Throughout my 14 years in the design industry, I’ve used countless tools to work on my design projects. One of the first tools I used was the venerable design workhorse Adobe Photoshop, and it became my favorite tool for web and print design back in 2004. In the early days of my career, I considered Photoshop to be the most complete tool in terms of web design and mobile application design. Challenging Adobe’s dominance, Sketch arrived in 2010 and in my opinion revolutionized the UI/UX design process for Mac users. I loved Sketch and used it whenever I could for my web projects, but its lack of compatibility with PCs proved to be an inconvenient limitation in mixed-platform environments.
Every person who can’t use your website is another lead you’ve lost.
Your visitors, whether you know it or not, have a diverse set of needs and preferences when using websites — and not all of those are in their control. Those impairments might be as temporary as trying to play a video inside a noisy office, to something as serious as permanent loss of vision. Or, maybe someone’s suffering from a repetitive strain injury like carpal tunnel syndrome and can’t comfortably fiddle with precise and flashy interactivity on your website.
Designing for inclusion isn’t just important — it’s the right thing to do!
And, the good news is updating your website with accessible design doesn’t just address the needs of people with disabilities, it also provides benefits that everyone can enjoy. It’s clearly a worthy investment of your time and resources.
Faster page load speed helps people on slow devices and connections
If you’re building with accessibility in mind, you’re thinking about people in less-than-ideal environments — including the actual device and network connection they’re using.
That means skipping the bloated zany visual effects, reducing or eliminating the number of plugins and dependencies, and even questioning whether or not you really need to use web fonts. People with low vision and motor disabilities need you to make these considerations — and somebody on a 3G (or worse!) network connection on a four-year-old phone also stands to benefit.
The true measure of an effective website is how well it delivers a message to as many people within the target audience as possible. Since people aren’t afraid to leave pages that don’t load quickly or give them what they want in a reasonable amount of time, the benefit of simplicity extends far beyond the typical accessibility use cases.
The Pingdom Website Speed Test is a powerful free tool for checking page weight. Aim for staying under the average page weight of a 5-second load time and 3Mb page size (you’re probably doing really well if you’re under 2 seconds and 1Mb).
Better readability helps everyone — at the expense of no one
How many times have you zoomed in on a web page, just to increase the body text to a readable size?
How many times have you zoomed out to make it smaller? (You probably haven’t.)
I’m not implying that you should only show five words on the screen at a time, but there are a few simple rules of typography that will benefit every single reader when followed:
- Average 45–75 characters per line of text
- Use a minimum of 16px body font size on desktop screens (24px is actually quite a comfortable reading size, as huge as it may feel initially)
- Use a CSS line-height of around 1.5 or lower
- Ensure you’re using a WCAG 2.0-compliant color contrast ratio (aim for AAA)
(Aside: Typewolf’s course on typography is an incredible source of knowledge on the subject and I’d highly recommend the investment if you’re a designer or developer.)
I’ve never heard someone complain about text being too easy to read.
Minding accessibility can make your website easier to maintain
Refusing to place text in images — and instead using true HTML text 100% of the time—not only lends a hand to low vision users (and search engines!), but also saves time for content editors who don’t have to re-create and re-upload graphics to a website.
Likewise, converting content stored in PDFs — sell sheets, brochures, catalogs — to HTML text on web pages should be part of your workflow each time there’s an update. Content housed in PDFs doesn’t lend itself well to low vision users, or anyone who prefers to read content on a web page rather than loading a bulky PDF reader that they may or may not already have installed.
Depending on how your website is structured — hopefully you’ve thought about design systems — you may have fewer confusing rules about how your content is presented. Since design systems operate around consistency, both visitors and content managers will appreciate recognizable content patterns that don’t use funky, inconsistent rules to present content. Rather than going freeform or trying to police consistency yourself, a design system could help ensure content includes consistent information throughout your website.
It’s the right thing to do
…and isn’t that enough of a reason to do it? The benefits to a larger collective group of users is a nice side effect, and it’s a good look for your brand to show you’re thinking about the needs of as many people as possible. Becoming inclusive in your web design practices is a small effort that makes a big impact in giving your users — diverse as they may be — a better experience.
When we build things — we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someone’s life does.
— Adam Morse
If you’d like to learn more about your responsibility of designing for a diverse range of user needs, please join us at Liquid Interactive on February 22nd for our Lunch & Learn session, “Empowering Users by Designing for Accessibility.” You can register online by February 17th.
Our expertise is only as good as our ability to share it with you. Here are the latest thoughts and ideas from our team.
When I tell people that I’m a user experience (UX) designer, most people nod politely as their eyes glaze over for a second, and they try to move the conversation along. Early in my career I thought they were completely uninterested, but over time, I came to realize that many people simply don’t know what UX is and might feel awkward about asking. On behalf of misunderstood UX designers everywhere, please allow me to introduce you to the wonders of quality UX and why you should care about it.
What is a visual brand identity, you ask? It’s only one of the most important things about your business. Branding is far more in depth than aesthetics. It delves into the core of why you exist as a business. It requires hours of research and analysis to ultimately cultivate something visually appealing that communicates your message: your visual identity. A visual identity is comprised of a system of external expressions such as a logo, color palette and texture, typography, iconography, illustration, photography, motion principles, and composition.
I went fishing the other day and all I caught was a good UX lesson for you. Here’s the deal: my daughter entered the neighborhood annual fishing derby. For a decent UX guy, I’m a terrible fisherman. But I do know how to bait a squirming worm and unhook the slimiest of fish.