5 minutes with... Sarah Richards

Photo of Justin Darley

Content Design Team Lead

4 minute read

Meet Sarah - founder of Content Design London, who will be speaking at Camp Digital 2019. We talked about her thoughts on accessibility and usability, and her latest crowdsourced project - the readability guidelines.

Sarah Richards

At Camp Digital, your talk is entitled ‘Accessibility is Usability’. Why is this topic so important and what can audience members expect?

If a site isn't accessible, it can't really be considered usable. An impairment can be permanent, situational or temporary. There are over 13 million people with a registered disability in the UK at the moment (SCOPE).

That's a lot of audience to ignore.

Organisations that don't take accessibility seriously, usually fall into 3 categories. They might think accessibility is:

  • only code and screenreaders
  • too expensive
  • not worth it for their audience

My replies would be:

  • no, it's not and there's so much you can do with just changing your language
  • really not, content is usually the cheapest thing to change
  • it's not just the audience who self-identify with an impairment you can help. It's everyone.
  • I'll be discussing all the really easy things you can do to open up your services and information to the widest possible audience.

You worked with the UK Government for 10 years – what were you involved in and what were some of your biggest achievements there?

I worked all over government but my biggest achievement was coining the term content design and creating the first content design team for the Government Digital Service. Together, we created the discipline that is now being used around the world. We were very lucky.

We took all the best bits from a variety of disciplines, put them together and got away with a lot of behaviour we wouldn't have in another organisation! The team set the course for the British Government's digital communications. They were a wonderful team and one of the best I have ever worked with.

Seeing the style guide make headlines made me laugh the most but working with my fellow content people, designers and user researchers made it amazing.

At Content Design London, you run workshops for those wanting to learn more about content design as a discipline. What is the number one challenge that you see amongst the teams and individuals that join your courses?

Bizarrely, it's not the technical skill of writing. It's about communicating to colleagues why we are doing what we are doing.

The course is steeped in evidence and data. How to get the language your users are using, the mental models they have and then, how to get your content decisions across to your colleagues. The idea is that it is very hard to argue with your users (not impossible!).

If you have enough information to show why you are making the decisions you are, you will be in a better position to get good, accessible, usable, user-focused content. Saying "our audience have these questions, in this order, with this level of emotion and using this language and this is the best way to get a response from them" is more powerful than saying "it's better content this way".

We teach you how to get all that data in a short amount of time and from your desk. It's very efficient.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

We are working with a number of clients from a global travel company to a legal society. But the one we are working on as a team is our readability guidelines. It’s a global crowdsourcing project looking at the usability and accessibility of style decisions.

I started it because I saw people creating style guide after style guide. Then arguing with colleagues about the things in the style guide. Most of the terms and considerations in a style guide are (or should be) steeped in usability. Why all-caps a bad idea. The reason jargon will exclude people etc. These are not really style decisions (I am not talking tone here, that’s a different thing).There’s a stack of evidence out there about these tiny decisions, so with our amazing volunteer contributors, we have listed top-line summaries and all the evidence we could find.

Next step will be to publish a style guide that is entirely based in evidence. That way, content people can concentrate on more important things: tone, engagement, creativity, strategy, usefulness of content. Not whether to cap every other word.

I’ve heard time and time again that content people are bored of arguing with colleagues about stupid little style nuances. This project was to see if we are all seeing similar challenges (we are), what evidence would work with our colleagues and if it would work. We have just finished beta and there is still so much to do.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?

The line-up! That's an amazing group of speakers. I want to see all of it. I don't want to miss a thing.

Sarah's talk, "Accessibility is Usability" was part of Camp Digital 2019. You can watch her talk below and on our YouTube channel.

