UN-tangling accessibility

On the occasion of 70th Anniversary of the United Nations, there has been an initiative to raise awareness about the importance of web accessibility. As a measure of immediate change, the organisation has started to improve all the UN websites.

Logo: accessibility guidelines for UN websites

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s thought-provoking article stresses the importance of eliminating digital barriers. This also includes a brief but highly effective video highlighting the importance of accessibility and this notable line:

Accessible websites benefit all visitors, not just those with disabilities. On an accessible website, the user is put at the centre of the experience.

This is a lesser known fact about accessibility. Apart from the obvious advantages of creating an inclusive environment and increased market reach, accessibility enhances the overall user experience by improved clarity and structure. One of the hidden benefits is improved search engine rating (in fact Google essentially is like a blind person looking for information). But above all, it is all about acknowledging the diversity in the end user community, accepting the fact that we are all differently-abled due to many factors.

I’m passionate about User Experience (UX) – improving the digital experience for the user, particularly for the disabled users. So to learn about the scale at which this is being taken up by UN is very energizing. It is high time that this topic garners the attention it deserves. It is legally, ethically and commercially important make technology a level ground for those with disabilities. A live example of its benefits is the legendary scientist Stephen Hawking who uses various assistive technologies to express himself. What a loss it would be for the world to not provide that opportunity to participate!

Today’s IT service providers have to sit up and think what they are losing by not getting their act together in terms of accessibility. In fact, it can be considered a discrimination for a service provider to host an inaccessible website and hence be subjected to legal action. However, rather than fearing accessibility for such reasons, there is a strong case for businesses to consider improving web accessibility because of the positives it brings with it. There have been glorious examples of businesses reaping benefits by making their websites accessible. There have also been some infamous stories about those who have paid a price for disregarding this aspect.

To be fair, there have been some examples where organisations have put accessibility on the top of their list, particularly where a new system is being built. For example, during the development of GOV.UK portal (Government Digital Service), I am told that the delivery would not get progressed to the live environment unless there was a complete approval on the accessibility aspect of it. However such examples are far and few between. Sadly, most seem to have chosen to push it down their ‘to do’ list. In some cases it is seen as too significant an area of impact on development processes and hence not to be taken too lightly. i.e., hold a lot of discussions rather than take any action. Why do they do that I wonder?

Existing websites, old technologies, ongoing business, impact on BAU?

Accessibility is not easy to understand. You need to involve people with disabilities to fully realise the problems. How easy is it to engage people from that community in the software development process?

ROI: is there really an audience or are we just going through a lot of hassle for a small minority?

We need specialist companies to do justice to this topic; can we afford to get them on board?

Well, let us face it, all these factors are actually very real. I very much empathise with the businesses in the challenges involved around accessibility. It is a long way to achieve the utopian idea of fully accessible websites across board. But to me, the first step is not the implementation – it is to develop the will to support accessibility, to include it in the thought process, to talk about it in meetings, to encourage innovation around it, to consider investing in it. In my opinion, there usually is not enough research done before concluding that it is not for now, it is a topic to be taken up some day in the future.

This actually calls for a change of perception and practices, a real determination to make disabled users feel more welcome. There are some immediate measures a business could take up to reflect an inclusive line of thought. For example, carrying out an audit on the existing websites to understand the current issues is a good starting point. Implementing easy fixes sometimes does not call for a huge investment. Publishing an accessibility statement on the website is another recommendable measure, to acknowledge that there are known issues and to offer the users a way to report the issues they are facing. There could be other innovative, technical solutions to accessibility issues. There is a lot businesses could do, if there is a will of course.

We might want to take a cue from the construction industry. In today’s age, there perhaps would be no new building without a lift or a ramp. Even in existing buildings, there have been excellent examples of creating an accessible route with minimal impact to the structure. It is perhaps very natural for architects and engineers to factor it in by default. It is perhaps a matter of time before accessibility in IT attains a level of importance it gets in building constructions. But we IT professionals can make it happen sooner – for the sake of 15% of world’s population, for the sake of equality and human rights, or perhaps for the sake of our own old age!

And how do we do that? By learning more about it, by raising awareness, by talking to our customers about it, by trying our best to include it in our proposals / web designs / user interfacing programs / testing activities. It is our choice to be just an audience to this initiative started by the UN or to be an active part of it.

Please spread the word!

What are your thoughts on web accessibility? Leave a message below or contact me by email.

Demystifying UX: it’s just like riding a bike

What is UX design?

