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What's "Accessible" Accessibility?

12 Apr 2004 by Jason Fried

Tantek Çelik finds some time to take some shots at me based on some of the things I said in my web design going in the wrong direction post and my SxSW 2004 presentation.

I’ll respond to the points in his post in a bit, but first I’d like to address one issue which I think really needs some attention: How should we define “Accessibility”?

Tantek seems to think that all that matters in making a presentation accessible is to make sure it’s in CSS+XHTML. But I say accessible to who and when? What if I want to print it out? Have you ever tried to print out an entire site or a 50-page HTML-based presentation? You have to print it out page by page, screen by screen. Talk about a frustrating and time consuming experience. In this context, distributing a presentation as a PDF is surely a better format than HTML.

Or, what if I want to view the presentation offline? Say on a plane? Viewing an HTML-based presentation offline can be a real hassle (most people have no idea how to “get” a multi-paged HTML-based presentation off the web and view it locally). In this context, distributing a presentation as a PDF is surely a better format than HTML.

I could go on and on with other examples, and I’m sure Tantek could hit back with his own, but my point is this: Accessibility should be more than a blind devotion to building for disabilities and screenreaders and validation engines and repurposing on handheld screens — It should also include thinking about how the majority of people might want to interact, share, view, or transport information at different times and under different circumstances. Does a format that makes it challenging to actually print information on paper really make this information more accessible? Is information truly “accessible” if it’s presented in a format that makes it difficult to access it without a live web connection (sure, you can view HTML locally, but only after you’ve downloaded all the individual pages and images from the web)? That seems like an overly narrow-minded, technology-driven view of accessibility to me.

I agree with this definition of accessibility that says, “Accessible Web pages insure that information reaches the broadest audience, enabling the accommodation of not only physical limitations, but also language, age, technological and other factors that effect access to the Web.” Next, replace “Web” with “content” (since the web is just one of many ways of experiencing content). We need to think about the best way to truly make content accessible to the most people. Now, I’m not saying that PDF is the best format. In fact, unlike Tantek, I’m not really advocating a specific format. I just feel that Tantek’s narrow view misses this point about true accessibility.

As for Tantek’s attacks on me and my presentation, I’ll try to avoid the bitter tone he used and stick to the facts:

1. My presentation was just that, a presentation. It was meant to be experienced in person. I only posted the PDF as a supplemental option for people who were there (or just curious). It was not intended to be read like a bulletpointed book or to be completely comprehensible without the context of my verbal presentation.

2. Why didn’t I present it in XHTML? Because I used Keynote which allowed me to use subtle transitions and visual effects that aren’t available in a standard web-browser. When I present, I use a small remote to move between slides. This allows me to remain standing, move around, point things out, and engage the audience from anywhere. HTML-based presentations often make you a slave to your chair and mouse and computer.

3. Why did I post it as a PDF? This format was selected for Its ease of distribution, not for its native presentation qualities (which I think are quite poor, in fact). And, I assure you that using Keynote to present (instead of CSS+XHTML) helped get certain points across far more effectively for the primary intended audience — those who were in the audience for my presentation (which Tantek wasn’t).

4. Am I always against presenting in HTML? Not at all (see this Blogging for Business presentation I gave in 2003). What I am against is ignoring context. The Blogging for Business presention required web-access and linked out to a variety of live sites, so HTML made sense for that one. The SxSW presentation I gave had no web links or web-dependencies so HTML was not appropriate in that context.

5. Why did I promote our book when Tantek claims I was specifically told not to do so? Well, here he’s just plain old wrong. Actually, I was expressly asked to promote our book by the conference coordinators because there was a book signing directly after my presentation.

So, now that that’s out of the way, what do you think about “accessibility?”

48 comments so far (Post a Comment)

12 Apr 2004 | Tomas said...

You're saying "accessibility", but I'm hearing "usability".

12 Apr 2004 | shawn said...

I've gotta side with you on this one, Jason. It's frustrating when technology for technology's sake is what defines our goals, rather than the more humanist idea of a user's experience. I think that's definitely what's going on here.