Hello. Right, today we are going to see if the clicker works - yes, it does.
Today we are going to talk about how accessibility is usability, usability is accessibility and if you have
one, you do not have the other. So, if your sight isn't accessible, it is simply not usable,
in my not so humble opinion. Only then - oh, hello, stop, giving spoilers!
Only then are we going to end up with an inclusive web that quite frankly, we all deserve.
Just a little note on the kind of language I'm going to use today,
I am not going to use that, because it is ain't working.
There is some discussion about whether we should use the term disabled people or
people with disabilities. Now Scope, which is an organisation, a charity who works with
disabled people tell us that we should use that term. The reason for that is that often the
impairments don't disable people. Our design choices disable people. So, for a concrete
example, then. If you were a wheelchair user and you had money, and there was a shop and
they had a thing that you wanted, you could go and you could buy it, right? But if there
is no ramp, you can't get into the shop. It's not you, it's not you, it is not any of your
impairments that is stopping you, it is a lack of design that is stopping you,
So I'm going to be using "disabled people" throughout this presentation.
Having a look at what disabilities themselves are, then.
If you have seen this, it is a Microsoft inclusivity kit.
It is very good. It's really quite comprehensive.
Over this session today I'm going to show you how just, with your content alone,
you will be able to open up everything that you and your organisation
are saying to that whole spectrum of people. OK. So when we think of disabilities, we often
think about the permanent ones, right, and they're physical and they are, kind of,
present for you and visible to you, or at least a lot of people do.
So we will be looking at the permanent, kind of - perhaps you only have one arm.
We will also look at the temporary stuff, so, for example, with a lot of people, if they
have a short-term injury, they will find workarounds, but they may not know about all the things
that their devices can do for them because they won't access it. It is like - do you know what,
in three weeks’ time, this thing is gone and I will do it later and they have
minor workarounds and then, you have situational. If any of you are parents, you know that you only
have access to both arms 50% of the time, right, and that is when your kid is asleep.
Generally, when that happens you will often put the task away until later. We will have a look at the
entire spectrum today. There are over 13 million disabled, registered disabled people in the
UK right now. Nearly 1 million of them have a learning disability in England here alone.
Now that really impacts how they get to your content. So, we are not just talking about
kind of physical things that people first leap to when they think about accessibility and usability.
10% of children aged 15 or younger have a mental disorder.
For a lot of brands and organisations, they will say - that's not the me, right. 15-year-olds are
not buying insurance, 15-year-olds are not buying cars. That is lovely but you know these
people are going to grow up, right, and you know that we all talk to each other and we
kind of get recommendations from each other. If you are in university, of course, this is
your target market, because people start making decisions far before the actual crux of their
decision-making point where they absolutely have to make it. Various things have happened
before, and we will go through that today. Now, I know you are all lovely fluffy people, right,
but let's say you work in a mercenary environment. As a point, £249 billion a year,
in this country, is available for people with one disabled person. Now if you don't need
that cash, that is fine, you can hand it over to me, we are all good. It is a lot of money
for organisations to be ignoring because they feel that accessibility is a tick box exercise.
So long as the code is all right for screen readers and the colour contrast is OK,
we are all good. OK. No, £249 billion worth of no.
So, we are going to start there.
Generally, when I go into organisations, and I talk about the accessibility of content, they will say
- oh, yes, it is fine because the screen readers work. No. I will give you one example of an
audience where that is not going to help.
For example, profoundly deaf people. When I say profoundly deaf people,
I mean those who have been deaf since birth. 8% of the profoundly deaf community in this country
communicate by British sign language alone, if they have any English at all, it is as a second language.
British sign language, like all sign languages have a completely different grammatical structure,
different vocabulary structure, everything. You can't get to them.
So, if you tell me that your content and your website is accessible because screen readers work,
you are just getting rid of anybody who, a) can't hear, and b) don't read so well.
I don't know if you have heard of the Chrome extension