Ever since the term “UX” (User Experience) design started being used a number of years ago there has been a bit of confusion, especially with clients, as to what UX design actually means. We can explain the methods and processes that we use, but it has always been a bit of a vague description.

The main confusion tends to be that people think that UX design is just a fancy name for (UI) User Interface design. It’s very easy to see how this could seem the case. A lot of the deliverables that a UX designer produces can be very similar to that of a UI designer, but there is also a lot more work going on behind the scenes that is done to produce results that are not as easy to see.

How can we clear this up?

There is always a difficulty in creating a mental model of a digital product. Even with digital products that we use every day, such as email. We tend to default to the visual cues of the product, the email or the inbox, when describing its processes, even though there is a huge amount going on in the background.

One of the reasons for this is that digital products are intangible. We can’t easily lift open the lid and see how all the gears fit together, so this makes it difficult to describe how they work and what they do.

It is a lot easier to explain what a physical product does, because it’s a lot easier to show how it does it. It’s more straight forward to open the back of a clock and see how the bits fit together than to show someone code and explain how it fits together.

A better way to describe what UX design is, would then be to relate it to a physical object that everyone can relate to, and explain how the design of the product is changed to create an experience for the user.

The product

Let’s take a bicycle. It’s a simple product that has been produced for many years and that everyone can relate to. When someone mentions the word “bicycle” or “bike” there is instant recognition as the shape of the product forms in the mind. No more information is provided at this stage, but with what limited information is available, a model is constructed.

The products components

As with any product there are different components that come together on a bike to create the whole. Some of these components the user interacts with directly, while others are there to allow the bike to perform its function. The user interacts with the handlebars, which  turn the front wheel, which steers the bike. While the user does not interact directly with the wheel, the effect they supply at the handlebars directly influences the wheel, which causes a change of direction.

Using this analogy, the cyclist’s interfaces with a bike are all the areas with which they actually interact to perform the task of cycling. These include the handlebars, the seat, the brake levers and the pedals. The other areas of the bike are what could be described as the “back-end system”. These are the components that control how the bike actually works, and the tasks that it performs. Examples of these are the wheels and bearings, the forks, the gears and the chain or the brake cables and pads.

On a bike it’s very easy to see how all these elements connect together to form a whole product, and how a user can interact with the product to create their end user experience – cycling.

How can the experience of “cycling” be designed?

It’s easy to understand what cycling is, but quite an abstract concept to explain. There are lots of elements incorporated into the experience of cycling that go beyond just the experience of interacting with the bike as a product.

The experience includes the feeling of speed, the wind rushing past, the feeling of leaning into the turn going around a corner, the muscle soreness from pedalling and the feeling of cruising along a smooth piece of road. This experience is the culmination of a number of factors including the product, the cyclist and external factors such as the gradient, the type of surface and the speed at which they are cycling.

This means that it doesn’t make sense to say that we are designing “the experience” as much as we’re designing with the experience in mind. We want the experience to be positive, but we can’t force it to be.

Designing without UX

A product like a bike can be designed without using UX design. It would involve being provided with a brief from the client and creating it with the information available.

A designer could have seen a bike before, or cycled a bike before, or even designed a bike before, so they would have in idea of what a bike should look like, and how it should work. They would pull on that experience and create a prototype that fulfils the requirements set down and with which the client is happy. It has handlebars, pedals, a seat, wheels, gears, chains and brakes: everything that the user needs for the bike to work and for them to be able to cycle on it. The client makes a few changes to the design, and the prototype is created into a product.

This method of design can create a usable product, and can create the experience of “cycling” for the user, but we don’t know if the experience is a good one. There are a number of factors that were not considered and, as such, might mean the user having an unpleasant cycling experience.

Designing with UX

Some of what is mentioned above also applies to designing with UX. Once provided with a brief from the client, the designer may have a rough idea of what a bike could look like based on their previous experience. This would not, however, be the design that the client sees. There are other steps that will influence the design before then.

The first step is to ask the client why they want to produce a bike? Who are they making it for? Who is the target audience? What are the goals for the business when producing a bike? All companies need to sell their products to make profit so that they can continue to operate, although some have very different reasons for doing so.

For this example, let’s say that the target market is 16 to 24-year old males, and the company wants to make a profit by selling enough of their bikes, but they also want the target market to associate their brand with well-designed, solid products that perform at a high level. This information can be used to create “personas”, which gives the designer a reference point for all the design decisions that they make throughout the project. It is to ensure that they are designing for the user, not for the client or themselves.