12 Apr 2004 | Chris O'Donnell said...

I'm with Tomas on this. When I see the word "accessibility" I immediately start thinking about 508 compliance.

12 Apr 2004 | ek said...

Well, maybe I'm not sufficiently "plugged in," but who's Tantek and why should anyone care what he thinks?

When I go to his Blog all I see is a really ugly site with lots and lots of text and too many bullet pointed items. He seems to be the poster child for JF's original post about people in the Web design world focusing too much on code/standards, and not enough on quality, people-focused design.

As for Tantek's point that JF should have posted his presentation in XHTML/CSS vs. PDF, wtf?!?! What planet is this guy from? Again, he seems to be making JF's point perfectly — he's thinking only of the technology, and not of the people on the other end who want to use the content.

I guess this is why I'm not "plugged in" in the first place — too many people in the Web community are lame.

And for Zeldman to comment on something for which he wasn't present seems pretty stupid. But hey, that's what pundits do, right?

12 Apr 2004 | Ben said...

I think Tomas makes a good point. Accessibilty is about making things accessible, not about making them the most goal-satisfying for the intended audience. Usability is really the issue here.

For example, I wanted to leave a comment on Tantek's site, but couldn't find a place to do it. Maybe I could have found the link if I were using a screenreader. ;)

To remark on a few of the issues Tantek brings up:

1. PDF vs HTML presentation

Is HTML really the correct medium from a presentation? Presentations are to be presented, not read. I've never seen a film that was shot on 8.5 x 11 inch paper.

2. Bullets

The visual aid is probably (not that anyone could quantify this)

If you are going to tell me something worth listening to, I don't need you to write it down so that I won't forget it. I heard you the first time, and it kind of pisses me off that you think I'm too A.D.D. to retain anything.

3. Chart Junk

The way your PDF is structured is a great presentation aid. It keeps everyone moving in the same direction, and the graphics are simple and meaningful.

Having never heard a word of your spoken presentation, I think I inferred quite a bit from the relative sizing photos.

Using different colors and font-sizes to seperate ideas or denote relationships is hardly chart junk, it's information design. It's a way of conveying ideas and information through the eyes, and it helps.
......

If my (web) audience gets more value out of a proprietary HTML attribute that causes the validator to blow up than they do out of the semantically perfect alternative, so be it.

12 Apr 2004 | ben said...

Ok, much of point 2 of that post got eaten by the back-end here, as I tried to use a less than (open bracket). DNF?

So, just to fill in the awkward content gap...
-----------
2. Bullets

The visual aid is probably (not that anyone could quantify this) _LESS THAN_ 10% of the value of a presentation. It is intended to help the speaker illustrate a point, and to help the audience grasp that point. The visual aid should not be used as a tool to teach me how to spell the point.

If you are going to tell me something worth listening to, I don't need you to write it down so that I won't forget it. I heard you the first time, and it kind of pisses me off that you think I'm too A.D.D. to retain anything.

12 Apr 2004 | Thomas Baekdal said...

Accessibility is just that - making something accessible to something/somebody else. That means that it is not just 508 or the WAI. It is everything.

The explanation provided by you (Jason) is very accurate. "Accessible Web pages insure that information reaches the broadest audience, enabling the accommodation of not only physical limitations, but also language, age, technological and other factors that effect access to the content."

Usability is not the same as accessibility (sorry Tomas/Ben). A usable object is something that is easy to do something with. An accessible object is one that is easy to get to. Take an automatic door - that is a highly usable object, if it is combined with a wheelchair ramp then it is accessible too.

Advocating a specific piece of technology is neither good usability nor accessibility thinking. So I fully agree with you (Jason). XHTML can be very accessibly if it is used in the right context. In this case XHTML would not be a good choice. Printing is an important factor, uncertain screen sizes is another. So in this case a PDF file was a good choice - especially when I think 100 per cent of Jason's readers have PDF capabilities installed on their computers.

Too many XHTML/CSS advocates forget that the web - or anything else for the matter - is not about technology. It is about us, people.

