After Jessica’s letter was published on Ravelry’s blog on July 30, 2020, and because it sorta sparked more anger on my end, I’ve decided to send them an email with a couple hints on what fixes they can do to reduce current issues regarding eye strain and migraine. I wrote this in one go on July 31, 2020 en press sent. I forgot a couple things I should have added here and there, but it’s also a lot of free work I’ve been doing here when I was normally supposed to enjoy a free afternoon away from my job.
Here’s the content of my email :
I’m most likely not the first person reaching out for the issues caused by the new design of your website. I’m registered on Ravelry as Stitched-Middle, I’ve been a rather active user since I’ve started knitting though I was never really able to fully use the forums.
I’m a senior UX designer specialized in product design and accessibility, I’ve been working in this field for about 10 years, half of which was in companies or for products where accessibility was a requirement by law.
I know how hard it is to implement, however, it is even harder to do when it’s not tested right from the start, and when people with disabilities are not included in the testing panel. To my knowledge, that extensive testing phase regarding accessibility wasn’t part of the process with your new UI, considering there hasn’t been any open beta before the full roll out so everyone could be involved. Which is even more surprising given the amount of users and the very large array of persona you’re dealing with.
From a pure visual point of view, many of the issues related to photosensitivity and migraines caused by the new design are somewhat easy to fix with some tweaking done to your color scheme and font settings. I know the new design has increased performance on mobile which is great for those who use this type of device and the amount of content exposed at the same time is very different, but sadly, it is severely impacting the usability of your platform on the web
One of the major issue you currently have is the amount of luminosity in your palette (you’ve got three family of colors in a highly saturated and luminous setting with the cyan, red and yellow) and the amount of white space now appearing around a lot of your content (very noticeable when comparing side by side Classic en New on the home page, in the notebook / project and in the search engine). There’s not “shade” to rest the eye and that luminosity feeling is increased by the amount of white space now present in your interfaces.
The blue and red color, especially the cyan you’re using can also be a trigger for photosensitive people. Both are very vibrant hues that generate a very intense contrast, this can be enough to generate a “visual glitch” that’ll emulate flashes on some screens or for some people with neurological issues (like epilepsy). Same goes for the very dark drop shadow you’ve added on buttons and on some containers, this very intense contrast can be disruptive because it outweighs other items visually. Irregular shapes that appear to be round but not exactly, like your new logo can also generate extra mental strain because the eyes are unable to fully process the shape (a bit like when the moon is almost full but not exactly.)
The new font settings are adding a lot of spacing, making it harder to read for people with learning disabilities. Also, keep in mind that the more symmetrical and thin, the harder to read it’ll be and it’s re-enforced by the contrast with the background. Adding a lot of spacing can generate eye strain for the reader simply because it’s harder for them to keep track when their eye bounce around the content.
I have written an extensive blog post on how different issues and disabilities can affect the way users go around the web if you’re curious about it based on a survey I’ve made with users of Ravelry following your roll out ( https://stitchedinthemiddle.com/ravelry-disability-and-accessibility-part-1/ )
I want to stress out that I can appreciate the amount of work you’ve done on the website, but many of the issues you are currently facing could have been prevented with more inclusion of the community in the process. I also know and understand how hard it is to have our hard work criticized and pulled apart, but usually it means that we didn’t check we were on the right track early enough in the process and that we need to go back to the drawing table.
I have a harder time collecting my own feelings about how the situation has been handled by your staff and how it has required such an extreme escalation before a vague acknowledgement of the issues was finally made. Especially given the conversation on inclusion and diversity that has been going on over the last 2 years.
The lack of transparency and acknowledgement of what a part of the community have been put through while causing them physical and tangible arm but also putting on the shoulders of business currently struggling to keep up with a worldwide pandemic to have to take such a quick and fast decision to eventually avoiding to put their customers at risk is really deeply disturbing.
Aesthetics is extremely difficult to make people universally agree on, however, usability (which includes accessibility) can be extensively tested by implementing this step in the process right from the start, and usability needs to come first, always.
I hope that Jessica’s letter is more than a way to do some damage control and I’m looking forward to seeing those words turned into action.
I also hope that a formal and public apology will be made to Katie Bea for accusing her of being a liar, to Lindsey Silver Griffin and all the other people who received the appalling email Cassidy sent them.
I hope Cassidy will get the help she needs to get through this rough patch and I wish her well.
If you’re in need of an occasional extra hand, you know where you can find me.
I wish you all good luck moving forward, hopefully for the better.
As usual, I feel like I’m sounding harsh and unpleasant like every time I wrote anything in a position of expertise (but maybe I’m overthinking this?). I’m going to stress out again that I have experience in product redesign, it’s a tough job, but it’s doable in good condition when you’ve got the right mindset and process in place.
One of the thing I will still have a very hard time with in all this debacle, silence and horrible tweet and email aside, is that they’ve been working behind close doors for 14 months. When they shared the redesign story on their blog, it felt like they did it to please themselves mainly, and I can’t believe that for all the hard work involved, the community wasn’t widely consulted.
Here’s a little story for you :
I’ve been working for a company that had been working for a bit over a year on a new version of their product when they brought me onboard, and a couple month later, we realized that our strategy wasn’t the right one and we needed to include our users (who paid quite a fee to use our platform).
We tossed that beta project in the bin, it was hard for all the folks who had worked on it. We salvaged what code we could, but all the rest was trashed. We were a very small team at the time as well.
We took a month to make a full on redesign of the app that was done mainly by 5 people, myself included, and roll it out as an open beta. Our clients could chose to work with this new version and we maintained our legacy version for a little while until we felt our new version was stable and good enough for us to pull the plug without any risk. I no longer work for this company, but I’ve dedicated almost 3 years of my professional life ensuring the quality of our user experience. In 2019, this company made it to the Growth 500 list for Canadian fastest growing companies.
All this to say, product design is an iterative process that works best when users are involved early on and when you’re in it for the long game. When your users aren’t involved, your user experience, is only an experience.
A couple people have suggested that I offer my service to Ravelry, I’ve considered it, I know other folks have done it but their offer have been ignored or unnoticed. And, from what I gathered in Jessica’s letter, they need someone with more availability than I can give. I have a full time job, I’ve been on the verge of professional exhaustion for a couple months, and my mental health require some free space away from my job, as much as I love it (but it’s kind of a love-hate relationship truly).
So, no, I can’t afford providing them with my services, but I hope someone with the right expertise will.
Update – August 6, 2020 :
It’s been brought to my attention that by uplifting KatieBea’s voice I was also uplifting problematic behaviour without being aware because an other conversation and other actions were occuring on an other social media platform I don’t use (I am only active on Instagram, it’s all I can handle).
I still believe all the people who got harmed, ignored or personally attacked by Ravelry’s staff deserve an apology, however I think it’s also important that we (white people) learn to react appropriately when being called out on our own mistakes and problematic behaviours, especially when advocating for experiences and situation we may not have first hand experiences with.
To me, accessibility is a key aspect of diversity, inclusion and community building, it’s about being supportive of disable people and integral part of the racial justice conversation (Allow me to remind you that BIPOCs and LGBTQ+ folks are disproportionately more affected by disability issues and lack of accessibility in general).
If you ever feel like I’m overstepping or that my own behaviour is an issue in the conversation, please let me know so I can work on it and do better. I fully expect it to happen when I’m voicing my opinions publicly on those subjects.