Now that we know who target market, and the business goals for the product, we can start to research what the target market want from the product, and how competitors that already have the desired brand image have achieved that goal.

User research with the target market will discover that a large number of 16 – 24-year old males are interested in mountain biking. This includes cross country, trail and downhill mountain biking that can be done all over the country, and also at specific specialised areas in forests and national parks.

The competitor analysis of other companies in the area shows that those who produce quality, high-performing products use strong, solid and light materials, and have put their products through rigorous tests to prove that they perform at the highest levels. Research into these products give the designer an idea of what designs have proved to work successfully, and can influence the product that they are creating.

Using this information, the designer can begin to create a prototype that is tailored to the target market and the task identified, is using the appropriate materials, and is using known effective design solutions. The designer will also pull on their own experiences from previous products that they have worked on and incorporate them where appropriate.

This prototype is then tested with users in the target user group and in the environment where it is most likely to be used. It is unlikely that the first design created will be the most optimal, so the feedback provided from this testing is fed back into the design followed by further cycles of testing and design iteration until the design is the best that it can possibly be. Only then will the design be put into production and the final product created for sale.

However, this isn’t the end of the product life cycle. The designer should take feedback from those who have bought and used the product extensively to see how it can be improved, and release regular updates to the product, creating versions 2, 3 and beyond, getting closer and closer to providing the best cycling experience for the cyclist.

Just like riding a bike

It’s clear that the bike produced using the non UX method will create a bicycle – it will have handlebars, a seat, wheels and all the other components that make up a bike, but if it was used in the same scenario as the one that was produced using the UX design method, then the experience for cyclist will be very different.

So, UX is just like riding a bike, but the experience can vary quite a lot depending on the bike.

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email with your thoughts.

The UX “snowball effect”

How transforming the user experience can deliver rapid, ever-increasing business benefits

A key strength of applying a user centric Agile approach to digital transformation is that it can deliver incremental improvements to the customer and employee experience without having to reconfigure an organisation’s entire operating model “all at once”.  Furthermore this approach can enable further benefits to be potentially realised across the whole business.

These improvements alone may not always generate great bottom line benefits for different organisational stakeholders, but cumulatively they can have a massive (“snowballing”) sustainable impact.  Also this approach may be the only way smaller organisations can realise the benefits of digital ways of working and technology at an acceptable level of risk.

Here’s an example of how this UX snowball effect could potentially deliver the tangible business benefits of digital transformation in less than one year for a medium sized high street and on-line retailer (note all change activities described in this scenario are tactical, not strategic):

  1. An on-line channel requires users to complete a free text form; the process is cumbersome for customers leading to a significant number of complaints and drop-out to off-line sales channels. Based on customer and service centre feedback, the onsite UX team designed and implemented a new on-line form that uses drop down menus. This made the process of completing the form for all users easier and more responsive – and resulted in more on-line purchases and a reduction in complaints
    Cumulative indicative benefits:  improved customer satisfaction score 
  2. Because the UX team used Agile to deliver this user experience enhancement quickly in collaboration with the customer service centre management team, these stakeholders were able to rationalise back office capabilities in parallel that generated cost efficiencies
    Cumulative indicative benefits: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve 
  3. The significantly reduced admin burden meant sales staff could focus on higher value engagement activities such as engaging new customers
    Cumulative indicative benefits: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition 
  4. The user-friendly on-line form also enabled cleaner, more accurate data to be collected about customers’ browsing and purchasing behaviour; using money saved from back office efficiencies, managers invested in analytics/reporting tools to create a better understanding of customer needs based on this deeper information. This insight meant the company could pro-actively respond to the changing demands of individual customers
    Cumulative indicative benefits:  improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition + data driven personalisation 
  5. Using insights gathered from the data analysis, marketing were able to use this evidence to build a business case for new innovative services that addressed genuine gaps in the market
    Total UX “snowball benefits” realised in one year: improved customer satisfaction score + reduced costs to serve + increased new customer acquisition + data driven personalisation + lower risk diversification

…And all resulting from innovating the user experience for completing an on-line form!

If you would like more information about the issues discussed in this post, or how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria digital practice

UX Designers HQ: UX Hackathon

Have you ever woken up in the morning and wondered “Did that actually happen or was I dreaming?” That was my exact thought as I groggily arose from my warm bed recently, unsure of whether or not I had attended a game-changing event in the world of UX. It wasn’t until I scrolled through the abundance of notifications on my iPhone with the tag #CFUXHACKATHON attached that I realised not only had the event actually happened, right here in central London, but also that I was not alone in my feeling of fulfilment.

