Design from the Words Up

I’ve been thinking about accessibility a lot, lately. Historically, I’ve thought of it as very important but very uninteresting—a sort of “eat your vegetables” part of the job. It’s still not the most thrilling topic to me. Too much of it is highly technical, official documentation is a lesson in terrible, obfuscatory writing, and it relies too much on heuristics rather than user research for my taste. But I have become very concerned with it lately, and doing my best to bake accessibility into the design work I do.

The idea I’ve been playing with lately is designing from the words up. After ten years, I’ve become very accustomed to taking on a design problem by sketching out some boxes and lines on a piece of paper. That is, approaching design as a problem of arranging things in space. This unfortunately makes it easy to get a design where space is a central component of understanding the relationships between objects.

What if, instead, I started with designing an interface that could only be read, or heard? I’m challenging myself to start the design process with arranging words in sequence. Arranging them in space—adding a second dimension—comes later. Think of it as progressive enhancement, I suppose.

If nothing else, this approach may help me think about how I would explain interactive elements verbally before they get that spatial layer, instead of going through a fully baked design and figuring out how to make it more accessible.

All that said, the thing I’m most excited about doing is incorporating people with different disabilities into future usability testing.