Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

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?

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

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.

Nick Exposito

Marketing & New Business Coordinator

How to Use Social Media for Your Business

As the Marketing Coordinator at Matrix Group, I’ve started to use social media on a daily
basis not just to connect with my friends, but to see what is going on in the world and to see what is trending from a business and marketing standpoint. I’m also learning a lot about how to use social media to connect with your clients and constituents so they can better connect with you.

I recently attended a digital writing class hosted by Carrie Hane, Principal of Tanzen Consulting, where I learned about everything from creating better emails to writing for SEO. The topic I found most interesting, though, was writing for social media, since I use it on a daily basis and it’s something you don’t learn a lot about in college or in school in general.

My top takeaways about writing for social media were:

  • Always put your audience first – what are they interested in? What content can you share to best meet their needs?
  • Use calls to action!
  • Aim to be shareable. More shares = more likes = more interest = more business!
  • Keep in mind that your social channels and each post are part of a much bigger story.
  • Use hashtags to be found and to join the larger conversation
  • Think about how you can differentiate your content – there is a lot of noise on social media, so what can you do to stand out in the crowd?

While all of these are great ideas to keep in mind when it comes to writing for social media, each platform is different and requires a slightly different strategy, so there are some quick tips that I learned for how and what to post to each channel:

  • Twitter
    • The ideal tweet shouldn’t exceed 100 characters and needs to be more than 70.
    • Add photos to your tweets whenever possible
    • Share 4 to 5 relevant pieces of content that are not your everyday, such as blog pages, articles, or retweets of a relevant quote.
    • Make sure you are following your customers back!
  • Facebook
    • Share business news and current topics that are happening in the industry.
    • Always try and include pictures with your posts – you will get more engagement from your audience.
    • Facebook allows unlimited text in your posts, but the ideal length for a post is above 40 characters but less than 120.
  • Instagram
    • Use great pictures or short videos to get a lot of traffic.
    • Have a balance of posts between “fun” images and business related / promotional images
    • Try to keep posts to under 150 characters, and keep in mind that only the first 140 characters will display before they get cut off and users have to click “more” to see the rest.

And one more piece of advice for all platforms: regularly update your profile picture and cover photo; it’ll keep your audience more engaged with your page.

I had a great time attending Carrie’s workshop, and as you can see I learned a ton! If you’re interested in hearing more from Carrie on writing for the web, make sure to check out the Matrix Minute video that CEO Joanna Pineda recorded with her about How Writing for Digital is Different.

What other tips do you have for using social media for business? I’m all ears!

Katie Holmes

First Impressions Officer

How to Throw an Office Party That Everyone Will Love

An office is a quirky family sometimes. We’ve got our weird but lovable uncle developers, our zany aunts on the MatrixMaxx team, and Mom and Dad, the CEO and COO, encouraging us as well as wagging a finger here or there when the situation calls for it. From my position, the project managers are older siblings protecting and guiding those they manage. Needless to say, when one works in an intimate yet diverse environment such as Matrix Group, it can be difficult to host an office party where everyone feels at ease. Here are my tips and tricks to hosting the best small office party without having to get HR involved:

1. DO YOUR RESEARCH

Before planning anything, sit down and think about diets and allergies. If Patty in accounting is allergic to peanut butter, you should know that before she breaks out into hives and her throat swells shut. Be cognizant of allergies, because food allergies can create life and death situations. You also probably know who in your office is on a diet. Consider options that are tasty but also fit in within their specialized dietary requirements. Did you know French macaron’s are gluten free? I’m also pretty sure COOL-WHIP is vegan. If you don’t explicitly tell the more food conservative staff that something is vegan, gluten-free, or inherently different from a mainstream version, they’ll be more likely to eat it – just make sure you fill those with the restrictions in on what’s safe for them (See my post on Paleo cake for more information.)

2. BUDGET

We all live and die by the accounting department, so find out what your budget is and go from there. Honor your budget, and your time.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A LITTLE BOOZE

Even the most teetotaling officemate can relax while others are enjoying a tiny cocktail. Adding St. Germane (an elderflower liquor) can turn regular lemonade into something really special for your event. The trick to having a just slightly alcoholic beverage, while also offering a non-alcoholic option that is just as special. Consider offering a fruit or herb infused water, or a sparkling water in an unusual vessel.  It’s my general rule that no one NEEDS a gin martini at 3:30 in the afternoon, so offer well balanced cocktails and mocktails for the office. The goal isn’t to get drunk, the goal is to celebrate.

4. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR GUESTS

If Sarah from IT doesn’t like to be the center of attention, don’t make her blow out the candles on her birthday cake in the front of the conference room while everyone stares at her. Just simply give her a simple, “On behalf of the company, we want to wish you a happy birthday!” Followed by an emphatic “Here! Here!” This will allow everyone to remain comfortable, yet still celebrate the motivation for the event.

5. HAVE FUN!

It is called a party after all. This goes back to being mindful of your guests. If your office needs help getting people to talk to each other, simple games can foster the conversation. If you’ve got really big personalities, utilize that! Or perphaps this celebration is a real brain break for the staff, so you’ll just want to let them mingle. They will thank you for it.

Lastly, make sure your admin staff gets to eat at these things. Sometimes the admins are too busy hosting the event to even taste the hors d’oeurves they spent hours considering.

What tips and tricks have you picked up in hosting office events?

Design Trends for 2017

While 2016 was an exciting year for design – there was a shift toward mobile-first design, video and rich imagery were hotter than ever, and animations became the norm – I’m even more excited about what we can expect to see in 2017.

 

A few weeks ago, Creative Director Alex Pineda and I held a webinar with CEO Joanna Pineda to talk about the trends that are emerging in 2017, and how you can give your members the best user experience possible by incorporating them into your web presence.

Curious about what’s in store for 2017? Check out our recap video:

 

Whether your plans for 2017 include a large-scale website redesign, building a brand new website from scratch, launching an app, or simply refreshing a few of your key pages, we’d love to help you incorporate some of these trends!

 

Which design trends are you most excited about for 2017?