12 Apr 2004 | One of several Steves said...

I think you're spot-on, Jason, with focusing on the context and goals of something. So, something conforms to some set of guidelines (potentially arbitrary ones, at that). So what? The question needs to be, is it accessible to the people who need access?

That's the question that seems to get lost so much in all these discussions. What is the context? What is the purpose behind whatever activity it is that you're evaluating? Technologies, techniques, standards, etc. are just tools. Tools are important, tools help us get things done, tools make our lives easier. But they are means to an end. Not the end.

That's where I'd quibble with the definition of accessiblity that you cited, particularly this part:

Accessible Web pages insure that information reaches the broadest audience

No, the broadest audience is not the answer. From where I sit, the proper phrasing would be "Accessible web pages ensure (sorry, the English major side of me needs to make an appearance) that information reaches as much of the intended audience as possible." Frequently the broadest possible audience is the intended audience, but not always. You show a good example: your intended audience was the people attending the presentation. The criteria it needs to be judged by are questions like "Can people in the back see this," "Does this support what I'm discussing," etc. Whether someone can get the full presentation without being at the presentation is irrelevant, because that's not the intended purpose, just as it's irrelevant that I can't get the weather forecast from my bank's bill-payment pages.

BTW, Zeldman's a little guilty of the false-dichotomy issue himself, as the quote he uses of yours, as well as Greg Storey's, don't read to me at all like either one of you is saying the other should be ignored. It's simply a call to remember what is truly important.

12 Apr 2004 | Thomas Baekdal said...

Steve (or one of them...), Using the word "intended" is a bit dangerous.

In the "real" world it would be illegal to limit our focus to intended clients. If we sell a car, we may not make it available only to intended buyers (e.g. only to black male persons or only to white women in Chicago) - that would be discrimination. We may target products to specific buyers, but we may not restrict who actually buys it - it has to be accessible to all.

One of the important reasons that 508 exists (and similar laws outside the US) is to ensure that websites is accessible - regardless of the sites intended audience. A site might very well be intended to be used by young people with perfect eye-site, but 508 ensure that it will still be accessible to those who are blind.

12 Apr 2004 | ek said...

Man, now I'm agreeing with you all the time 'One of several Steves' — what's going on here! ;-)

And I couldn't agree more on your last point — Tantek and Zeldman both seem to be "tabloid-izing" this by making it out to be a binary, black-and-white thing. I don't recall JF ever saying that standards should be completely ignored or that standards aren't important.

Rather, as 'OosS' put it, JF's was "simply a call to remember what is truly important."

Now, if they think that standards are more important than the needs/expectations of the intended audience, well, then we have something to talk about!

12 Apr 2004 | Mike D. said...

Hmmm... at least this is an argument where both sides are smart people and have valid things to say. I think the problem here is that Jason is a usability guy and Tantek/Zeldman are for the most part web-standards guys. The two disciplines are often seen working together on any given website, but are only loosely related.

That said, the more I've begun viewing online content in non-traditional ways (i.e. my Treo 600's web browser, a hiptop, on paper via print stylesheets, etc), the more I'm convinced that CSS/XHTML alone really does not go nearly as far as its proponents claim it does when it comes to "accessibility" and "reaching the broadest possible audience". I've always loved CSS/XHTML, but mainly for the design and production freedom it gives me... not so much for all the other stuff that people always claim they care about. It is great to be able to change a typeface throughout a site with one CSS change. It is great to show and hide DIVs based on user interactions.

But what isn't so great is what sort of experience a blind user or a wireless user gets when going to the typical well-made CSS/XHTML site. Sure, everything is there on the screen somewhere, but it is not in the least bit tailored to the audience. If I'm a blind user and I go to the front page of a news site, I want the top story headline read to me right away and all subsequent headlines read after that. That's it. I don't want the navigation read, the ads, or anything else. Furthermore, if I'm blind I'd probably find customization even more necessary than a user with good vision would.

