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Developing for accessibility

What is accessibility

“Accessibility enables people with disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web.” – Jesse Hausler.

The goal of Accessibility is to make the Web a place with equal access and opportunities to people with diverse abilities. The domain of accessibility has systematically been overlooked in the past. Even today, things are not really what they should be. Companies don’t focus on people with disabilities – or ‘with different abilities’ as I prefer – to use their product, for budget and time reasons. Sadly enough, they don’t believe the market is big enough to make the investment, leaving different-abled people out of many applications, which could otherwise be very useful to them.

My experience

Recently I joined a highly professional team, working on a banking application for tablet. Accessibility was part of the scope of this project, and for me, it was the first time to actually work on something that would also be fit for people with different abilities. My job was to find the flaws in the application where these people might get confused. We focused mainly on the visually impaired. So I sat down, plugged in my earphones in the tablet, started accessibility mode (VoiceOver), fired up the app, closed my eyes and went through the application. (For those who have never used it, VoiceOver reads out what is on the screen, content and buttons alike.)

It needs mentioning that I am not a professional in accessibility, and that there are companies out there who focus specifically on this subject (although the ones with mobile knowledge are hard to find, we fortunately came across Accessibility Partners). The following is my experience.

It was a frustrating experience and I found there was still some work to be done in order to have accessibility on an acceptable level. It was probably frustrating because I am not used to working without seeing what I’m doing. The learning curve for getting used to accessibility mode (different swiping commands, finding a button, etc) must have had some part in this. Add the OS differences (Android versus iOS) in accessibility commands to this list and you’ll probably guess why this was not easy. I found a couple of issues, but I was not sure that some of them would be real issues to our users for I was not sure how they actually use it. After a few tries myself, we decided that we would get richer information from an actual user. Accessibility user testing is what we needed.

The need for access

What I did find myself, was that some parts of the application where wrongly implemented. Some plain text for example, was implemented as textfield by mistake, which was read out as such and therefore confusing for our accessibility target group. The tests showed us some development mistakes as well as accessibility flaws. In the end, we managed to get a reasonable accessibility level. Although many companies still need to see the need to address accessibility, many others already do so. App- and game developers for instance spend time trying to figure out how to make their products more accessible for different audiences.

As developers of web and mobile apps, and in a world driven more and more by digital, we all carry a part of the responsibility to create inclusive applications.

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Work-together-day

We are consultants. We are the kind of consultants who believe in close collaboration with the customer. We therefore tend to work at the customers premises. As a team, we only see the colleagues who work at the same customer, the rest of the team we only see now and then.

Consultants have to be a source of knowledge and expertise, constantly updated knowledge since we work at the edge of new technology. We build that knowledge by studying, reading ridiculous amounts of articles and by gathering experience on our projects.

Every consultant struggles, somewhere along the way, in some project. We sometimes struggle with very new or very old technology, we sometimes struggle with complex organisations or organisational politics, we sometimes struggle to convince customers of alternative solutions we see. We don’t go with the flow. But that struggle can be a lonely journey if your team is far away and little known to you.

Monthly work-together day

Since last year Foursevens has started a work-together-day. Once a month we convince our customers that our consultants work a day at our own office. We work on our projects but share, discuss, request reviews to one another. And we eat together, have coffee breaks together.  We get to know new people, we chat about every day life and do what ‘normal’ colleagues do every day.

Thanks to work-together-day we have been able to create a strong company culture. We have increased the sharing of experiences and knowledge and learning possibilities for everyone. We can relate to other people’s struggle because we know what they are doing. And by building relationships, we are more active online, on our collaboration platform, and we continue sharing.

We often help customers implement a new way of working and therefore constantly explore new and better ways of working for ourselves.Intro

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2030 according to Foursevens

A weekend together in Amsterdam. A rainy afternoon in a nice pub. That’s all we needed to get going. As digital innovation consultants, we often help our customers imagine what their future can look like. We investigate what they do today and come up with possible digital services that would ensure a bright future for their customers and their organisation. It is rare that we make time to imagine our own future or the future of our society. You see, our society is not a customer of ours. But with a nice drink at hand we started to imagine what 2030 will look like. And we’re happy to share some of our ideas;

3D printer in every household.

3dprinter

A 3D printer will become as common and affordable as a regular printer. Most people will have one in their homes by 2030 and will have very easy applications to select designs and have them printed.

Self-driving becomes standard.

selfdriving

Self-driving cars will become the standard in certain areas with dense traffic. It will still be possible to drive these cars manually. It will also still be possible to drive a ‘manual’ car, but they might get excluded on some roads.

Growth of small businesses, decline of large corporations.

LargeSmall

Small businesses will become much more important in our economy. Digital small businesses will be the largest growing kind of small businesses. Technology will make starting up a business and running a business easy, cheap and attainable.