the NoCoffee simulator, have you seen this? Some nodding,
we're going to go to a lovely and fabulous website - oh, it's mine! It's huge.
I'm going to see if this clicker works. So, you can see this up here, that little black square with the circle.
That is where it sits, it is a NoCoffee simulator, when you press that, you end up with this dropdown.
The top has sliders, the bottom's just got radio buttons, right. All of these are impairments.
Now, the top ones you can increase their severity. That is what happens when you pull these sliders across
but the radio buttons you can't. Now, this isn't 100% scientific.
It is not exactly 100%,
but it is an indicator and if you are starting to talk to your organisation about accessibility,
it is a really good tool to just start opening up that conversation.
So, if we were to add cataracts, there are 330,000 people with cataracts in the UK now.
You can look at that and still read it, right? One, the text is massive and, two, this is for
quite a niche audience. Right. This is not for your average people.
So, let's look at some impairments and we are going to look at some important information.
So, Brexit, right, somebody had to bring it up. This is put out by the Government a little while ago,
preparing your business for the EU exit, because they cannot call it Brexit, apparently.
The opening part that takes up the whole screen is an image. I want you to remember that I
haven't changed the resolution, the screen size, anything, on any of the screen grabs
I'm going to show you today, it is exactly the same settings all the way through.
When you do get to the information, it's pointless. Completely pointless.
Now this was taken a while ago, they hadn't changed it a few weeks ago,
they had changed it this morning. It says now the UK will leave the EU. It stops there.
It says leaving the EU means your business will need to prepare for change. Brilliant. Delivering a deal negotiated
with the EU remains the Government's top priority. I am bored by that point.
Several reasons. 1) I had to do something to get to that website. I would have had to have put something
in or I followed a link. There has been some text or communication somewhere to get me to there.
So, telling me that the EU, that Britain is going to leave the EU is not important.
I should know this by now, right. We do run a business, we run training and everything
around the world, so this is really important to me, but that says nothing.
With 20/20 vision, that's pointless. It is telling me stuff that, quite frankly, the BBC would tell me better.
Let's add some pain to that. 480,000 people living with glaucoma at the moment, this is on the radio,
buttons at the bottom, so you can't increase the severity but it kind of looks like that, so you have a narrow field
of vision and then it goes grey and blurry and then it goes black on the outside.
If I was looking at that, I'm a little bit annoyed, right, because it is still is not telling
me how I can prepare my business for the EU exit. If I have glaucoma, not only am I a bit annoyed,
but I can't see it properly either. So, you are wasting my time and my time involves pain,
my time involves uncomfortable reading. Kind of not OK. Terms and conditions, another example,
because we all read the terms and conditions, don't we? Yeah? No. These are written in plain English,
please don't try to read them. This is awful. They are in plain English. They have been done very well.
The sentence structure is a bit long but it's a good try.
This is with low acuity, so it's all blurry and low acuity, goes across several different impairments.
You still can't see it and this is terms and conditions,
we all know that we should probably read them, right. You know that software company
that said you were selling your soul to the devil - if you believe that sort of thing - if you were clicking
We really should read them and we don't, mostly because even in plain English, it's boring.
Gov UK, I haven't changed the screen settings,
Now, can you read any of that? It's a completely different experience.
This is well written. It is well written. This is content design with accessibility in mind.
This is where we start to open up that space, use our headings, use our vocabulary
and language and don't get in the way of people.
There's an old advertising adage that says you have got 5 seconds to get my attention, and 11 to keep it.
Now I rather think you've got 3 and 5.
Valuing time, time is the most precious thing we have to give,
and organizations sometimes don't do that quite right.
With that in mind, another function of accessibility and usability is to get the information to the people,
at the time that they need it. On the channel that they are on.
So what happens is, when you think of something, depending on which academic study you read,
it's 7-9 or 7-12 unconscious points before you can make a conscious decision.
Nobody wakes up in the morning, going, "I know, I've thought of something brand new,
that I've never though of before" It just doesn't happen.
All your subconscious is working for you all the time.
Then you decide, that you are going to go looking for something.
