Whitney Quesenbery


Past work and interest in the topic

My interest in this workshop comes from my work on large information-rich web sites. 

Many of them, such as the National Cancer Information's cancer.gov or the Open University web site, are designed to reach a broad audience, including people who may have trouble reading the information on the site because:

  • The content is not written in an easy-to-understand way
  • The users may not read wall for a variety of reasons.

In a project with Caroline Jarrett at the Open University, we looked at design and writing guidelines for three audiences who seemed very different: teens, older adults and people with low literacy. What we found was that many guidelines were repeated for each audience, although offered with different reasons.  

As an example, all guidelines for all three groups suggested that reducing the number of words would be helpful:

  • Teens, because they often do not read carefully or completely (so choosing the most important information increases the likelihood that they will read it).
  • Older adults, because they often read everything on the page (so extra words penalize them, making them read through more than might be necessary).
  • People with low literacy (for whatever reason), because reading is difficult (so extra words also penalizes them)

Current motivation for the workshop

Much of the work related to making information easier to understand is focused on one audience or technology. This means that there are many sets of guidelines, each addressing specific needs of one audience. But if we are to make the Web generally accessible to all, we need to move towards a universal design for information. 

I am interested in a practical understanding of when these guidelines overlap and where they diverge. 

Issues to be discussed

  • Is there is a core set of design and writing guidelines which will increase the accessibility for all?
  • Are there specific guidelines for specific technologies or audiences?
  • Are there guidelines which are in such profound conflict that one document or web site cannot meet them both.
  • Which of the design and writing guidelines have the most impact in increasing usable access?