How can digital technology be more … humanish?

Published: Tuesday January 31, 2017


Sam, our new communications officer, talks about our website developments:

Although my background’s more concept graphics than web design, I find web accessibility really interesting because it’s all about how humans interact with information – I don’t particularly care about digital technology; I care about people. People are brilliant, and the crazy different ways they access information is all part of the great wonder of life, for me. I mean, sometimes it gives me a massive headache, but mostly that’s in a good way. Ish. If you squint a bit.

In the first round of Masterchef, the first people to get ditched are always those who have strong opinions on how unbeatable their cheese-on-toast (or whatever) is; pride leads them to believe they’re not there to learn, but to show. The chefs who go in to learn do so at an incredible rate amongst all that talent, and as a result their food is creatively, unpredictably exciting.

So as we develop the new diocesan website (and emails, social and printed media) via a series of phases throughout 2017, bringing eight or nine fragmented microsites onboard (such as the Blog, OnYourDoorstep and Vision sites), at the top of the list is to try and make the new site as accessible as possible. This means looking at the way all users interact with pages; not just absorbing information but feeding it back. Hence the Masterchef reference.

The truth is, whether you’re a church group or a diocese or the whole CofE makes no difference; when we build something like a website it’s always good to sit back and see how our work can be as human-integrated and inclusive as possible, otherwise what’s the point?! Just like human relationships, digital ecosystems don’t particularly work if they’re always one-way and value-based. In fact they’re terrible.

We [humans] learn again and again that branch-isolated value-driven hierarchies aren’t a great idea (recent political examples here are too painfully obvious, so let’s say the Roman Empire and pretend we’re more distant from the work of the Accuser hoho) – we need hierarchies to be balanced within equally-valued node ecosystems. That’s a trendy futuristic way of saying we are all equals. In Acts or Romans this means Paul shifts cash about the churches and they look after each other **Cough cough Parish Share cough cough**. In web design this means taking care to share resources and moving data laterally through tagged systems, nurturing SEO (which is jargon for connectedness) not for its own ends but as a symptom of accessibility (which could also be taken as jargon for connectedness). All jolly good fun!

This will always be a work-in-progress, and we’ll never do it perfectly (especially where I’m involved), but how we model node-linked networks is an interesting conundrum. A specific example of this balance of hierarchical and lateral data can be seen in action on the Safeguarding page – news comes into that section not just via our own ‘Safegarding’ -tagged articles (which could be written by anyone, in any department), but includes live information from third party Safeguarding organisations with whom we partner in some way.

Network imageWhat we’re talking about is less departmentally-owned content, and more departmentally-curated content. Sorry, I know ‘curated’ is a bit of a trendy word at the moment, I just like to demonstrate my hipster street-cred wherever possible. Anyway, the point is if the content fails the department prunes it, but there’s always wonderful unpredictable growth if we node-link in this way. And I hope content will be easier to find if there are strong lateral paths through the website.

I’d better stop writing at this stage before I totally go off on one, and accidentally write a very boring dissertation on human-&/vs-digital networks. I have a tendency to write as my mind wanders, and this could very easily end up as a book review of The Twits (short version: it’s genius).


We aim to ensure that all of our digital resources are informative and reasonably entertaining to use as well as being accessible. Where we’ve missed a trick or could do a better job with accessibility – please contact Sam to let us know.


About accessibility

[Web] Accessibility depends on how a person’s physical differences (particularly eyesight) affect the way they perceive information on a web page. This involves hundreds of factors such as how colours contrast, or how fonts are sized. As far as possible, this website has been built with architecture intent on being screenreader, mobile and human -friendly. If you have specific accessibility needs or would like to offer your feedback on any part of our web content (including social media), we’d love to hear from you.

To keep our sites fairly up to date with developments in digital comms, we test regularly via the W3C-recommended Webaim tools, as well as participating in UX/UI workshops around the South West, and live testing with actual humans! People remain generally unharmed during this process, we promise.

Though not all content on this website is CC-licensed, we do share back and are actively involved in various development communities including Accessible Bristol, regional UX devs, the WordPress dev community & WCLDN, W3C networks and stack overflow. When we create a video, we add subtitles wherever possible; please do request subtitling for a specific video if it isn’t yet available.

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