Then your words pop up.
Your language processing centre for anybody who doesn't have a lesion
or some sort of problem when they were a child,
will be on the back left of the brain, the neurons start jumping up and down, going,
"My word, my word!" is coming, it is like a party in your head, all the time.
You think of those words and they either come out of your fingers or out of your mouth.
When you search, then you have to go through the swathe of search results.
There's quite a lot of noise at the moment about how much we trust things.
You are starting to make decisions at that stage.
Because you've got loads of preconceptions and loads of belief that were attached to those 7 - 9,
7 - 12 unconscious points before you even get to this, before you get to a single web page,
you are making a lot of assumptions and bringing a lot of baggage with you.
There's quite a lot of noise about these snippets, so we know in government the most people want
just one number. So, if you are on child tax credits and it changes each year, all you
need is the number and then you disappear. There is a lot of noise at the moment, oh,
traffic, Google does this and then we won't have any traffic, my answer to that is that
traffic alone is a vanity metric. If you just have traffic, you can have 50 billion people,
click bait, for example, 50 billion people and they don't remember you and they don't
know who you are and they will never go back to you, they don't become your brand champions,
you are just the thing, that probably slightly annoys them and then they leave.
Do you want that, or do you want 13 people who are really engaging with you
and become your brand champions and recognise and recommend people
to go to you and to engage with you and do it that way.
What do you want? If you want just 50 billion likes, awesome, but your content strategy
should understand that and should know that all you are doing is chasing an empty number.
When it comes to accessibility, usability, those snippets are great.
Imagine you have arthritis; imagine you have any kind of pain in your hands.
Clicking and scrolling is massively painful.
If we know from research that people just want one number or they want a number and
then they go and do something else later on, just give them the thing and move out of the way.
It's actually just less painful. How many of you have heard of the ice bucket challenge?
Hands up. How many of you have done it? OK. Can you put your hands up, please don't shout out,
but put your hands up if you know what charity it was that did the ice bucket challenge?
OK, just look around you.
How many hands were up a minute ago and how many are up now?
Thank you, if you just put your hands down.
Can you tell me the presenting symptoms, that that charity, I can't do this without giving it away,
the presenting symptoms for the thing the charity was trying to highlight?
Now look around you.
One that I can see, sorry, the light, yes, a couple! So, ice bucket challenge $194 million that grossed
in the first few months it was running. It was for ALS and it’s motor neurone disease.
If that campaign was to make money, brilliant, $194 million is not to be sniffed at, right?
If that campaign, and I don't know because I don't work for them, if that campaign was to highlight
ALS or to highlight the presenting symptoms then it's not quite so successful.
1 in 10 people in the UK did the ice bucket challenge and didn't send anybody any money.
I don't why they like pouring water on their head but OK.
What we would say is that if you going to have some search results strategy,
don't do it for SEO, don't do it for likes, don't do it for this kind of vanity thing,
you can't play the SEO game, we can't keep playing it.
Right, you know at the beginning, where we - not we, obviously - some people were
putting white text on white backgrounds and all the rest of it, doesn't work, does it,
It gets you blacklisted. Google has over 200 variables to its ranking algorithm.
Google engineers, probably - I don't know, I don't work for Google -
probably have to sign a contract like, that thick, so they don't
tell everybody all the secrets. They will tell us what we need to know. We do the thing.
Use all the SEO tools but do it for the content, do it for the people. You can't game a system,
if you don't know what the system is. So we would say have your search results strategy
to minimise pain and pain can be anything. Pain could also be, I don't have enough money for data.
I don't have enough time for this. It doesn't need to be a physical pain. We
We would generally say have a strategy to help people. In fact, have a strategy.
Loads of organisations don't even have search results strategy for their content. Just have one.
So the second rule for this is, kind of, if you help people, people will come back to you
and they will remember you. It's just how we work.
Moving on then, it's kind of content will only work where your audience is.
So an example of this, then, this is a press release, it's from Gov UK, it's a while ago.
It was about the A14 bridge. If you don't drive down the A14