Many members of the digital community have often walked away from an event that has a UX focus to it, still with so many questions left unanswered. UX is such a complex discipline, it is hard to keep up or even retain the information being spoken on stage by the UX thought leader of the moment. The digital community in the UK has long awaited an event where they can leave and go to bed knowing more, understanding more and being more than they were when they woke up that morning. As the hope was slowly beginning to drift away, along came the meetup group UX Designers HQ: London. The organisers (Career Foundry) promised an intense, knowledge filled six hours of UX-iness, in the form of a UX Hackathon, which is believed to be the first held in London of its kind and scale. Was this the event that the community had been looking for? We all waited in anticipation for the date of the six hour UX Hackathon to be announced; Wednesday 25th February 2015 at 6pm.

6pm mid week? Haven’t we all go work in the morning?

Despite the fact that it was on a work night 100+ members from the digital community arrived, representing some of the biggest technology companies globally and of all abilities, knowledge and experience in UX.

The Career Foundry team had asked me and six other UX professionals to mentor the twelve teams during the hackathon based on our experience practicing UX in specialist areas related to the briefs that the teams would be working from. The seven of us also formed the expert judging panel, where we provided critique and scored the final presentations from our UX Hackers.


  • Jay Tulloch – UX Designer at Sopra Steria
  • Yael Levey – Senior UX Designer at the BBC
  • Sandra Sears – UX Designer for TalkTalk
  • Andy Iosifescu – Freelance Interaction Designer
  • Neil Sampson – Professional UX Designer
  • Paola Miani – Senior User Experience Consultant at IG
  • James Walters – UX Lead at Open Inclusion

The night flowed extremely smoothly with the teams getting acquainted and well and truly stuck into the tasks at hand.

The Hackathon consisted of five stages:

  1. User research and prep
  2. User testing 1: User Interviews
  3. Divide, coordinate & conquer: value proposition, user flows and information architecture
  4. User testing 2: paper prototyping
  5. Iteration & pitch

As a mentor, it was my job to add value to teams and help direct them through their design brief, providing them with the in-depth UX knowledge and methodology required for them to really understand the needs and goals of their ideal target users. I soon found myself being called to different tables to provide my insight and expertise. This was great! It meant that the information that I was sharing not only made sense but was indeed valued. By the end of the night, all of the twelve teams had confidently presented their final designs to us judges and there was uproar of applause from the audience for everyone involved.

The feedback from the attendees both directly and on-line has been incredible: thanking Sopra Steria for sharing our expert knowledge and experience in the UX field with them, which they found invaluable during the tasks. Participants and Mentors alike displayed a keen interest in the great work that we are all doing in digital transformation at Sopra Steria. The organisers have been praised in huge amounts for the event, and they are planning a full three day UX Hackathon in nine months time for over 300 participants! This is another event which could provide Sopra Steria with the opportunity to further increase our influence as thought leaders, as we continue to make our own transition from the New European Leader to the New Global Leader in Digital Transformation.

Read on, for a timetable of events


Competitor Analysis

Teams researched three competitors who shared the same goals as the teams business concept. It was important for the teams to understand their competitors in order to begin to form a picture of their target users. I asked the teams to think about:

  • Who are their competitors communicating to?
  • How are their competitors communicating?
  • Why are their competitors communicating in this way?
  • What is their competitors message?
  • Is there a story behind their business?
  • Do their competitors values match theirs?
User Personas

After identifying three of their closest competitors, the teams were asked to create a single persona which described their ideal target user of their product or service. It was important for the teams not to be distracted by the look, age and name of their persona. They needed to look deeper into who the person actually was and think to about:

  • What are their interests?
  • Who do they socialise with?
  • Where do they socialise?
  • What are the motivations for using their product/service?
  • Goals, what does their persona want to be or do?
  • Is this why they are using the product/service?
Card Sorting

Card sorting was a fun exercise that really brought the team together. They rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into this task and were asked to maintain focus on their vision for the product. Once they grouped their ideas into categories they carefully prioritised features, ideas and pages that were must haves for the MVP of their product/service.


The teams went out into the big wide world (the table next door) to find representatives of their target audience, and ask them questions based on the teams assumptions of how their users would interact with the product or service. The task was very insightful and the teams soon realised that the answers that they received were not those that were first expected.


