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Designing digital experiences for all abilities

I’m a Digital Producer. I produce digital things for the Museum such as interactives, digital games, apps and audio tours. The best part of my job is helping to shape what the experience will be like for you, our visitors.

Throughout production you are always centre stage. I want what we build to be an engaging experience for people of all ages and all abilities, even when tailoring products to a specific audience group. So, when it comes defining how a digital product will look and what it will do, I look for a solution that can meet the varied vision, hearing, cognitive and physical abilities of our audience.

Children actively participating in large touchscreens mounted onto a wall.
Kids designing their own time-travel robots. Screens and the active area on the screen are intentionally positioned lower to the ground.

Kspace — designing games for the young (and young at heart)

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be a part of the team redeveloping Kspace, the Museum’s interactive adventure game for kids. The primary audience for this experience is five to 12 year olds, but it’s also great fun for adults.

It’s a three-stage digital experience where you build your own time-travelling robot, play a real-time game somewhere in Australia’s past, and then learn more about the location you visited and its connection to Australian history.

There are many features built into Kspace that allow a broad audience with varying needs to play the game. Here are some of them.

Positioning of the user interface and screens

One design feature our adult players immediately sense is that the position and active area on the touchscreens in the robot design area are rather low. This is of course intentional. The average height and reach of our key user group is naturally lower than that of a standard adult user.

Consequently we’ve mounted the screens and designed the user interface so that it’s most comfortable for kids to play (but still accessible for adults). It also provides easier access for people in wheelchairs too.

Volume and lighting control

Museums can be busy, noisy spaces, particularly in an area tailored for large groups of kids. Default sound and lighting in Kspace aligns with the game play, however we’ve built smarts into the system so that Museum staff have granular control of volume and lighting in the space. This means that staff can override the programmed lighting to suit differing sensory needs and to activate the space for school group programs.

Three children use joysticks to play a game in Kspace. - click to view larger image
The controllers in the Kspace time pods

Joysticks and actuators

For the main gameplay we chose to use arcade-style joystick and buttons. We undertook extensive research into game controllers and this simple solution was chosen due to its ease of use and ability to withstand a beating.

This type of controller does not require high dexterity and mobility — kids as young as two can move a joystick and press a button.

The joystick and buttons are mounted on custom built actuators — the technology used to move desks and hospital beds up and down. There are three pre-set heights so that Museum staff can lower or raise the controls to suit different age groups.

We even have handheld controllers that can be plugged into an actuator so that players can have the controller on their lap if needed. This is great for visitors in wheelchairs or for players who would like a carer to help them play the game.

Tutorials and limiting text elements

We made a conscious decision to limit the text on screens throughout the game. We rely on intuitive interfaces, visual and audio cues and onscreen tutorials to teach people how to play the game. Kspace is very much designed for players to learn by doing.

Augmented hearing and printed game guides

For visitors who are deaf or hearing impaired we have augmented hearing devices available. We also have printed booklets which are a visual and written guide for how to play the game. This helps parents and teachers prepare kids before their visit.

A graphic image featuring a page from booklet.
A page from the Kspace printed game guide

Defining Moments Discovery Wall

An adult and child are engaging with the Defining Moments Discovery Wall which is a large interactive screen mounted on a wall.
Playing with some of the lower positioned content on the Discovery Wall

Kspace is just one experience that demonstrates the thought and consideration that goes into ensuring our digital products are accessible. The Defining Moments Discovery Wall is another.

The Defining Moments in Australian History project aims to stimulate public discussion about significant Australian events. The Discovery Wall provides entertaining and engaging pathways into a selection of Defining Moments content.

On the Discovery Wall an organic ribbon extends across the length of the screens. Image tiles representing each defining moment are clustered together around relevant time periods.

Visitors can tap on an image tile to find out more about the selected moment. Tapping on a topic or place tag within a moment causes lines to appear on-screen and connect to related moments.

Given the size of the interactive (roughly 3 by 1.5 metres), ensuring that content can be accessed by all our visitors was a key design consideration. We’ve implemented some neat solutions to achieve this:

  • The timeline is positioned slightly lower than the centre of the screens.
  • Moments on the timeline automatically switch locations between the top and bottom to give all visitors access.
  • If you can’t reach the content and don’t want to wait for it to switch locations, you can touch and drag any point on the timeline down or up and the content attached will follow.
  • There are eight graphical elements positioned at the top and bottom of the screen that on touch activate animation, audio and fun facts/quizzes. These also swap locations over time.

But what about the content?

In addition to accessible design and function for our digital products, we also endeavour to make the content itself available in a range of formats:

  • We implement captions in video and audio content that contain spoken word.
  • We provide audio loops for AV and audio content in exhibition spaces for access via hearing aids.
  • We’ve experimented with making audio tours available in Auslan, including audio descriptions of objects on display.
  • We apply WCAG accessibility standards to online screen-based content.
  • We provide digital object label text in multiple languages.
A screenshot from the Songlines interactive demonstrating closed captions in English.
A video player from the Songlines interactive with closed captions in language and English

Well, that’s it from me. I hope you’ve found this summary of how we build inclusive digital experiences interesting.

Next time you’re at the Museum, head on down to Kspace for a play. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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