About Elaine Heinzman

At heart, Elaine's role is that of professional storyteller. She helps identify the most important information and how best to present it for clients and Matrix Group alike. She entered journalism at age 12 with her middle-school paper, earned a double-major degree in print journalism and American studies from the University of Miami, spent years in the magazine industry, and was a producer with NPR for nine years. Elaine is passionate about storytelling in all forms – she's gleefully medium- and platform-agnostic – and about mentoring the next generation of journalists. Fun fact: She's in a local women's parkour group, which helped her learn how to run up an 8-foot wall.

Designing for Users with Autism

Website design and usage is getting more challenging for a lot of us. In addition to more older Americans accessing the internet via smartphones only, more young people than before are living with diagnosed cognitive disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says affects 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

Researcher Cheryl Cohen recently shared those numbers in a UXDC Conference session about web accessibility for teens and adults with autism that I was able to attend back in April. Cohen gave an overview of the cognitive traits that can affect users with autism and some recommendations for improving websites and apps to better meet their needs. This was very eye-opening to me!

What should we know about autistic users, and how can we design websites and apps to give them the best user experience? Here are the considerations and solutions that Cohen shared:

  • Contextual misunderstanding: Whether presented in words or in imagery, idioms and metaphors can be confusing to some people with autism.
    • Use more intuitive, less symbolic icons. Include descriptive text, which helps improve SEO, too.
    • When you’re writing for your website, keep the language simple. This might include shorter sentences or a conversational tone.
  • Visual processing: When looking at a lot of information all on one screen, some with autism become confused or distracted. So they simply focus on one specific item and ignore the rest of the page.
    • More white space, more visuals. Too much stuff crammed onto a screen distracts users and can add unnecessary steps to an otherwise simple task.
    • Fewer words, more bulleted lists. Large blocks of text make it difficult to find and focus on what is most important on a page.
    • Does your website feature rapid animation only viewable by Flash player? Get rid of it. It’s hard to look at and process fast-moving visuals.
  • Auditory processing: From voices to machines to their environment, some people with autism focus equally on multiple sound sources.
    • Sound quality matters. If your audio content or videos feature muddy or distorted sound, someone with autism will have a harder time discerning voices.
    • Captions improve comprehension. Mentally matching the sound they’re hearing with the images they’re seeing can be more difficult for a person with autism. Add captions to your videos and images as often as possible.
  • Different way of mentally organizing items: Inconsistencies can make it challenging for a person with autism to use web interfaces, especially if that person has trouble getting past mistakes or exceptions within a website.  
    • Watch how you design forms. In Cohen’s research, she found that teens with autism had a hard time filling out web-based forms. The biggest culprit? Inconsistent spacing between labels and input boxes.

The teens she interviewed and observed will, perhaps, grow up to become members of our clients’ organizations — but at the very least, they will be, or already are, consumers and users of other online content and resources. Improving accessibility for these users improves the digital experience for all users, so why not always design with these user needs in mind?

To learn more about designing for those with cognitive challenges, check out these resources from the good folks at Web Accessibility in Mind

Are you considering these factors when designing web or apps? What other specific user accessibility considerations have you come across that improve the UX for all users?

Site Search Best Practice: Make the Search Box Bigger

Search drives almost everything online. While lots of us bookmark pages or click on links that take us from one website to another, typing keywords into a search engine and hitting ‘Return’ is how most web users, most of the time, try to find what we’re looking for.

When using search on a specific website (versus a search engine), we want an input box that allows us to see most, if not all, of the words we type in for our search. Yet you’ve probably had the experience of typing search terms into a too-small input box. Maybe the box is too short, so the text shows up looking tiny. Or just as frustrating, your query runs too long and scrolls out of sight.

User-experience gurus Nielsen Norman Group have the data to prove that these small search boxes are not just your imagination: “The average search box is 18-characters wide, [and] 27% of queries were too long to fit into it.”

Better to design a search-input box — or really, any kind of box where the user types in text — to be too wide than too short. And on the taller side, as well, so that there’s some white space around the words.

Don’t box in your users; give them the space they need to quickly review and revise their query before they submit it.

User Experience in the Face of Trauma

I’m a very lucky person. I haven’t experienced anything that would qualify as a major traumatic event, and my life isn’t generally a series of inconveniences. Plenty of other people don’t have that kind of good fortune. And since I’m in the business of user experience (UX), I want to use this blog post to explore something I learned about at a recent UXCamp event that I attended: the less frequently considered usability strategy called trauma-informed UX.

Trauma-informed UX most immediately affects people during or after a traumatic experience, but also during a relapse. These are users who come to an organization because they need help dealing with trauma, including:

  • Survivors.
  • Patients living with a serious disease or injury.
  • The loved ones of survivors and patients.

The main secondary audiences include:

  • The greater communities that these survivors and patients will return to.
  • Medical, law-enforcement, legal and social-services workers serving survivor and patient and populations.
  • Donors and financial entities that provide support to these workers.

Trauma-informed UX also should consider those who’ve previously experienced a traumatic encounter with an organization that was supposed to help them. A straightforward example would be a crime survivor who’s had a negative interaction with their local police department or emergency room. A less-obvious example that The Marshall Project recently wrote about: juveniles once held in California detention facilities.