A huge task which required the teams to be very organised. Based on the data obtained from the user interview stage the teams went about creating the optimum user journey through their proposed product. From this, they could then begin to develop the information architecture and place in the features and ideas that they had prioritised for the MVP. When constructing the IA, I discussed with the teams the importance of how information is delivered to the user through content (labelling, hierarchy, tagging, grouping), which allowed them to question some of their own decisions and assumptions, and provided a starting point for the next round of user testing.


Another fun task, however, one of the most valuable. The teams tested the paper prototypes of their proposed user journeys and interactions with users from other teams. None of the teams got the design right first time, and that was ok because they gained invaluable insight into how their users actually will use their products and what their expectations really are.


They now had the opportunity to refine their design before the final presentation, it was critical to the success of their product that they utilised the helpful feedback obtained from the user testing stage. The data received from the testing would help them to direct their iterations towards the needs of their ideal target users.

Once they were satisfied that their final design was a perfect fit for the needs of their user the teams began to organise how they would pitch their vision to the audience and more importantly the judges.

All twelve teams pitched extremely well and delivered the goals from the brief. Some of the pitches were long, some were short, some were fun…and some were not so much. At the end of the night, there was not a single person without a smile, and there was a brief moment where everyone could see the satisfaction in the faces of their team mates. The whole room congratulated one another and it was clear to see that the night was one we’d all never forget.


Apologies in advance for the “cringe factor” of the following images. Although I feel strongly that this feedback is important for us to know and it does not only reflect the work that I did on the night, it is also reflective of the awesomeness of us as a UX and Innovation team at Sopra Steria and the work that we have all done over the last two years building our Digital Practice from the ground up to get us into spaces such as this one.

Service design should create a positive and cohesive experience

At Sopra Steria we create digital experiences that people choose to use. Service design is thinking about a holistic experience, engaging with the user at various different touch points and ensuring it’s not just seamless but meaningful too.

Understanding the changing market environment, analysing customer behaviour and how the customer will use and experience different services, we can gather insight that enables our digital teams to develop effective and innovative ways to engage with the customer. Our innovative thinking is nimble and we want to make sure our customers get the best competitive advantage when it comes to creating and building solutions.

Technology can provide the tools at every touch point, providing lean customer centric experiences. Such tech services can range from mobile and tablet devices that allow the user to interact with a service without the need for staff, or wearable tech that can personalise data and content just as they enter a certain location. Whatever the tech solution, understanding how and why the customer will use the service in context will ensure that the service connects on a visceral level.

Intrinsically motivating the customer creates loyalty and trust to a service or brand. Bringing the data and the tech together means that we can deliver a service that is enjoyable for the customer. So when we want to be innovative with our thinking and quickly respond to market trends, the customer trusts us and sees value in the service we are providing.

This is why I believe it’s not just about the product or the great piece of tech, it’s about the process. Whether the business goal is to save operational costs, support customer retention or enable staff to solve problems more effectively, the end result is simple – to create a positive and cohesive experience for the customer and the employee.

How do we even begin to ensure the process is right? Collaboration…

What’s the difference between Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX)?

Let’s first define the two…

Customer Experience

The experience the customer will have across all touch points (online and offline), covering the relationship between the customer and the brand, from sales to operations, phone call to online interaction.

User Experience

UX focuses on the touch points with a digital interface, each a subset of the brand. UX encompasses how the digital experience makes a user feel and how usable that experience is throughout the entire process, before during and after.

Collaboration of UX and CX

Depending on what the customer or business requires, the work of the CX and UX person will overlap. In order to achieve a seamless experience the UX designer must first understand how the user will interact with the various touch points by gathering research, design and development material and aligning it to the customer journey map.

The result

Collaborating together on the customer journey we can create experiences that enable contextually aware data to be gathered, understand the goal of the customer, what the user wants to achieve and ensure they enjoy a seamless experience from start to finish, whether they are online or offline.

So what do we call this holistic experience? Service design.

Why digital transformation? My current three key questions – what are yours?

i) What things CAN’T your customers or employees do on their own mobiles to use or serve your products and services?

ii) Do you have one application that gives your employees all the RIGHT information about the relationship you have with a specific customer or client?

iii) Is there is one area of your business (no matter how small or large) that if improved to WORK SMARTER could deliver big benefits quickly for customers and/or employees?

Answering one or more of these questions can help a client find the critical pain points that could be addressed using new ways of working supported by digital technology – the power of digital transformation!

Let me know your top three…