Before people jump all over me and say that you can hide elements on the page as necessary, yes, I know you can do this. But what I'm getting at is that the groups of people who are in this "accessibilty target audience" really need their own experience. Not just a styled version of everyone else's experience. And this is where the concept of server-side accessibility can and will come to the rescue. If all of your content is well-indexed and well-databased, it's very easy to write server-side templates which will spit out pages specifically tailored for vision-impaired people. So instead of hurling at them the same slew of elements you hurl at other people and then monkeying around with ordering and visibility, you serve up a light, clean, well thought-out simplified version instead.

Does this mean you shouldn't use CSS/XHTML? Of course not. You should. It just means that by simply using CSS/XHTML, you aren't necessarily solving many true accessibility problems. You are improving the situation, but you're not making it as good as it could be.

Some people tend to neglect the vision-impaired because maybe they aren't a key part of the website's business, but what about wireless users? I went to Hawaii last week and for the first time, I got a real feel for what it's like browsing the internet on a wireless device. I took my Treo 600 with me and it was fabulous for the most part. It is equipped with one of the most well-regarded wireless web browsers around and it does a fairly good job of reformatting pages to fit on the screen.

BUT... guess what zeldman.com looked like on it? Not good. What about simplebits.com? Again, not good. I checked out several sites of the designers I most respect (including the two mentioned above) and the result was always the same: you could read the content but it just didn't look right. This is not the fault of any of the designers. They all follow best practices and are among the most talented in their field. The problem is that the pages simply weren't tailored for wireless devices.

Bloglines.com to the rescue. Bloglines, simply put, is the most useful on the internet. One of the most intelligently designed as well. Not only do I use it on all my normal computers as my sole news aggregator, but it's available in "mobile device" format as well. So basically, I can pull up articles on zeldman.com and simplebits.com which are formatted specifically for mobile devices. This is server-side formatting at its very best. Serve me only the content I need (since I'm on a 14.4kbps T-Mobile GPRS connection) and style it even more minimalistically than you would in a browser (since I'm on a 160x160 LCD screen). Presto.

Server-side content customization works better than client-side customization and it always will. Period. What would do more for accessibility of blogs and web sites in general is a CMS which generates wireless/vision-impaired pages on-the-fly when certain user agents are detected. For people who can't read 16 point type to be using a standard version of PC/IE on a standard resolution monitor with the hopes that the designer will keep them in mind is asking a little much. Instead, they should be viewing a special version of the page, or using a huge strap-on magnifying glass in front of their monitor.

So to tie back into Jason's point: It's okay, and even preferable, to offer totally different content to people based on how they will consume it. Printed pages do look better as PDFs. Wireless pages do look better as separately generated pieces of content. And standard pages made for graphical web browsers can be made to look and act a lot better if you aren't always worried about how it will degrade on wireless devices and on screenreaders. Just provide a tailored alternative for these other groups, and do it automatically.

12 Apr 2004 | blakems said...

Making the every person's/vistor's experience easy. It should be intuitive and simple for anybody that comes to visit. Everyone should leave saying that it was an enjoyable experience.

13 Apr 2004 | Britt said...

After reading Tantek's comments, I was expecting the worst when I then went to JF's SXSW presentation. I found the presentation engaging. I wasn't there to experience it nor comment of how much/if you tried to sell your book, but I wouldn't fault you for plugging it.

I had read Zeldman's comments but blew them off. They seem to be attacking you for some reason, but I can't figure out why.

13 Apr 2004 | Taylor Garries said...

He he he, this is great. One of the greatest inidcators that our industry is breathing again is the number of these arguments (cordial as they may be) that we've seen lately. When the industry was falling apart everyone was too busy trying to find work to argue.

Things are picking up; it's starting to feel like 1998 again!

I didn't even bother to read anyone's comments, I'm waaaay too excited to be bothered with those minor details. The bubble's coming back!

13 Apr 2004 | Stephen said...

Things are getting heated, aren't they?

First of all, in Zeldman's defense, he clearly states in his second post on the subject that he'd perhaps overlooked part of Jason's comments.

I subscribe to the same definition of accessibility as Jason. I also agree with Zeldman's comments, which seem better suited to the wording of Greg Storey's comment's, which are just as valid. Zeldman, Jason, and Greg, if one reads between the lines, are pretty much stating the same thing, which boils down to:

- Focus on "users" in addition to code (Jason)
- Focus on the whole (Zeldman (and myself))
- Focus on metrics in addition to design (Storey)

Basically, these three gentlemen are pointing out that some designers are giving certain aspects of web design/production relatively too much attention, instead of trying to balance these elements.

All three opinions actually put goals and people first. All three of these guys have a keen eye for good design (and I don't mean purely visual design), and their comments have a common element; it's logical that each argument slants slightly toward their respective interests. Let's try and focus on the common ground, which I consider very important.

How accessible is an accessible site, if it's not usable as well? Doesn't visual design play an important role in the usability of a site? Shouldn't we always keep our goals and metrics in mind?

The fact is, it all counts.

13 Apr 2004 | max cohen said...

Jason, you're the best. I can't say that I've ever seen a 37Signals site that requires you to sit at a splash page while wondering how to move on to the main site (http://www.tantek.com/).

I've never noticed 37Signals reference sound files off of other people's sites (http://pithemovie.com/sound/maxprelu.aiff) especially when those sound files are copyrighted. (And that sound file no longer loads since the address is wrong.)

I've never noticed 37Signals be dumb enough to site a web page that goes against your argument: 'just read Jeffrey's calmly reasoned disassembly, and his take no prisoners followup'.

Moral of this story: you guys just have class.

To ek:
'Well, maybe I'm not sufficiently "plugged in," but who's Tantek and why should anyone care what he thinks?'

Exactly. Who cares.

13 Apr 2004 | steve said...

Nice 404 page, Tankek. Major league accessibility and usability there. Not to mention all the things max points out above. I don't know Tantek, but he comes off like a huge a-hole in both his original post and his follow-up. He defends his first post by saying it was satirical?! Sure didn't come across that way to me.

13 Apr 2004 | Bryan said...

Satirical? Are you kidding me? Ok, if that isn't a cya then I don't know what is.

13 Apr 2004 | max cohen said...

"Jason Fried completely missed the point of my post, which was to illustrate the silliness of rants like...with satirical rants in kind."

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

WTF!?

13 Apr 2004 | Simon Jessey said...

Have you ever tried to print out an entire site or a 50-page HTML-based presentation? You have to print it out page by page, screen by screen.

A properly prepared presentation would normally be a single HTML document of one page, would it not? The HTML document can then be formatted using CSS. Stylesheets can be created for screen, presentation, and print use - eliminating all of the problems of which you speak.

The power of using HTML and CSS for presentation was highlighted recently by Ian Hickson. He talked about Opera's abilities with the projection media type, and he has a little demonstration page. The demo is a single page of HTML, but Opera's projection mode allows you to navigate through the various 'pages' with the page up/down keys.

The print media type provides mechanisms for separating pages, eliminating the printing problems you describe, because you still are only printing one document. In that manner, it is functionally equivalent to a PDF anyway. Finally, the document could be repurposed for all manner of other agents, including handheld devices, and braille devices.

There is no way a PDF could be considered as versatile as the (x)HTML/CSS combination, and there is definitely no way it could be considered more accessible or usable.

Each individual involved in this discussion, whether it be Jason, Tantek, or Jeffrey, has something useful to offer besides acerbic comment. All three gentleman are talented individuals in their fields, and we have much to thank them for. Hopefully, all three of them will cease this pointless bickering and continue to do what they do best - help the web to evolve for the good of everyone.

13 Apr 2004 | Bryan said...

A properly prepared presentation would normally be a single HTML document of one page, would it not?

Are we talking about proper from a technology standpoint or are we talking proper and appropriate for the audience and context and the presentation techniques? I think that is Jason's point.

13 Apr 2004 | max cohen said...

"all three of them will cease this pointless bickering"

Well, there was no bickering until Mr. Zeldman misinterpreted Mr. Fried's comments. But then Mr. Zeldman realized this misinterpretation and pointed that out. Now Tantek has decided to start an 'argument' that ended 'long' ago (aka grandstanding). Whether he had 'satirical' motives doesn't matter.

