All posts by Rebecca Topps

Speaking to people within the community

Tonight I was invited to a monthly meet-up by the organisation Shared Approach, called the speak out group forum. This meet-up gives the local community the opportunity to talk about the latest news; changes, and express their opinions. It is aimed at people in the area who have a disability or learning difficulty.

Initially, I did plan to give a typical powerpoint presentation to the group before asking what websites they struggle using. I scrapped that idea. I realised that the audience I was about to present to didn’t want to be spoken at, they want to be spoken to and they want people to hear their opinions.

Below is a quick list of the main points which I picked out from tonight’s meet-up:

  • Out of 8 people, only 4 used a computer and only 2 used the computer to go online
  • Those who did go online liked the following websites: News websites; Sport websites; booking sites such as Trainline, and emails
  • Only 1 out of the 8 people used social networking websites
  • Most people in the room had never heard of social networking
  • Content on webpages, such as buttons, are too small to view
  • Too much happening on the screen
  • Forms are difficult to understand (mainly the wording of the questions)
  • Getting lost with the process of buying things, such as purchasing tickets online.
  • 15 – 20 % of the population have reading and language difficulties
  • Difficulty understanding what universal symbols mean
  • No one has offered a change – they don’t know any different because there isn’t a big opportunity for these people to learn how to use the internet and visit websites

Attending the speak out meet-up allowed me to talk too many lovely people; it also made me realise how big the gap is between website developers and people who have these difficulties. For my project I did plan to start concentrating on technology, I will still do this to begin building the main website; but, I also want to attend more meet-up’s like Speak Out and possibly volunteer with disability organisations so I can get to know the users I’m creating this site for much more.

Many thanks to Shared Approach and The Speak Out forum.

Creating user persona’s with the whole team

I am currently working within a group at university on a project which is very user-generated – for this project I am leading the research and user experience. Recently, we have been conducting user research, including sending out an online survey ( and asking relevant users a few questions (also known as user interviews).

With all this research I decided to gather the group together for a few hours today to look at all out findings and create a good idea of who our primary users are. The night before the meeting I was searching the internet and books for a guide on how to hold such an activity, but the information was very varied and different; therefore, the structure below is what I created; this was based in a room with everyone sat in a circle facing a whiteboard and projector screen which showed our recent results to the user survey.

  1. We began by thinking of all our possible user groups (e.g. film makers, scriptwriters, students, and so on).
  2. After coming up with 10 user groups we narrowed this down to 3 primary user groups (the main groups who we think will use our website).
  3. With each primary user group we thought about the main goals/reasons they would have for visiting our site and wrote about the demographics of this user (age, gender, marital status, education, income, technical experience, subject knowledge, how often they may visit our site and any other points we thought up).
  4. We then decided to divide into sub-groups, assign each sub-group with a different primary user and then write a persona for this user. I didn’t limit or set a structure to the persona’s, I gave everyone a basic example of a persona’s and said they could add as much as they want and be as creative as they want.
  5. Each sub-group read their persona to the whole group, after each persona was read, we all worked together to write down:
    a) what that user’s main goals and needs will be
    b) how our site will achieve these goals for that user
    c) what makes the user choose us from other competitor sites.


Above: Using a whiteboard to work together & write each user demographic before creating persona’s and coming up with ways to achieve the goals for each user group.

Throughout writing about the user, we referred back to our survey and interview user research. Having the whole team involved in conducting user research and creating persona’s allows everyone to get a good idea of our primary users and understand them.  I found that using a whiteboard, allowing people to shout out their opinions and delegating everyone into sub-groups, to write the persona’s, kept the group both interested and engaged.

Useful links
Survey Monkey: 
Slideshow with good examples of user research:
Customer research persona development:
Book: A Project Guide to UX Design by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler

University project: Creating websites for users with cognitive disabilities

Cognitive disabilities include dyslexia, dementia, ADHD, down syndrome and brain injury. The spectrum of disability severity varies – a user with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder will struggle differently compared to a user who has severe dementia. These types of disabilities can affect the users memory, attention span, problem-solving readability and understanding. Therefore, when using website features we find easy, these users may struggle – for example, a person with severe dyslexia often struggles with spelling, if this user is using a search box but the website does not prompt possible words when spelt wrong, it will most likely take the user a long period of time to find what they are looking for.

Website designers and developers have the difficult task of creating a website which is accessible for everyone – including those who have both physical and mental disabilities. There is a lengthy list of considerations which must be taken into account when an accessible website for all disabilities – from deciding what content to use to ensuring that the hierarchy of the programming language is correct. Tutorials online based on this subject are inconsistent, from all the articles I have read they only briefly cover cognitive disabilities and concentrate considerably more on creating a website which will work with screen readers (for blind and partially sighted users).

For my university project I have chosen the title – “creating a content rich and accessible website for users with cognitive disabilities”. I am going to conduct various different research before creating an exemplar website which will guide designers, developers, and anyone else interested, about creating a site which is accessible and content-rich, and aimed towards users who have a cognitive disability (whilst also covering all types of disabilities). My research will include user testing on both existing websites and the website I will be building. This project has already grown quite a bit of interest and it has been asked a few times if I am writing about it, hence starting this blog.

Discussing accessibility at the British Conference of undergraduate research

The British conference of undergraduate research is a conference held every year that promotes student research of all disciplines. All students who apply and are approved can either present their research in the form of a poster or a 10 minute presentation.

BCUR website –

For my final year research project, ‘creating content-rich and accessible websites for people with cognitive disabilities’, I decided to do a 10 minute presentation.

The slides from my presentation can be seen below:

The presentation went very well and gained a lot of interest with people approaching me afterwards to ask various different questions. Although the video is not able to be put online it was filmed for internal purposes and if anyone I know would like to view it don’t hesitate to ask me.

Plymouth University and BCUR put on a great event, very well structured, sociable and fun. There were loads of opportunities to make new friends and talk to other students about their research, especially at the poster presentations. A meal was organised for everyone who attended the event, which took place at a hired out aquarium and was a fantastic night.

Overall, I have really enjoyed working on my final year project over the past year and plan to hopefully carry on it’s development after University. The British Conference of undergraduate research helped me to realise how passionate I am about my work and meet other student’s from a variety of disciplines who are equally as passionate about their work. It was an inspiring experience, it gave me the confidence to speak at future conferences and I highly recommend other students to take part in future BCUR events.

I’m happy to answer any questions about BCUR, my project or send over the presentation video. Email me:


User testing with a mobile application paper prototype

Recently I have been doing research and design work for the university module ‘UXD’ which asks us to follow a user experience process and design a mobile application. This research has included online surveys; user interviews; contextual enquiries; card sorting and usability testing on similar applications.

After the research phase, I sketched out the different screens for my application. Instead of drawing out every single possible screen, I decided to only draw the main user journey. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide what the user’s journey may be – it’s a good idea to create the pages for each of the main navigation selection.

designs 2


Using these paper prototypes, I conducted user testing with various different participants. Because I choose to test using participants which were within my target audience, I asked each of them to use the application how they wanted, without any set tasks. This has allowed me to view what decisions my audience are likely to make and how they will use the application. Also, asking the user to press onto the paper designs like it is a real application showed me how they interact with it.

Overall, it has been a very different experience to doing user testing on the computer but also a learning curve. User testing with a paper prototype allows you to interact more closely with a participant – for example, I changed my designs whilst doing the user test and asked a participant if it was easier to understand with my changes. I also ended up changing the designs three times and doing three different sets of user testing until the participants understood everything easily.

For more information check out this great exemplar and tutorial video about usability testing with a paper prototype: