Postcards from the Edges
An innovative web-based creation tool and showcase to enable people with a disability to express themselves through artwork, collages and photography.www.postcardsfromtheedges.org.uk
They already had the idea – through artwork, poetry, stories, collages or messages, Postcards from the Edges would encourage people affected by disability to express what is important to them.
“If you are affected by disability, what do you want to tell the world?”
But United Response wanted a way to share these postcards online, let people create them online and upload what they had created offline. Almost a digital postbox, for the world to see.
We wanted to do this project justice and combine the best of design and usability to present these postcards. A number of inspiring postcards had already been created through offline workshops, under several key themes, so we started there.
Enabling people with wide range of mental and physical disabilities to create postcards online is tough to do. We had to ensure we made the site accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Initially, United Response suggested painting tools as a way of creating the postcards. Our gut feeling was that it might be too complicated, both to build and to use. Many disabled people aren’t be able to use a mouse, for example. And this whole project was about inclusion, not exclusion.
Other options, such as clip art or pre-made text or phrases, would limit creativity and put words into people’s mouths.
And then we still had to fight the preconceptions of accessible websites.
So we stuck our thinking caps on…
If you get two accessibility experts in a room, you’ll have two differing opinions. So we needed to do some research to find the right way forward for us.
We started combining the web for research relating to web design and disability; the conclusions were all very different and quite contradictory.
A User Experience talk run by Chris Atherton, a Cognitive Science Expert on designing for children, had several points that were transferable to people with learning disabilities.
This research lead us to drastically reduce the types of controls in our prototypes and we eventually landed on a single clickable button for each customisation option.
It was decided that the project should have a unique look and feel. We created three original concepts but eventually we settled on a strong and simple design. It incorporated hand-drawn illustrations to give an inspiration of daily life and what users could include. It was quirky and friendly, to reflect the warmth and nature of the project. And we took an edgier approach to reflect the rebelliousness of the project, which was helping individuals speak out.
The technology that made it happen
The image upload, for the postcards, is done dynamically, using AJAX. So, when you upload an image it dynamically uploads it to the server, and the users see their image in real-time while they edit it. Once submitted, the details that have been inputted are then converted into a script that dynamically creates an image file that can be used however the user wishes. Essentially, it took a simple form process and made it more elegant and more useable, while concealing it in an application.
“Seeing people being able to express themselves and being given a voice with something you’ve been a part of making was brilliant; witnessing daily struggles, fears, hopes and dreams being shared with the world was liberating to see, and also, in a lot of cases, illuminating.” Austin – Lead Developer
Testing our Concept
For us, user testing is a big part of what we do. We like to make sure that our sites are delivering the right response to the right people. In this case, it was especially important to make sure that our prototype worked well and that the potential users not only enjoyed idea of the Postcards from the Edges project, but were actually able to enjoy the experience too.
A successful website is built around the people who use it. That’s why we tested this project with a group of users with learning disabilities in Liverpool. We made the journey there, as it was important that the testing was carried out in their environment.
We carried out the testing using the Silverback, to record each session. We worked with five people, with a varied range of abilities, and their carers, so the feedback was as natural and varied as possible.
This result? We actually made quite a few changes that we would never have known about without performing user testing. Like the use of the word ‘uploading’ with regards to images – it’s easy to forget that terminology like this isn’t always easy for people to understand.
“The user testing was useful on a development level, but it also gave us a chance to see our work in practice, which is the best bit of the job. “You could tell that they all really enjoyed doing it and it was good to have a range of feedback. Everyone had something different to say and everyone was passionate about different things and it was really nice to see. And interesting for us too.”
Adam – Design Lead on the project
Since the site launched, the project has already attracted celebrity attention. Oscar-winner Emma Thompson, Olympian Sally Gunnell, and Paralympians Hannah Cockroft and Dame Sarah Storey are among those who have supported the project and created postcards.
The project was featured in The Guardian, both online and in print, and an exhibition toured the country culminating in a pop up event at the House of Commons. Both included many postcards created and submitted through the website.
“Postcards from the Edges really helped me. It gave me a voice. It’s good to have a voice. I’ve done 19 cards.”
– A website user
Our work, with United Response, enabled people to be heard.