In late February I virtually attended the Designing For Digital conference, an annual event designed to “bring together UX professionals, web designers, managers, researchers, strategists and librarians of all types” to explore topics related to UX in libraries. Returning for the third year to this event, I’d like to reflect on topic trends I observed, and how I think these trends reflect the challenges and shifting contexts that library UX practitioners have faced this past year because of the impacts of COVID-19.

Unsurprisingly, there were more talks this year (and also more informal discussions) focusing on remote UX research and testing as UX practitioners have adapted to the physical distancing that COVID-19 has necessitated. This included discussions about remote moderated and unmoderated testing, surveys, and tools to help facilitate them. Relatedly, folks shared projects and initiatives they have undertaken during the pandemic that are well-suited for remote work. For example, Felicity Walston and Nora Burmeister from UNC Chapel Hill Libraries discussed undertaking accessibility auditing of e-resources with their talk “Auditing Accessibility with Remote User Testing.” In this effort, staff and student employees working remotely were recruited to contribute to accessibility auditing work using free tools like NVDA screen reader, WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, and a WCAG color contrast checker. They also defined processes and created resources like an instructional video on evaluating accessibility using VoiceOver. They were able to leverage the results to map them to VPATs and communicate with vendors about potential improvements.

Finally, I’ve observed a growing number of sessions related to digital accessibility at Designing for Digital over the past three years. Engagement with accessibility topics has grown in volume, but also in scope and complexity, moving from sessions about the basics of web accessibility evaluation to also include the complex incorporation of accessibility best practices, ethics, and campus-wide initiatives into design and development processes. This shift was exemplified by Amy Drayer’s talk on “Incorporating Ethics in Web Design,” Chelsea Porter, Kat Moore, and Sarah Arnold’s “Riding the Digital Accessibility Roller Coaster in Higher Education,” and Gabe Galson’s “It’s Alive! The Evolution and Impact of an Accessible Copyright Infographic.” I also observed this engagement with improving accessibility and questioning the accessibility of tools and systems during the Q&A periods, in which attendees frequently followed up with accessibility-focused questions and examples. Because this is an area of emphasis and advocacy in my own work, I’m encouraged by this trajectory, and look forward to further engaging with these developing communities of practice. In the pandemic context, digital accessibility continues to be an absolutely essential priority.

As always, I appreciate the Designing for Digital conference as an opportunity to connect with and learn from my library UX colleagues.