Improving Accessibility in WordPress with Dynamic Font Sizes

At Automattic, I lead a team of three designers dedicated to our native apps. We focus our time on the design of WordPress for Android and iOS.

Over the last few months, the developers and designers who work on our apps have been improving our support for the accessibility features available on mobile devices. This includes ensuring our apps properly support features like VoiceOver on iOS, and TalkBack on Android, which make the apps accessible to blind users.

One new feature I’d like to highlight is support for dynamic type sizes. This lets users choose larger (or smaller) text, to find the size that’s most comfortable for them to read. We recently made a change to the text used for blog posts and pages on iOS to make it even more readable. Now, no matter what text size the user prefers — even the largest sizes, which are huge — WordPress responds as the user should expect. This makes the app accessible to users with low vision, in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Screenshots of dynamic text on iOS

If you use an Android device, you can customize your device’s font size, too.

Screenshots of enlarged text on Android

We’re continuing to perfect this feature, so if you notice parts of the apps where it doesn’t work quite right yet, drop us a line, and stay tuned for future improvements.

For more information on adjusting the font size on your device, see these articles:

Originally published on A8C Design.

Enraptured by Mockups

There’s a set of theoretical designs for iOS 7 going around, and while they’re pretty to look at I’m a little disappointed by those declaring that it should be Apple’s next move. John Gruber thinks differently:

There are a lot of clever ideas and nice designs in this iOS 7 “concept” by Philip Joyce of design firm Simply Zesty. But they’re only clever and nice in the abstract, as possible designs for a touchscreen phone interface. Nice and clever though they are, this would be a disaster as a new design for the actual iPhone. A new look is one thing (and we’re going to get it), but when you’re well established and have a large user base, as iOS does, you need to maintain familiarity. If users are asking “What is this? Where am I? Where’s all the stuff I’m used to?” it’s going to be a disaster.

I haven’t been a user interface designer for very long in the scheme of things. I trained as a print designer, learned how to draw typography, and created color separations for press runs. Interactive design is still something we’re all making up as we go along. But one thing I have learned is that users have no fundamental problem with a redesign. They do, however, recoil in horror when you introduce them to something that is a top-to-bottom replacement for a product they’ve grown to feel comfortable with, while calling it a “redesign.” It’s fundamentally dishonest — Windows 8, whatever your opinion of it (and I am generally a fan), was not a “redesign” of Windows. It’s an entirely new design for an operating system that happens to still be called “Windows.”

Designers wanna design. It’s in our DNA to seek out and eliminate every trace of hokiness, or half-assedness, or what seemed cool at the time but now looks tired. If WordPress were run entirely by designers, it would likely have an all new interface every year, but a fraction of the user base.

This is the challenge in continuing to freshen and update the design of software that millions (or billions, in the case of iOS) of users already know and understand. But those millions of existing users are what makes the work worthwhile. It’s the guiding principle behind the MP6 redesign project for WordPress. We made it our goal to refresh WordPress’ aesthetic styling and improve accessibility by making the dashboard responsive — but doing this without making major changes to the way users interact with the software. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities for it — I could spend an entire cycle alone on the Edit Post screen — but through years of experience we’ve found how much users appreciate it when we separate visual redesigns from major, sweeping architectural changes. In short, it’s about iteration, something both WordPress and Apple have always embraced.

Flat design is sexy. And simplicity rules the day. Both of these concepts should inform the future work done by all interaction designers (including for WordPress and for iOS). But to paraphrase Gruber’s quote from above: a new look is one thing (and WordPress is going to get it), but when you’re well established and have a large user base, as WordPress does, you need to maintain familiarity. If users are asking “What is this? Where am I? Where’s all the stuff I’m used to?” it’s going to be a disaster.

New Orleans in 3D

New Orleans in 3D

Still waiting for Google to update Street View in New Orleans and have yet to get an Apple Store in the city itself, but I noticed today that the city is now 3D in the new iOS 6 Maps. And she’s looking gorgeous as ever. Flying over the Quarter, the ‘dome, Audubon Park and my old neighborhood was really cool, I can only imagine how handy this will be as more and more cities are added.

Nerd Remote

Because your iPhone is happier with friends… here’s what I call my “nerd remote,” my collection of iPhone apps that interact with other devices around my house.

ADT — For arming and disarming my home security system from afar, or just from bed. If I had to do it over (and I may soon) I’d probably go with a homegrown system, but for now ADT’s app is alright.

Google TV — Yes, I actually own one. The surprisingly attractive Sony Internet TV came with a remote control so bad it’s the stuff of legend, but it was available for a steal around the holidays last year and it makes a beautiful monitor for an Apple TV. Their iOS app isn’t much better, but it’s useful when you’ve lost your universal remote and you just want to adjust the volume.

Apple Remote — Just the best way to interact with an Apple TV.

Nest — You don’t believe me now, but owning a Nest will make you say “I love this thermostat.” Adjusting the temperature without getting out of bed: yeah, that sold me, too.

People Power — Monitoring your home energy usage hasn’t turned out to be quite as useful as anyone had hoped (hence Google and Microsoft both abandoning their efforts last year), but for those nerds who installed a device like the PowerCost Monitor, People Power lets you see your energy usage in real time, as well as historical graphs and future projections based on your current use. Still for the über-geeky, for now.

Dropcam — I installed this app when I ordered my Dropcam from Amazon.com in April. I’ll let you know how it works if I ever get it.

Tagg — The companion app for the pet tracker of the same name. Snap Tagg onto your dog’s collar and it keeps track of your pet via multiple methods: a low-power wireless connection with the tracker’s base station when at home, and Assisted GPS (GPS + Verizon Wireless) when away. The tracker’s location is updated every 3 minutes or so, so while it’s not real time, it is some serious peace of mind for those who get a little bit too worried about our pets when they wander.

iGrill — Possibly the strangest-sounding thing to connect to an iPhone, the Bluetooth iGrill thermometer lets you monitor the temperature of two different cuts of meat in an oven, in a smoker, on a grill or on the stove. They also sell an ambient temperature probe for your smoker. If you’re not yet enough of a pro to divine your meat’s doneness by chef’s intuition, the iGrill is incredibly handy in ensuring your stuff’s never dried out and overcooked again.

I’ve heard that the Model S will have an iOS app soon. Wonder how long I’ll be able to resist getting that one?