Evaluating and improving document usability for multilingual audiences

Documents play crucial roles in modern societies, enabling us to take actions, make decisions and record transactions. As such, an inability to use documents effectively contributes to social exclusion. In design terms, documents are often highly complex, combining written text, diagrams, photos, tables, logos and other graphic elements. Thus we can characterize them as multimodal. Equally, the processes involved in our making sense of visual information are themselves also complex. Recent studies show that a combination of information each of us has learnt through experience is in play alongside our common human hardware. Thus cultural factors play their part in our interactions with document design. As such, it seems plausible that readers whose first language is not English are doubly disadvantaged when working with documents written in English, i.e. in terms of both language skills and document literacy.

EvIDence explores this hypothesis, bringing together rigorous techniques for document sampling and comparison, formal representations of document design and audience-sensitive usability testing. Thus EvIDence identifies and exploits synergies between several relevant research communities and contributes methodological innovation to the current state of the art in each. Moreover, by providing the means to evaluate and improve the accessibility of multimodal documents produced by UK organizations from two key sectors - health and financial services, EvIDence offers impact beyond the academy.