User-centered design at Envision

A chat with Ferkan, Product Designer at Envision, about user-centered design that involves inclusivity, accessibility and a lot of testing.
June 23, 2021

In this blogpost, we are chatting with Ferkan about user-centered design. Ferkan joined Envision in 2019 and has been involved with the design from the very beginning, with a focus on the Envision Glasses. As a product designer, he will tell us about how user-centered design plays a role in designing and building tools for people with visual impairments.

Please give a short introduction about yourself.

Hi! My name is Ferkan and I am the Product Designer at Envision. I have a bachelor's degree in Industrial Design Engineering and a master's degree in Interaction Design from Delft University of Technology. I'm currently 27 years old. When I'm not busy with design at Envision, I'm usually on my bike, drinking coffee, cooking, or hanging with friends.

What does user-centered design mean at Envision?

User-centered design at Envision means that we involve our users from the very start until the very end. Our decisions are never based on assumptions and are always done in collaboration with our users, ambassadors, and (beta) testers.

Users are not just sources of feedback: they are experts on their own experience. That is why we aim to involve users not only in the research behind our design decisions, but also in creating the experience of Envision products that they will ultimately use. One great example is the sounds on the Envision Glasses made by the very talented musician Andre Louis, who happens to be a user of the Envision app and is visually impaired himself.

This user-centered design also shines through in tools that we use such as Crowdin, where users can submit their own localised translations in their native language. Cliché, but true; Envision is by the users, for our users.

You already mentioned something about the Envision Glasses. How does user-centered design specifically play a role in the Envision Glasses?

The Envision Glasses are built on the Google Glass, which does not support screenreader. Therefore the software for the Envision Glasses had to be built from the ground up and also specifically designed for our target group of visually impaired people. User-centered design was the key element in creating the user experience that is now on the Envision Glasses.

This came down to testing with the users and once again avoiding assumptions. To give you an example: in the beginning, we assumed that doing a single-tap to access a screen made the most sense. After A/B-testing two versions of the Envision Glasses with a test group, we learned that double-tapping was preferred by all the users, simply because they already used this with VoiceOver on iOS or Talkback on Android.

Ultimately, user-centered design led to creating a group of beta testers and ambassadors for the Envision Glasses that test and approve the new features and improvements on the Envision Glasses before any release is live.

What do you find interesting about working on products for people who are visually impaired?

As a designer, I've always been intrigued by the way people experience products and how products can be more than just a man-made tool. What makes working on things for people with a visual impairment interesting (and inspiring) is that there is a change in how I, as a designer, have to think about the final product. It pushes me to deliver the same or an even better user experience, without relying on the visual aspect. Instead, the focus is on what the user wants to achieve, what the problem is, and how to solve that problem in the best way possible.

Moreover, working on products for people with a visual impairment shows me how to be a more inclusive designer in general when designing and publishing content online and offline.

What are the differences between designing for Envision compared to any other company?

Here at Envision, I'm happy that we always start with accessibility first. We don't design something and then ask ourselves "Well, is it accessible?". It's in our nature, as it's our core business.

Design at Envision involves focusing on audio, the order of items for the screen reader, the written content, localisation, and how content looks in a larger typeface to accommodate low vision users, to name a few.

Accessibility and inclusivity is key at Envision. This is not only the case when designing for the app or the Envision Glasses, but also when we host webinars, share social media posts, and design our website. This aspect is also internal in the company culture where we share alt text for images in Slack (our Team communication) and make sure that the PDFs we share are always screenreader-friendly.

We're actually hosting our first Envision Town Hall event on the 1st of July at 17:00 CET on multiple platforms. This way, we can extend an opportunity for everyone to join and have a say.

How do you know if something is impactful?

We keep in contact with our community of users and communicate updates frequently. Our worldwide network of distributors allows us to also receive feedback from the users who are in touch with the distributors. This way, we get a lot of feedback and can determine whether the improvements we make and the new things we add are actually impactful.

Impact is also measured through user-testing and this change can sometimes be very subtle. For instance, we changed the speed of a one-finger double-tap on the Envision Glasses. This made a big difference for people who were struggling with how fast they had to tap twice to access a screen.

Feedback from our users, whether through social media, email, or user-testing, really helps us to understand if a certain feature that we introduced is going in the right direction. Therefore I always encourage people to write us feedback, whether that is good or bad!

As the company grows, how do you make sure that inclusivity is still at its very core?

I think it's a mindset that is ingrained not just in our design process, but in the company culture. As mentioned earlier, for people that work at Envision, it's by standard that documents should be screenreader-friendly and that there is always alt text on images that we share. This is something we try to introduce from the very beginning with new people that join Envision.

Having a diverse team is also important, as having more perspectives can greatly expand the breadth of our design process. Building a supportive environment for different abilities, cultural backgrounds, and disciplines creates a platform where everyone can perform to the best of their ability.

Overall, this diversity leads to inclusivity. Finding innovative ways to accommodate different needs or to understand another culture isn't always an easy process, but at the end these discussions always lead to a better and more inclusive product.

To sum up this talk, can you tell me in two phrases what user-centered design is for you?

User-centered design for me is building a very deep empathy with the individuals that you are designing for and keeping them involved through the design process. It's about getting to know the individual, their day-to-day tasks, and the environment they're in.

And that for me, is a big part of being a designer.