About Vasilis van Gemert’s Research
On this website I document all the steps of my research into better accessible web design. I am Vasilis van Gemert, a web design and web development lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. I follow a masters course in Design Research at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam.
One of the principles on which the web is built is the idea that it’s for everyone. This means that the web should work on any kind of computer, any kind of browser, with any kind of input and output. This also means that the web should work for all kinds of people. The consequence is that we can create things on the web that are accessible for all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities: tech savvy people with expensive computers like myself, people with old smartphone, but most interestingly also for people with disabilities. Based in these principles a well designed and well built website can work just as well for people who are blind, deaf, motor disabled — or lucky like myself.
The problem is that most websites are not well designed and not well built. I want to know why, and what can be done about this.
At the moment I’m researching three different trails where I hope to find useful answers to this question.
What are pleasurable user interfaces?
I think when it comes to designing digital interfaces our ambitions should be high. An interface should be pleasurable. Research has been done into what makes a visual interface pleasurable, and books have been published about this subject. It is well understood what lifts a visual application from simply usable to something that may even cause delight. Many websites and apps reach this level.
There’s much less expertise in pleasurable interfaces for people who depend on alternative technology like screen readers for output or the keyboard as input. Even if websites are usable for these alternative technologies — more often than not they aren’t — they usually don’t exceed the purely functional level: the task at hand can be accomplished without too much difficulty.
Expertise is needed. The playing field should be levelled if the promise of the web, that it should work for everyone, is to be kept.
You can read much more about pleasurable interfaces in the context of my research here.
Does a more exclusive design approach work?
The method I am exploring right now is a more exclusive design approach. The idea is that if we build tailor made interfaces for individual people with disabilities our expertise in designing for alternative technologies will grow rapidly.
This part of the research is mostly done by organising workshops, design challenges and by offering courses to my students.
A long explanation of why and how I came up with exclusive design can be read here
How do we make accessible design obvious?
The third question I’m hoping to answer during my research is how to make accessible web design more obvious to professional web designers and builders. One of the things that accessibility experts keep telling me is that there is a lack of awareness: people simply don’t know that it’s possible to design something that works for everybody. And if they know it is possible, they don’t know how to do it. And if they do know how to do it, the team they work in often doesn’t.
How can I help in raising awareness around accessible web design? As a lecturer I can try to reach part of the next generation of professionals in my field. They are my students. But I’m also looking for ways to reach current professionals. This blog is part of this effort. But there are other ways as well.
In the past year of my study I talked to many experts, and I read quite a few books. I am very much looking forward to taking my ideas more into the field. Workshops, classes, talks at conferences, and at the end of 2018 an official publication. I can’t wait to know what I’ll know by then.