However, this is 'assuming' that this is all 'pointless'.

13 Apr 2004 | Bryan said...

One more quick thing: "A properly prepared presentation would normally be a single HTML document of one page, would it not?" I don't know because when I try to print Tantek's presentation I just get 1 page. I have to go to each individual page to print it out. Sure, maybe he could change this so it didn't work like this, but he didn't and wouldn't have until this discussion was had. On the other hand, I can print out Jason's presentation no problem. I can email Jason's presentation around no problem. People can take Jason's single-file presentation with them and not have to have internet access or download an HTML page(s) from the web and then have to load then locally in their browser (which we all know most people would have no idea how to do).

13 Apr 2004 | max cohen said...

"Are we talking about proper from a technology standpoint or are we talking proper and appropriate for the audience and context and the presentation techniques? I think that is Jason's point."


/ satirical statement begins /
Stop it Mr. Fried! Just stop it! You're thinking about the user and this cannot be tolerated! If memory serves, you don't even have a design degree for web design! How dare you think out of the 'pretty' box! STOP IT! Stop using the technology that best helps the user/audience!
/ satirical statement ends/

Now THAT's satirical!

*pat on back*

13 Apr 2004 | kramer said...

This reminds me of that Seinfeld episode (169: The Cartoon) where Kathy Griffin makes a career out of critiquing Jerry.

13 Apr 2004 | Darrel said...

FYI, for those of you who are asking 'who's Tantek/who cares'...Tantek is one of the truly talented at Redmond and created the Tasman rendering engine for IE/Mac (and, if you recall, at the time, it was one of the most compliant browsers we had). He's been a big proponent and supporter of CSS at the W3C (alas, he seems to have no sway on IE/PC ;o)

Anyways, JF, I completely agree with your definition. And for those that say it's more usability than accessibility, I'd simply say that accessibility is a major part of usability. They go hand-in-hand.

All too often accessibility = will my page work in a screen reader. Which is a very short-sighted way to approach it.

13 Apr 2004 | Joe Clark said...

Wait till somebody notices that it is perfectly possible to produce an accessible PDF. Don't suppose anybody thought of that?

13 Apr 2004 | max cohen said...

"All too often accessibility = will my page work in a screen reader. Which is a very short-sighted way to approach it."

This is very true. The same can be said that stopping with valid CSS/XHTML is a short-sighted way to approach usability.

Mr. Clark: thank you for pointing this out! Adobe Acrobat and Accessbility

13 Apr 2004 | Stephen Hay said...

Touché, Joe!

13 Apr 2004 | One of several Steves said...

In the "real" world it would be illegal to limit our focus to intended clients. If we sell a car, we may not make it available only to intended buyers (e.g. only to black male persons or only to white women in Chicago) - that would be discrimination. We may target products to specific buyers, but we may not restrict who actually buys it - it has to be accessible to all.

It's a good point, Thomas, and one I pretty much agree with, but I'm going to go to a somewhat absurd example to illustrate my point.

Those cars that you're selling - do you have to make them accessible not only to black males and white women, but also to blind people?

Too narrowly defining one's audience is problematic, as you point out. For legal reasons, as well as the fact that your best audience sometimes ends up being an audience you didn't anticipate. But, there still has to be perspective and design that applies to the likely audience. Cars aren't built to be accessible for blind people, because obviously blind people should not be driving. Similar principles can be applied to any software design, web or otherwise. And that's what I meant to get at with "intended audience," unintended consequences of that phrasing aside.

13 Apr 2004 | ML said...

I still just love this line from Tantek's original post: "Or I might have made some smartass remark about..." (followed by, you guessed it, a smartass remark).

I always get a chuckle when people say something that is exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. Like when pushy people proclaim (really loudly) "Excuse me!" in a clearly non-polite way. Or kinda related: Bukowski (I think it was) once wrote the more someone insists they're your friend, the less likely it is to actually be true. Ah, the joy of language.

13 Apr 2004 | Paperhead said...

Well, while the usability and accessibility discussion is afoot, can I ask whether the good folks at 37signals ever got around to deciding that it was actually quite dumb to try to distinguish information by use of the colours red and green in Basecamp?