and you are not near the A14, then you are probably not remotely interested in the A14, to be brutally honest.
Not sure if you know but you can spin Gov UK pages, which is why I use them a lot in presentations because
it gives you their metrics and some organisations are not happy about showing their metrics, but anyway.
Just draw your attention to the fact that it says it in the past six weeks so these
change regularly, if you are going to go and start having a look around, just bear in mind
it's six weeks. Zero, this was up at the time I took the screen grab at the time and there
are no people going here. Funny that. Other places might have been more useful, like social media,
like your local paper, a lot of people say, but local papers, they get it from press releases.
No, they don't, I can tell you they don't. What they get it from is phone calls, generally.
And good relationships with journalists at least in this instance.
Having your information on the right channel is both an accessibility and a usability need.
Another example is a speech, if you want to check out what your politicians were saying,
maybe a year ago, to see if, I don't know, they are lying air arses off now, just saying,
you can see all the speeches on GovUK as well.
This is one about passenger assist, so if you do have a physical disability or an impairment,
you can go, for example, to a train station and they will make sure there is a ramp ready
for you at the right time, those sorts of things. Again, zero, this was taken at the
time that it went up. But it's kind of a shame. Because this says that 71% of eligible people,
so 71% of people disabled people or people with impairments have no idea that scheme exists.
And he goes on to say that getting people to the right place at the right time
and communicating information down the line, this is the bread and butter of any rail company.
I would say making sure the rail companies do it would be the bread and butter of any government,
but I could be wrong there. I tried to find you a good example of where
this is on the internet at the time that this was going up. And I couldn't find one.
Because it's in the wrong place. This is quite the speech, this is actually very important, and it went nowhere.
There was just nothing.
Finding it at the right time is great and it's a start,
but then we move on to structure, formats and language.
Everything starts here, unless you are sent a link or you are doing a voice interaction, with devices.
So we start here and we understand the edges of what we are going to get.
This should be telling you clearly about whether you are
going to be going to the right place or not.
Then you want the edges and this is important for both accessibility and for usability.
We used to have a problem in government in 2008,
where government was just publishing everything, they were shoving everything out, for transparency,
don't even know what that is, but still, they were shoving everything out.
What happened was, people trusted the BBC before they trusted Government.
Because the BBC would give them the edges. If you have to keep looking over and over and over and
over again for information, you get to a point where you are like, have I got it all. No?
Oh, I will just keep going and you end up not trusting anything in the background.
By having your design give the edges of content,
then people start to trust it more and they will start to slow down a bit more.
Your first kind of 11-15 words on the page, really important,
particularly if you're thinking about those access needs: Am I on the right page? Am I going to get what I need?
That is what you need to sort out in the first 3 - 5 seconds.
Humans are extremely lazy, right. It actually takes fewer eye muscles to look down, than it does across.
You know the F-shape pattern, you have all seen it. We all do this.
This bit is orientation: am I going to get what I want?
Then your brain goes - "Yeah lazy! Can we go down the page and see?"
and you'll start looking down the left-hand side. It is how we work.
Headings become really, really important, right.
For accessibility, because screen readers can zip down them and give a story about what is on that page
and for people who can see, then, again, they can skip down and see everything that is on the page.
For usability, also helps with some search engine ranking, apparently.
But, generally, it is just for you to be able to get the gist of the page. Right.
All your headings should tell a story.
So when we do courses, we take all the content out,
we get people to sketch out content and put the headings with no other content.
If we cannot work out what that page is going to do
and what I'm going to get from that, then they have to go back and do it again.
Because sometimes people are making decisions on content from the headings alone.
Headings are hugely important. I would suggest you use them.
Another example will be a video then. Captions and transcripts so anyone, who can read,
right, so if people can't hear and they can't hear it and they can't read it,
you are hiding your best content in an inaccessible format.
If you are going to use videos, make sure you are using them for the right reason.