Digital Direct Democracy

ddd

Politicians have some serious disruption heading towards them. The representative democracy as we know it today is nearing an end. Technology will allow for a shift towards direct democracy in which direct and immediate involvement of the people is made possible.

Intercontinental travel through space.

UplaceinSpace

The last 20 years have not done much to air travel times. Instead of faster airplanes, we believe some forms of commercial space travelling will emerge, resulting in faster intercontinental travel times. Shopping malls could make much more sense in space than they ever have on earth. Some duty free shopping on your way to New York?

Conclusion

Our conclusion is: we live in exciting times. And there is much more fun ahead. Do you believe these are scary times? Do you believe your organisation is not up to this? Then maybe we need to talk. We help companies make sense of digital innovation, especially those companies who prove bad at reinventing themselves.

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RFP procedures block digital innovation

When choosing enterprise solutions ‘RFP procedures’ are a common practice in most large organisations. RFP stands for Request for Proposal. RFPs tend to contain a bucket list of features. They aim at turning different product offerings into lines of comparable items in an Excel sheet. Belief is that a quick calculation of ‘off the shelf’, ‘no can do’ and ‘custom work needed’ answers will direct the decision makers towards the right product to buy.

changeyourmind

The list of features is usually based on three sources of information. First of all the product the company is currently using. The focus then lies especially on features that are missing from the current product and the frustrations that currently exist around bad features. Features that are heavily used with success often don’t make it to the list. Secondly the feature list is filled with what is currently fashionable. A quick read of marketing material from competing products serves that purpose. Vendor road maps with no relation whatsoever to the companies own maturity in the matter also serve as inspiration. And last but not least a totally random guess by management about where things are heading, adds the last few feature requests. Actual users of the current product don’t play a role in most RFP processes.

This is why an RFP will never favour products that answer a need or solve a problem in a totally innovative way. When product selection is based on old criteria, common solutions to existing problems, only products that answer needs in an old fashioned way can win the race.

Is there an alternative? We believe there is; first talk to your users, you’ll be surprised about how much they know and how clear their vision on the problem at hand can be. Then look at what products have achieved in other companies and make your shortlist. Then let the vendor prove what his product is worth by doing a proof of concept onsite. Will this take time? Yes it will, but so does your classic approach. Will this cost money? You probably want to be fair and pay candidates a little for their proof of concept work. But compared to the long-term cost of a wrongly chosen product, oh boy will this be cheap!

Are you lost at how to take it from here, we’ve done this before, we can do it again; Contact us!

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Inspiration weekend Amsterdam

Last weekend Foursevens headed out to Amsterdam. I want to share the things we did, because each one of them is a source of inspiration. Foursevens works on digital innovation projects every day and we are keen to see what is going on in other places whenever we get the chance.

The agenda of our weekend in Amsterdam.

We were at the Mobilism conference on Friday, the last Mobilism conference ever. Without a doubt the best conference we attended this year. In every way; great speakers you rarely get to see anywhere else, excellent talks and Q&A sessions, great presenter, wonderful and attentive audience (that includes us of course). All this in a beautiful venue, good food & drinks. It was the best idea ever to come here with our entire team. Truly inspirational. Lucky for you they will put all the talks online.

Our next stop was the CitizenM hotel. A hotel that packs a whole range of innovative ideas and technology into one. If you are into innovation, in any type of business, book a room here, you will understand what innovation feels like.

Saturday morning started with a workshop at Gewoonboot; a sustainable meeting room boat. Great views over the water, excellent service. Lots of information on how they built it and made it sustainable in energy and water usage. And surely these surroundings helped to have a very productive workshop.

Lunch at container-built restaurant and bar Pllek. Or how old port areas can be turned into lovely meeting places. We got there using the free ferry from the Central station. In the afternoon we visited the future 3D house printer at 3D Canal House. We looked in vain for a subscription list. We’d have put our names down as future clients, that’s for sure. But they’re not quite there yet.

Our last stop was Westergasfabriek where instead of a walk, the weather drove us towards de Ketelhuis where we loved the two-people-cinema, what a great idea! That could totally work elsewhere too.

We had dinner at Instock, a pop-up restaurant that cooks with supermarket leftovers. They are soon moving to more permanent locations so this initiative will continue.

The rest of the evening was spent in non-innovative and certainly not sustainable places, we’ll spare you the details. But we all survived. Amsterdam is a great location for an inspiration weekend based on sustainable innovation.

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Where does Foursevens come from?

7777 is het ‘four sevens’-patent dat werd geregistreerd door ene Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company op 26 April 1900. Voor die datum worstelde Marconi met interferentie tussen de stations. Zijn onderzoek resulteerde in de creatie van een zender-ontvanger-systeem waarin alle componenten op elkaar afgestemd waren. Wat een heerlijke inspiratie voor ons werk.

Dank u Mr. Marconi.

