About the site

Universal Usability launched on November 16, 2006, two days after World Usability Day. Its initial purpose is to provide access to the online version of my book, Access by Design: A Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers. In the long term, I would like to broaden the scope of the site to include articles and input from others, and to provide access to more extensive resources for designers interested in adopting a universal design approach to web usability.

I am author of three books—Web Style Guide (with Pat Lynch), Web Teaching Guide, and Access by Design. When I write a book, I also do the design and typesetting. My books are heavily illustrated and I like having control over how the text and illustrations work together. I also enjoy the craft of book design. In fact, a friend once posited that I write books so I can design them. He’s at least partially right.

I have a history of making my books freely available online. Web Style Guide was a web site before it became a book. When we started publishing a print version, we continued to publish the book online. When the second edition came out, we revised the online version with the new content and provided handy features like “Print this page” and “Print this chapter.”

From a economic perspective, this approach may seem foolish. Why would people buy a book when they can get it for free online? Aren’t we throwing away potential royality income? These questions are difficult to answer without a means for comparison—a version available only in print and another available both in print and online. But Web Style Guide has sold over 120,000 copies, and has been translated into Chinese, Czech, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. So even without a comparison, I would venture that the book has sold better than it would have without the online version. But even if that were not the case, the fact is, I write to be read, and publishing books online means more people read them.

But there’s another reason for publishing online—namely, universal usability. As a publication channel, the web has many benefits over print. People can adapt web content to meet their needs and preferences. People who can’t get their hands on a book because of limited availability or resources may have a better chance of accessing it online. Also, the online version has functionality that isn’t available in print, such as search and links. With its focus on universal usability, there was never any question as to whether I would publish an online version of Access by Design.

Unfortunately, there’s no “Convert to Universally Usable Web Site” functionality built into InDesign, the application I used to design the printed version, and clearly a web site for a book on universal usability must model its own principles and guidelines. So when it came time to design the online version, I rolled up my sleeves and set about exporting the text and images and reassembling the book as HTML.

For those interested in the nitty gritty details, it turned out to be easier to export plain text and add markup then to export text in any other format. For the figures, I saved pages with illustrations as PDF files so I could capture the annotations. Then I imported the PDFs into Photoshop for cropping and saving. I saved the screenshots as GIFs since JPEG compression produces artifacts around the edges of shapes and text, and I used BBEdit to combine the text and graphics and to build out the site.

I won’t tell you how much tweaking and fussing went into site design and markup. Suffice it to say that it took me more than a year, off and on, to get to the point where I was ready to launch the site. Now that the site is launched, I am working on adding features and focusing the expertise and attention of the web development community on the subject of universal usability. I also hope to get and respond to suggestions that will help me improve the usability of the site. Please email me at sarah.horton@gmail.com, and thank you for turning your attention to this site and to universal usability.