So for accessibility you need to do it for anybody who does have
a hearing impairment, who can read, so they can still access your content.
From a usability perspective, same thing, not having headphones on a bus,
you still want to access that content, it is an access need, right.
Having captions is really great. Having transcripts, obviously
you will need that for search engine, also because they can't crawl videos at the moment.
Also, everybody in this country, not everybody but most people in this country with an average
school education who can read, you can read faster than most people can speak.
So, unless you are talking to Eminem or something, people might decide that they want to speed up and
if they do that they will go for your transcript. Both usability and accessibility.
My favourite, favourite argument in all the world, is jargon.
From an accessibility point of view, you can alienate people
and push them away from content purely by using terms that are difficult to understand.
It doesn't mean to say you can't use them. It just means explain them the first
time you use it on a page. It is not difficult. From a usability perspective it is exactly
the same, right. You can see where this is going, for every accessibility thing there
is a usability thing, it is the same thing. So, I'm going to give you an example of this
- if I was to say to you: Cheesy bobs can be a menace but they are essentially harmless.
How many know what a cheesy bob is? Anyone? >>: Yes.
SARAH: Do you come from Surrey? >>: No.
SARAH: Ok, if you don't like bugs or insects or anything just look down now, I will tell you when
you can look up. This is a cheesy bob, it is a woodlouse, basically. It is a wood louse.
You can look up if you were looking down. I come from Guildford, a small town in Surrey.
We call them cheesy bobs. There is a town that is like 20 miles away and they have never heard of this.
I was 34 before I didn't know that was called a cheesy bob.
The guy in front of me is laughing his arse off - we are not together... Any more! Laugh at me.
That is jargon. That is technical. The thing is, I never questioned it. 1) I don't talk
about cheesy bobs to be very often, to be brutally honest, they don't come into conversation very often.
It is a was just a thing, I didn't question, why would I question that?
I have been calling them cheesy bobs since I was four,
and that's the thing with our technical and our special specialist language.
We understand it and we don't question it. Good content people will question it,
So, jargon, idioms, any of those sorts of things,
don't use them, because anybody who is not used to them, won't be able to understand it.
Now, a lot of people say, my audience is entirely specialist, they all understand my content.
What I would say to you is - I'm really sorry, you are in an industry that is dying.
Are you telling me you have got nobody new for you? Are you telling me that you can't share
your knowledge with just interesting people? People who are interested in what you are doing?
I have got kids; my boy has been into marine biology since he was about that high.
He's looking up all sorts of stuff, we have the world in our pockets. People are interested.
Do you really want to alienate them because of your specialist language?
Generally, that is an architecture problem, it is not a page problem. You can do summaries and pull people in
and then you can give specialist knowledge as well. Usability and accessibility.
For anybody reading in a second language, including BSL users, you can trip up any time you use
jargon and they are particularly difficult for people who are further along the autism spectrum.
You are alienating people purely by using technical language.
You might say to me - Sarah this is lovely but my organisation loves a bit of jargon.
Right, because this happens all the time. We are here for you. It is a shameless plug.
We have a readability guidelines, it is an open wiki, which we would like all of you to get involved with.
It is a global project to pull together evidence and data for all style decisions we are making
again and again and again, that actually are steeped in usability and accessibility.
There is no need for us to be having these conversations any more. Everything is evidenced.
If you want to join in, please do, we have over 600 people around the world
lurking generally, most lurk, only about 13 people speak but, still, you can get involved and
then you can have lots of data and evidence. So, some of our readability guidelines, then.
They say, clear language will help everybody. For example, people in a hurry.
There is this whole thing and it drives me bananas about clear language being dumbing down.
Have you heard this? And being for "thick" people which I find massively offensive.
It is not the case. Most of it, is time. We have a problem with time now.
We don't have time for you to get things wrong for us.
We need to get what we need, even if it is watching funny cat videos.
You want a video where the cat is funny. You don't want a cat just sitting there.
