- Being intuitive - contents made understandable by everyone; using familiar and affordance interface design for universal usability
- Architecture - organisation of information
- Design - visual appearance of Wikipedia
- Interface - editing and other interaction
- Compatibility - ease of use for everyone on any device
- Standards and accessibility - making use of W3C-recommended XHTML and CSS in a manner that promotes the above and accessibility
The most important thing to remember when designing for accessibility is - Don't make the user think. Wikipedia needs to be as obvious and self-expanatory as humanly possible - the user should be able to "get it" without thinking. This sounds like the antithesis of an encyclopedia, but the point is not to keep them from learning, but to keep learning easy.
Questions should never be asked when viewing a page. Especially questions such as:
- Where do I start?
- Where is _______? (what I'm looking for)
- Is this clickable?
- What happens when I click it?
- What is the most important thing on the page?
Section headers can go a long way toward making an article accessible by the visually impaired and blind, anyone who uses page readers.
Wikipedia's structure will be easy to understand if its appearance clearly shows the hierarchical relationships between the things on the page:
- The more important it is, the more visible it should be.
- Logically related items should also be visually related.
- Sub-items should be "nested".
In Wikipedia this is easily done. A picture goes with a piece of text which is spanned by a large headline. The more important the word, the bigger the font.
Navigation is very important because if someone can't navigate Wikipedia easily they won't use it. In Wikipedia there is the navigation bar, tabs, categories. Using these things the user needs to be able to answer the following questions at all times, no matter what page within the site they are on:
- What page am I on? (Page name)
- What are the most important areas/pages of this site? (Sections)
- Where can I go from here? (Navigation)
- Where am I in the grand scheme? ("You are here")
- How do I find something? (Search)
Here are a few techniques about information architecture relevant in internal pages. Not articles, but especially help pages, pages in Wikipedia namespace, projects, etc.
An applied example of those techniques in Wikipedia can be seen at Wikipedia:WikiProject Accessibility.
Since this is an encyclopedia perhaps two items from The Elements of Style should be noted. Be clear and Omit needless words. Clear and concise statements have several benefits:
- Reduced noise
- Useful content more prominent
- Shorter pages allow users to see more before tiring.
This is necessary in a webpage because of two things:
- Users (new and old) will not sit quietly and slowly read a webpage from start to finish. - They will quickly scan for words/phrases or colorfull icons/buttons that catch the eye. Wikipedia is a little different in that the user may be expecting a lot of information and may read longer, but they will still get bored easily.
- Users don't want to have to figure things out for themselves. But they also won't read the instructions.
Now, if the user "gets it" right away then they will understand the purpose of Wikipedia better, find what they're looking for easier, and return again.
How does a user "get it"?
- A visual hierarchy - That's explained above. If it's addressed in the architecture then designing it is easy.
- Design Conventions - The user likely sees a lot of different websites. They've learned to look for certain familiar things to quickly tell them what to do. A "Go" button after a search takes them to a page, a tab selects a different page, colored text is a link, Icons are very relatable and can represent types of pages easily. These "conventions" need to be repeated in Wikipedia.
- Break the page up into clearly divided sections. The eyes should quickly find "things to do", "navigation", "search", etc. This allows them to ignore what they don't want.
- Make clickable items obvious. Things like "fullstory", "click here", tabs, amd well-labeled buttons etc.
- Make it visually appealing but not too "noisy". Color is great, but borders, black lines, underlines, and too many words tire eyes quickly.
Tabs are put to excellent use in Wikipedia. They are used as "You are here" indicators for each page, as well as offering something for the user to do. But they are not used well for navigation. One idea would be to use tabs along the side of a page to select categories, subjects, areas of Wikipedia, or other options (Much like the alphabatized tabs on a paper encyclopedia). They could be configured to change depending on the page being viewed. For example the category of the page could be the top tab, followed by sub or parent category tabs.
Icons are unused in Wikipedia. For the category tabes/pages etc. certain icons can represent and even replace text in some instances. For example the previously mentioned art tab could have an icon of a painting on it instead of text.
Standards and accessibility
Common points between accessibility and usability:
- Internationalization (usability) is related to indicating language changes (accessibility).
- Highly contrasted texts/links/etc. improves readability for everyone (usability); notably elders, visually impaired, etc. (accessibility).
- Explicit link titles benefit to everyone.
- Interoperability: the ability to use Wikipedia whatever the user agent (browser, mobile, screen reader, etc.) the seeing-impaired, elderly, persons with only a basic understanding of a language, and those with slow internet connections.