Inclusive, accessible services: the importance of content design

We want as many people as possible to be able to use Co-op products and services. Aside from it being good business sense, we know that being inclusive with our design is the right thing to do. 

We’ve posted before that we are committed to further improving inclusivity. However, we haven’t explicitly spoken about the importance of content design in making services accessible. At Co-op, we design content to open up our services so that as many people as possible can: 

  • find them 
  • use them 
  • understand them 
  • trust them 

Often, when we think of accessibility, there’s a tendency to think about colour contrast, screen readers and typefaces. All of them are important, but no more so than clear and well-considered content design. 

Here’s why:

1. We use words people understand

We design content so that as many people as possible can understand what we’re saying. So we write using plain English – everyday, familiar words without unnecessary jargon.

We research words that our users use and reflect these in our products and services – these might not be the words we use at Co-op, or the way we want people to refer to things officially. But doing this makes what we’re saying more understandable, relatable and increases trust between us and our users. 

If we use unfamiliar or complex terms, it can:

  • cause confusion
  • be misleading
  • add additional mental effort
  • leave room for doubt  
  • mean the difference between people using our services and not   

We use objective and neutral language that does not make assumptions about our audience, their circumstances or what they might be going through. We design so that no one is alienated, and in doing so, open up our services so they can be used by more people.

2. We do not use words if something else works better  

Content design means giving information to people in a way that’s most effective. This may not always be words. Some things can be more meaningful and quicker for people to understand in a different format –  for example, a video illustrating how to change a till roll, or a calculator to give tailored financial information.

We do research to understand users’ mental models – how the user believes or understands things to work. This helps us work out the easiest way for them to consume information. We hide complexity where we can to make content and interactions relevant to our users. 

By being deliberate about the format of our content we:

  • make things quicker for people to use
  • increase understanding
  • remove ambiguity and doubt

3. We remove things that are unnecessary  

People often come to services to find information, buy something, or report something. They want to do the thing and then leave quickly. If there’s information on a page that’s not relevant to them it can become overwhelming and confusing. So we edit ruthlessly. We give only the essential information people need to achieve their goal.

Although we write in a familiar and friendly way, we are not overfamiliar. As well as replacing any jargon with plain English (or at least plain English definitions), we remove any figures of speech that could be confusing, misinterpreted or meaningless to people. 

We do not use metaphors like ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, or similes like ‘clear as mud’ – they can be confusing if you’ve not heard them before. As Helen Lawson pointed out poignantly in her recent blog post, ‘The principles that guide our content design and communications in Funeralcare’, some misunderstandings can also be distressing.

We use playful content, in the appropriate context, but not at the expense of usability. If something could be misinterpreted, misunderstood or incomprehensible to people, we get rid of it.

4. We structure content to reflect how people read  

We know that lots of unformatted content can be hard to follow and understand. So we:

  • use short sentences
  • make only one point per sentence
  • use descriptive sub-headings to break up walls of text
  • front-load sentences and bullet points (put the most useful words near the start) 
  • put the most important content at the start, for example, what we’re talking about, who it’s for, how it can benefit them

We structure content to reflect how we know people read online – they scan, looking for words, phrases or links that will help them decide if they’re in the right place to achieve what they came to do. By focusing relentlessly on what the user needs to know, and structuring content in a more manageable way, we reduce the amount of shortcuts users take, and help them get to where they need to be, quickly. People often compare tasks across multiple websites, using minimum effort on each (from NN Group). By reducing the effort needed to navigate our site and services, we make it more likely they’ll choose – and stay with – us.

5. We research when to communicate, and through which channel

We research the full end-to-end service with users to understand where they are when they need to understand information. We then choose the most appropriate time and channel to give that information – this could be a poster in store, a message on Co-op packaging, or a text message reminder for an appointment. 

By surfacing content at the relevant time and place, we create services that reduce friction and effort for people.

Making services accessible makes them easier for everyone

Designing accessible services means:

  • focusing persistently on the experience of our users
  • meeting their needs
  • reducing effort
  • removing barriers

This is content design. 

Everything we do as content designers is to increase understanding, usability and reduce the effort required of the user. By being respectful and thoughtful of our users’ circumstances, we create services that are easier to use for all. We remove barriers and open up Co-op services to more people. 

Joanne Schofield
Lead content designer


Co-op has recently been rated as the number 1 supermarket website for accessibility. There’s still more to do. If you have feedback or suggestions on ways we can be more accessible, please leave a comment.

2 thoughts on “Inclusive, accessible services: the importance of content design

  1. Jenny de Villiers May 13, 2021 / 12:25 pm

    Why is it “at Co-op”? Is “our Co-op” not more user appropriate when it is a short form for co-operative?

    Like

    • amymcnichol2 May 13, 2021 / 12:50 pm

      Sorry Jenny, I don’t understand your two questions. Is there a specific part you’re referring to?

      Like

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