It is not funny. So I'm not talking about big, massive things, I'm talking about tiny, little things, as well.
With cognitive impairments then, Jacob Neilson said that,
you increase cognitive load by 11% every 100 extra words you put on a page.
Now 11% isn't much, if the worst thing you have to worry about
is doing the coffee run, and are you going to get everybody's weird order right, 11% isn't much.
But if you are looking after elderly parents and your kids and you have a job and trying
to hold your family together, you may not have very much and maybe you only have 11%,
so add this stuff to people with impairments, disabled people and just people who are stressed
and have no time, it alienates people.
For motor impairments, if you have funky and funny navigation, that is great,
as long as your brand can handle it.
As long as you don't care whether people who are going to get lost
are going to feel pain while they are doing it.
Now there are loads of really good accessibility kits you can buy, but if your organisation
kind of won't stump up the cash for that, to give an example of this, you can buy two
pairs of gloves, one medium, one large, sew them together up here, not all the way through,
just on one side and up here. And fill it with beans you have in beanbags or rice or
lentils, something, whatever, to make it a bit hard to move the glove and say - go on then,
now I'm going to give you a phone and you need to pick out that little button.
And now you need to pick out, because we have used funny and amusing whatever text,
and you don't know where you are going, you are going to have to go backwards and forwards
several times, do it with those gloves on.
And when they go - "Oh yeah, no that's hard I'm just going to take it off."
Go - "No, pop those on for another hour and then let's have a chat about that."
It is a way of getting around it.
From the visual impairment section, short sentences. Really useful. If you can
only see that much and everything else is blurry, you take in information with your
peripheral vision basically. Jason Santa Maria did a really good article about this,
I suggest you look it up, I don't have time to go into it today,
But you have this circade thing where you jump along your text, if you
have it as short sentences, you can take it more information in one go. It is more useful.
I would say, generally, if people want to add, whatever it is you are saying, even if
it is funny cat videos or like probate, they want to add it to their own context.
Nobody just wants to marvel at your language, unless you are an author or a designer or whatever and
that is kind of what you are showing, nobody wants to do that. They want to look at something
and feel something or do something about your content. So, they just want to add it to their own context.
But you don't have to be boring. There is loads of this kind of conversation
- if you do everything in clear, structured language and plain English and stuff, then you
take the creativity out of everything. It is complete... Rubbish! I was going to swear
but I got words on it. But I will say three words to you, put three
words on the screen and I want you to put up your hand if you know the brand I'm talking about,
ready, "just do it". Oh, you do? Oh, that's interesting. And such a surprise!
So "just do it" is in your common vocabulary set, the average learner in this country
has 5,000 terms in their primary set, 10,000 in secondary set, about 15,000 terms, that
makes up to, up to... 80% of your language that you use on a day-to-day basis.
That is in there. They hung a whole campaign off that. The creative that sits behind that line
can change every five minutes and can be extremely creative.
But it only hangs off three words. This is arguably, and people do argue about it a lot as far as I can see,
this is arguably the most successful advertising campaign in the world, in history, from 1959
by an agency called DDB. About selling Volkswagen Beetles to people in America, because Americans
have massive cars and they were like - this one is a bit small, what is this? They hung
that whole campaign off of two words "think small". Now, some of those words down the
bottom won't be in the 15,000 terms but everything around them is. It is not about individual
little terms; it is about how you're communicating. Extremely creative, extremely successful,
whether it is THE successful or not doesn't matter, extremely successful campaign.
People come to me, saying being clear, being accessible, being usable is boring, I would push them to most of the
extremely successful campaigns in the world and you will find accessible language.
Fast forward to here then, 2015, there was Like a Girl campaign, launched at the Superbowl,
it is about how females are perceived. So, if you were to ask a little girl how a girl runs,
she would go like this. And if you say to a woman how do you run... They will start
running like Penelope Pitstop. It is our perception, it went viral, millions of views all over the world.
Note on hashtags, if you put up caps for individual words, it is easier to read.
But you don't need all this formatting or funny little tricks to stand out.
