Considering Your Audience – All of Them…

For all of my past programming positions, I’ve worked on in-house applications. I knew who my end users were, and I was able to develop solutions for them based on what they had and what they needed.

But what do you do when you’re designing for the public? You don’t know who may be visiting your site. How do you design your site?

When it comes to my personal sites, I’ll admit that I’m a slacker. I don’t use validators, and I tend to stick with basic HTML tags.

However, one of my projects in my current position forces me to truly be a great web developer. I have to take my audience into consideration on the company’s website. Sure, Visual Studio has validators, but even that isn’t enough for me.

As a web developer, I need to make sure that whatever information I’m broadcasting on the web is available to as many people as possible. This means that the visually impaired user needs to be able to find out information clearly, but the guy in the coffee shop with his PDA should also be able to find everything fairly easily.

What about those people who have Javascript disabled? One of the big features on the existing site is written in Javascript. It’s a great tool for finding out what’s available, but the data isn’t that accessible. Since it is part of my job to update the technology behind the existing site, I have changed the Javascript tool into an ASP.NET application that works even with Javascript disabled.

Working with this site has definitely taught me to be more aware of my users. Another section of the site is getting updated with a new look and feel. More images are being added. Although I was given the design for what needed to be seen, I picked up on the other users right away. When I sent the changes to the project manager, he wasn’t expecting two sets of changes, but at the same time, he was glad to see that someone thinks of the other users.

I haven’t had the joys of testing with a screen reader yet, so we’ll see how that works. However, I do spend quite a bit of time with the W3C Validator. I use the Accessibility Validator in Visual Studio, but sometimes I wonder if that’s enough. Yesterday, while looking up some things for work, I came across a book that mentioned WebXACT as another powerful tool. This is something I will probably end up looking into, just to see how well it works for our site.

Being interested in Human Computer Interaction definitely helps me in developing for the anonymous end-user, with whatever characteristics they may have.

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