13 Apr 2004 | JF said...

can I ask whether the good folks at 37signals ever got around to deciding that it was actually quite dumb to try to distinguish information by use of the colours red and green in Basecamp?

Past milestones are red, upcoming ones are yellow, and completed are green. See the tour page for more info.

13 Apr 2004 | JF said...

And, the color is just there to assist -- it would still work just fine in B&W.

13 Apr 2004 | ek said...

Wait a sec, so Tantek was responsible for the rendering engine in IE/Mac? Could someone provide me with his address then, so I could send him a much deserved steaming pile of monkey love?

Man, that browser sucks so bad — I can't wait 'till it's dead and buried.

And for person saying JF should have built his presentation specifically for Opera — you were kidding right? Or rather, you were being satirical, right? If so, ha ha, that was a good one.

If not, that's an idea about on par with the Flowbee in its complete and utter disconnection with reality.

13 Apr 2004 | steve said...

The power of using HTML and CSS for presentation was highlighted recently by Ian Hickson. He talked about Opera's abilities with the projection media type, and he has a little demonstration page.

With my copy of Opera 7.11, the "little demonstration page" gives me this error: The address type is unknown or unsupported. So much for accessibility!

Also, has anyone else bothered to check out the XHTML presentations Tantek refers to ( 1, 2, 3) in Netscape 4? Again, so much for accessibility! Good luck even reading Bowman's, let alone navigating any of them.

Please don't preach "accessibility" when your examples clearly are not.

14 Apr 2004 | Kelly said...

I'm 50/50 on Zeldman, but his rant was off-point big-time! I haven't read through all the further discussion yet by any means, but the two pull quotes he's got on the post that Tantek linked to say nothing like what he's railing on about. I think it's perfectly acceptable to say that "you can't focus on a single area, and forget the others" without implying that "if you do one thing, you're neglecting other things"--isn't that exactly what those two quotes are addressing? Silly. Sounds like he's got some Freudian complex he's trying to work out. I agree with his point, I just don't know why he thinks those quotes don't also agree. Sheesh. Lay off the hubris, JZ! Tantek really didn't make much of a point that I could see, that was just some blog-linking noise! More signal, less noise!

14 Apr 2004 | Paperhead said...

And, the color is just there to assist -- it would still work just fine in B&W.

Well, from the tour blurb I can just about see that if I had colour vision problems with red/green then I would still just about be able to use it, but from the tour pics it looks like I would be able to use it by looking down at least one, in worst case, two different lists for the appropriate date to find out whether it was a completed or overdue milestone, whereas with good colour vision I can tell at a glance just from looking at the small calendar in the sidebar.

So how, for the sake of using a different colour that would make absolutely no difference to people with good colour vision, is this good usability? If I have colour deficient vision, you've just made it harder for me to use this thing for absolutely no good reason? Why?

Sorry. This is me concentrating on people rather than technology.

14 Apr 2004 | JF said...

So how, for the sake of using a different colour that would make absolutely no difference to people with good colour vision, is this good usability? If I have colour deficient vision, you've just made it harder for me to use this thing for absolutely no good reason? Why?

We haven't made anything harder for anyone. Each section is labeled "Late" "Upcoming" or "Completed". So, you can either look at the color, or look at the section labels. It works fine either way.

14 Apr 2004 | Darrel said...

Man, that browser sucks so bad — I can't wait 'till it's dead and buried.

EK...yes it sucks. Now. Back then, it was the better product on the market.

Please don't preach "accessibility" when your examples clearly are not.

I agree. People should stop preaching *anything* unless they are completely without sin themselves.

Yea, right. ;)

14 Apr 2004 | Paperhead said...

We haven't made anything harder for anyone. Each section is labeled "Late" "Upcoming" or "Completed". So, you can either look at the color, or look at the section labels. It works fine either way.

Please excuse me if I've misunderstood something from only seeing the screenshots, but this is how it looks to me:

If I have normal colour vision I can just look at the calendar in the right side column and tell what's happening for the next week at a glance (overdue, upcoming, and completed). And I will know that just by recognizing the various colours.