As a content person, you can change your sentence length. It is a very simple trick.
We know that people need sort of like 14 to 29 words really pushing it but you want a sentence
that is kind of 14 to maybe 20-words long, to get people, to make it inclusive.
What you can do, is have a 20-word sentence a five-word sentence and a 20-word sentence afterwards.
What happens is it absolutely breaks the rhythm you are looking for.
Again, if you have kids or if you remember back to your childhood stories
when your parents read it to you,
if they were reading it at the right speed and not trying to get to the end so you will go to sleep,
If they were reading it properly to you, you would have a rhythm.
Your brain looks for that rhythm. It wants that rhythm. And if you break that, your brain freaks out
and does a regressive read and it'll go back up. Now this is great if you have one thing
on a page, that you really want to pull out, that you don't want to use bold, we don't
use bold, it makes people's eyes dance around, don't use italics, if you don't want to do that,
you can break that rhythm. However, do it carefully.
I would definitely only do it once on a page, probably and test it.
Because what's happening is, you are breaking that rhythm
and people will stop dead for that. You need to be careful with it. But it is a good technique to use.
Also use space. We know designers bang on about white space all the time.
So do content people. From a brain perspective, the more white they see, the more they think,
"oh, this isn't going to be complicated." You have loads of headings on a page telling a story.
You have shorter sentences, so it is more inclusive for people with visual impairments, for people
who can't be bothered to hold the front of a sentence while you get to the point, when you get to the end of it
you use lots of space and lots of shapes with your bullet points, to pull the eye down a
page and just make it easier for them to understand. What we would say is that struggling is not success.
People spent a long time on the page. Yes, couldn't get through it, that's why. It's not good metric!
When we do this, we might talk to our organizations and it's not
easy to get them to move away from language that they have been using 20, 30, 40 years.
I get that, but the conversation can be creaked open, if you find it relevant for them.
So, just in case you are in an organisation that finds some of these things difficult, I would
say find a relevant pain, something that is relevant to them.
If I know a client quite well, I might say to them, "You know that ski accident you had,
remember how painful that was, put that in your hands, put that behind your eyes, whatever it is",
If not, I will use migraines, I used to get a lot of migraines, I get vertigo,
I can't see, I can't stand up, my vision goes all blurry, those sorts of things.
Most people know somebody who has migraines and they know, it's not a posh word for a headache.
So, I would get them to feel a pain, actually understand one and
say, right, imagine that wherever. Then I would put their content on a very small screen,
so I have a big phone, I will pick out a small one from somebody.
And if they have got the matte cover on it, rip that off,
if you are not scared of being fired, obviously, if you are working with horrible people don't do that,
but you can put a glare on the screen, it is amazing what that does,
people will go, "Oh!", they will move it, and you say, "Just keep that still", because
I still need you to get to your content without you doing that.
Then add a distraction.
Google did a study, 67% of the time we're on one device, we're on another one.
When you are watching the Bake Off and tweeting about it at the same time, so is everybody else.
Again, when I am in an office, it depends on how much shame or dignity you have, to be brutally honest.
I will go up to people's ears and say something, in their ears to just distract them a little
bit, because that is how life works, for a lot of people. Not always, but for a lot of people.
Then lastly, imagine that your hands hurt. Get them to put on the gloves,
there's glasses as well which are really good. Get them to do those things and then say,
Now use your content. Now tell me why you need jargon on the page.
It is always best to go to a usability lab, with disabled people,
test, do the videos, share it with your organisation, it is.
But a lot of organisations won't do this, they don't put value on it and won't put money into it.
If you have that environment, brilliant, go, fabulous, can you please share
all your results, so we can all use them, but if you can't, then you can start to use some of these techniques.
What we would say is that accessibility is far more than just colour contrast and screen readers.
Just shortening up your sentences can open your content to
a really wide audience and you won't lose people who are terribly intelligent and can just skip
through it, they will just skip through it faster; they will be fine. You won't lose them by communicating well.
What we would say is, that it's not dumbing down, it's opening up. Thank you.