In an online survey, California’s state and community corrections board asked formerly incarcerated children and their families how the state could improve juvenile detention. In addition to “the childishly predictable [comments] — I didn’t get the bunk I wanted; they punished us all as a group,” survey respondents provided thoughtful and detailed recommendations including “more vegetables, more dental care…, [and] an easier system for sending academic transcripts from school to jail and back.”

I love that corrections officials asked for feedback from their users so the state could better serve these families and their communities. Individual interviews are my preferred UX research tool, though in this case, it would have been too expensive and time-consuming to do interviews.

Regardless of the tool you use to get user feedback, with a trauma-informed UX process, there are additional and more delicate considerations that you must address:

  • Are you dealing with a user population that needs to worry about physical or digital surveillance?
  • Can you streamline the experience to give traumatized users more control of the time they spend dealing with your organization?
  • Is a website, an app, or an SMS-based experience the best way to serve users who are concerned about surveillance and time?
  • What legal requirements must your organization meet? This can include patient confidentiality or client anonymity.

While you’re doing user research for a project that will serve users affected by trauma, or getting user feedback after the project launch, focus on speaking to those who already have healed they’ll be more open to sharing their experiences because they’re not currently living the through the trauma.

What other nuanced usability considerations have you come across?

3 Last-Minute Holiday Tech Gifts

We acknowledge that it’s late in the gift-buying game, so if you procrastinated on your shopping for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or Three Kings Day, Matrix Group has got you covered with three options for the gadget geek in your life.

Nixplay Iris digital picture frame

The Nixplay Iris is a sleek, high-resolution digital picture frame that you can update from your smartphone. It connects to Dropbox as well as the major social-media and photo-gallery platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Picasa, Flickr).

If your parents love to see the most current photos of their grandkids, you can use the Nixplay Mobile app to update the images they see on their Iris. Bonus: Click the Nixplay link above for a voucher code to get free delivery in time for the holidays.

 

Nonda ZUS phone charger and car locator

The Nonda ZUS looks more like something out of the new Star Wars film than a phone charger, but it has another, even better superpower: It automatically saves your car’s location whenever you park.

Are you the kind of person who can’t remember where you left your car? Use the ZUS app to find your vehicle, and connect your phone to the ZUS so your phone can recharge. 

Rocketbook WaveThe Rocketbook Wave is a traditional spiral-bound notebook with some pretty unconventional twists. It comes with a Pilot FriXion pen, which you use like a regular pen to take notes (and which you can buy in office-supply stores everywhere). The Rocketbook app lets you scan those notes and upload them to whichever cloud service you use (Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Evernote).

The coolest part: When the Rocketbook Wave is filled up, you microwave it to clear out all the pages and use the notebook over and over.

3 Must-Haves for Creating Content That Counts

4 reasons why content mattersI love content in all its forms and formats: Video, audio, animation, news articles, op-ed pieces, how-to columns, tweets, Facebook Messenger, and so on. And I love working with clients to help them surface the best of their content, from the newest publications to trusty standbys that members always need to access.

Along with Matrix Group CEO and Chief Troublemaker Joanna Pineda, I recently co-presented a webinar about content marketing. Content is so crucial to connecting people to your organization and brand that we wanted to share a quick-hits list for those who didn’t attend the webinar.

  1. Insight sets you apart.We talk to a lot of website and mobile-app users across industries, from longtime association members to disgruntled former members. These users keep telling us that they want insight: Insight into the future of their particular industry, into how the industry interacts with consumers, and into trends currently affecting your organization and industry, including legislative and market forces. You can best serve your members if you provide them with regular, thoughtful analysis to help them learn, grow their businesses, and stay out of trouble.
  2. Video gets people’s, and platforms’, attention. Inc. reports that people are 85% more likely to make a purchase after viewing a video about the product, and posts with images get 650% higher engagement than text-only posts. About two-thirds of U.S. adults are on Facebook, where image- and video-focused posts appear more prominently. So there’s no excuse not to incorporate more video into your content strategy. It’s as simple as shooting a 30- to 60-second how-to video or interview with a conference attendee on your smartphone. Also make sure to post plenty of member photos on Facebook, and tag the people in them.
  3. Plan it out. You need an editorial calendar to produce and publish content throughout the year. You can establish content themes by month or by quarter, depending on how much content your organization is able to create. If your industry or organization publishes a trade magazine, you can follow that editorial calendar.The content schedule also depends on what I call “the best talkers”: These are employees and members within your organization, along with your industry’s leaders, who are knowledgeable, opinionated, and skilled at explaining things in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner. Get those people to blog, shoot video, or record podcasts for you. If they don’t have time to do so, interview them and ghost-write a piece for them.

When interacting with your organization, members want to know: “What’s in it for me?” Your website content answers that question by showcasing what you know and why it matters. It reinforces your mission to members, and to the search engines they rely on to find your site. Content allows you to demonstrate why your organization helps members and the industry do better and be better.

What tips and tricks do you have for creating content? Where do you feel you need help with your content strategy? Tell us here or talk to us on Twitter (@matrixgroup).