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Writing for 2 readers

What is the live cycle of an analysis document? One or more analysts are asked to analyse a project. In the best case they will talk to a lot of people and write down their conclusions in a document. In the worst case they will only look at a lot of existing tools and put down conclusions in a document. Big documents, packed with long texts, diagrams and the lucky few might contain some wireframes.

Dutiful reader one

This document is sent out to the project’s stakeholders; marketing managers, project managers, business experts. They are now asked to approve the analysis. They are in fact asked: ‘is it ok we build this thing and spend your money for the coming X months’. What ‘this thing’ is, can only be imagined by reading 200 pages of somewhat technical descriptions. If they’re lucky there will be some visuals hinting at what the end-result might be. Most readers will flip through the pages, looking for something to catch their attention. They will then come across a more pressing matter or something more enticing to look at and leave. If all goes well, one guy might take the time to read through the whole thing and send some comments. Because he felt he had to.

Critical second reader

The analysis document is a tad technical because this document serves a second purpose. Once the stakeholders have given their approval, this document will be shipped to a team of developers. The lead developer will read the document and write a technical analysis. Lack of time might make him start preparing the planning directly, cutting the work up into smaller pieces, deciding who will be building what. The lead developer will invariably have lots of questions, see lots of voids and ask the analyst to come and clarify.

Economy of scale

Would you write a blog post if you would know only two people would read it (I’m sure I wouldn’t!)? Would you write a magazine if you would know only two people would read it (and it wouldn’t even make them happy)? Would you write a short story? Would you write a novel? Then why are so many analysts writing 200 to 300 page analysis documents for no one to read?

We are analysts. We don’t do too many documents. We especially don’t do long documents. Imagine our architect would have written a ‘house analysis’ document. Barely a few sketches of what some parts of the house would look like. And a lot of words explaining what our ‘bathroom needs’ are and what our ‘kitchen needs’ are and what our ‘moving from one floor to another requirements’ are. Architects do drawings, maps, 3D rendering, they build models, if you’re lucky they will even do videos of you walking through your future house.

We want to have business walk through their future digital product before they decide it’s worth their money. We do drawings, mockups, prototypes. And we talk and explain what needs explaining. We then agree and write things down for developers to read. We want developers to receive detailed user story descriptions, data mappings, screen descriptions. They understand user stories and it allows them to easily do their work.

Analysts talk to business people and IT people. We join them around great ideas. Not around long documents.

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Projects are popup shops

Have you ever walked out of a shop because the shop assistant wasn’t friendly? Did you ever decide never to return to that restaurant because the waiter was rude?

People react well to friendliness. I learned from Willem Verbeke (link in Dutch) that biological things happen when treated in a friendly way. People get an oxytocin boost. It makes them feel good. It makes them feel confident and full of trust.

We don’t run a shop at Foursevens. But then again, any project could be considered a shop. A temporary shop with a certain goal. We could call it a pop-up shop. And part of the success of this pop-up shop is that everyone wants to come in and collaborate.

We believe being friendly is an important factor in the success rate of our projects. It allows us to convince and motivate people to collaborate. As a consultant you arrive in a ‘community’ as an outsider. Some people will warmly welcome you. Many people haven’t asked for you to be there. Some people will even doubt the need for your popup shop to ever open its doors. But by approaching everyone in a friendly and respectful manner, we build healthy relationships. Relationships that allow for open communication and that can lead to positive collaboration.

We believe in friendly.

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The Power of Talking to People

I am a consultant. I spend most of my time in other people’s offices. I spend a few weeks there and move on. Most offices of large companies and organisations are similar. Most offices are very grey. (did you know color-psychology says grey shows ‘lack of energy, lack of confidence’).

Is open office space open?

A very popular thing in most of these organisations is email. Email has become the main way of communicating. Most employees prefer to send an email when they have a question. They send an email when they want to share something. They send an email when they have an opinion. They send an email when they have a document to share. They spend large part of their day sending emails and responding to emails of collegues. Collegues who sometimes sit only a few metres away. They invariably complain about receiving too many emails. You’d start to wonder why all these organisations have adopted open office space and VOIP telephones.

Walkie talkie

And in comes this consultant. Eager to make a difference. To get things done in this surrounding I use two extremely effective, horribly simple methods: ‘walk and talk to people’ and ‘pick up the phone and call’. Finding the right person to talk to in an open office space is very easy. You walk to the floor where this person sits and then ask whomever if they know Mr This-and-that. You might have a few stops before you get there, allowing you to meet more people and get to know new parts of the organisation.

Face to face contact cannot be replaced by anything. People communicate better, are friendlier and more positive in face-to-face conversation. It is easier to convince people when talking face-to-face. And as an analyst I have some convincing to do. Calling on the phone is an ok substitute for talking face-to-face, especially if you’ve met before. It will save time, it will save space and direct conversation is certainly the strongest antidote to misunderstandings.