Now, if I have deficient colour vision, the only way I can know all of this information for sure (without guessing at the colours), is to read through the three lists looking for dates relating to the period I'm interested in.

How is that not harder and more long-winded?

14 Apr 2004 | JF said...

Paperhead, the colors are helpful, but they aren't required. Everyone has to look over on the left to see a description of what falls on a particular day.

Hey, look, if you don't like the way it looks/works then don't use it. I don't know what else to tell you. We made the decision to design it this way because it's best for the vast majority of our audience. Plus, we've provided ample backup by labeling the sections "late" "upcoming" and "completed" so even if you are completely color blind you can still clearly see the groupings.

14 Apr 2004 | Paperhead said...

Jason, there's no need to get so touchy.

The bottom line remains, simply, that if you had even chosen your colours not to include red and green then your "vast majority" could have been a little vaster (colour deficiency other than the standard red/green is very very low)

Hey, look, if you don't like the way it looks/works then don't use it.

Remind me of this line the next time you criticise a site for lack of usability because they made you click your mouse twice to get to something.

Red/green is a newb mistake.

14 Apr 2004 | Bryan said...

Paperhead, I think you got off to bad start when you called their choice of colors "quite dumb." If you want a gentler response you might not want to start off with such a terse remark.

I think their choice of red/green makes sense since the colors relate to the actions (red for an alert "it's late!" and green for a "it's a go!" completed and yellow for "caution, it's coming up!").

Choosing different colors might help the small percentage of people who can't clearly distinguish the difference, but choosing colors other than the relevant red/yellow/green for the majority because they affect the minority is no way to design an interface. Majority rules.

14 Apr 2004 | JF said...

Paperhead, why don't you sign up (you can try Basecamp for free) and give it a real try. We haven't had a single complaint about milestone coloring from anyone who has used Basecamp. I think you'll find that it works well for you, and if it doesn't, email support and we'll file your complaint.

14 Apr 2004 | Paperhead said...

Jason,

I could sign up just for the heck of it, but I won't. Why? Because I'm one of that small annoying 4-7% with colour deficient vision. If I did want a service of this kind I'd have been gone the moment I saw the red/green issue in the first place because I wouldn't trust that to be the only instance of you not catering for my vision impairment and I'd just look for something else that didn't use that colour scheme. If I didn't frequent this blog from time to time, you wouldn't have even heard a complaint from me, I would have just moved on.

Brian,

Yes Brian, I understand the significance of the colours. That still doesn't make it good though. Traffic lights here in the UK use red and green. But they are always in the same order, so those of us with a red/green impairment just learn the order (red at the top, etc., etc.) and the colour issue is unimportant after that. With Basecamp, however, there is no way to predict the order and the order won't always be the same, hence the problem. That is perhaps the biggest difference between usability and accessibility: usability can concentrate on the vast majority, accessibility has to concentrate on everyone, that's what makes it difficult.

14 Apr 2004 | A different BrIan said...

Paperhead, don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Basecamp is really a remarkable product. If you are going to let a small color issue (which really doesn't affect the overall *usefullness* of the product, we swear by it and I know) stand in your way, then you're really missing out. Nothing is without imperfection. Basecamp *works*. If it's even 95% completely effective for you, you're in for a treat. There are some things I don't like about it, and they are bigger than a color issue, but there's nothing else *even close* that suits my *overall* needs. Try it, you'll like it.

14 Apr 2004 | RS said...

Paperhead: You're focusing on one helpful but not at all necessary feature of Basecamp. The milestones sidebar calendar (which uses the red and green) is a helpful adjunct to the milestones list itself. The milestones list clearly states every milestone's title, status, date and who is responsible. The sidebar just shows if there is something (no title or responsible party) due on some date and whether it's done or not -- it's the same data on a little calendar as a bonus.

I'm sorry that you can't take advantage of this feature, but please understand that it is merely a helpful side dish, and it offers no functionality that isn't repeated elsewhere in the application.

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