs should be understood.
Understand Your Stakeholders (and their business needs)
Stakeholders should be considered when you implement a new solution as well. Even if it works well for users, it should also work well for stakeholders – from a business standpoint, their application needs to be accessible to their customers, and ideally, to an even broader range of users. This increases the probability of product adoption.
In How to Choose Your Tech Stack, Gil Edelman writes:
“More than 60% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, and 25% of Americans use only mobile devices to access the internet. These trends will continue to accelerate, so incorporating mobile into your strategy is only a question of when, not if [ . . . ] Refer to the key constituents you identified when designing your MVP and the value proposition your product will offer them. Are users more likely to engage with your product on their phone while on the go, or while sitting at a desk in their office?”
Knowing the habits and preferences of users is essential in order to address the needs of stakeholders. 60% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices; a quarter of Americans use only mobile devices to access the internet. Without creating a mobile-friendly product, your client will miss out on a huge business opportunity.
When seeking to understand stakeholders, important considerations include:
- What Content Management System (CMS) you use for a website
- What language you use for a web application
- Which Cloud-based server you build upon – Amazon AWS, Azure, etc.
- Whether stakeholders know how to update or work with a platform to implement new solutions
- Whether or not stakeholders comprise a significant chunk of the user base – in certain cases, stakeholders might make up one third of the users of an application
Core Browsers and Technology
Aside from the specifics of your audience and your stakeholders, a starting point is to make a product that works broadly, for multiple people across multiple channels. Consider core browsers and technology when creating your experience and choosing your technology:
- Browser popularity: Chrome is the most popular, followed distantly by Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari
- Mobile device popularity: Android is most popular, followed by iOS, then Windows. However, iOS generates more revenue than Android, even though Android boasts more downloads overall, which is something to consider from a business standpoint
Core browsers include Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Core devices include desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones – all with a variety of operating systems and developed by a variety of manufacturers. While you may not be able to make your application supported on every single device, users expect that applications will work across most channels.
Conclusion: Use Technology That Makes Sense
In order to build a consistent and delightful user experience, understand the strengths and limitations of each platform.
We recommend staying away from functionality that only exists in one environment. Utilizing one functionality can make a task more efficient – for example, helping the user perform a specific task with a feature that is specific to iOS might be the best path. That said, the product won’t be universally accessible.
In Digital Experiences are About People, Not Technology, Nathaniel Davis writes, “While a digital experience can happen only through the use of technology, a product’s or service’s underlying technology is just an enabler, not the solution resulting from a digital-experience strategy [ . . . ] Digital experience is not about technology. It’s about people.”
At the end of the day, we’re designing for our users, and not solely because our designs are technologically innovative (although advancing the cause in that area is important as well). It comes down to understanding your users, understanding your stakeholders, and using the technology that makes the most sense.