Whether you are designing a website or application, you are ultimately creating a product not for yourself, but for the benefit of others. As such, designing is not simply just about what you think looks good, but it is about making something that people enjoy using. Furthermore, your product needs to reach as many people as possible by not excluding any potential customers, such as those whose mental or physical disabilities may limit their ability to use websites and applications. This is where considering accessibility and usability can help.
What is Accessibility?
Simply put, accessibility, in the context of digital design, is about whether a product is easily available to everyone, regardless of their mental, or physical limitations. Creating a website or application while considering accessibility means that the designer is prioritizing removing barriers that could prevent someone from understanding or navigating a website or application, so that no one is excluded. The aim is to ensure that everyone has access to a good user experience, regardless of how they view a product. Some examples of accessibility design choices include:
- Picking appropriate font sizes, so that people with poorer eyesight can still read the content.
- Having good colour contrast between the text and background, so that people with poorer eyesight or colour blindness can understand the content on screen.
- Having alternative text on images, so that people who have trouble distinguishing a picture knows what it is.
- Choosing the right typography, so that people with dyslexia or similar disabilities can easily read the text.
- Having simple interactions, such as a “back to top” button at the bottom of a page, so that people with motor disabilities can easily use the website.
- Straightforward navigation, so that people with cognitive disabilities can traverse the website or application easily.
- Excluding animations and movements that could induce seizures or motion sickness.
- Transcripts or closed captions on videos, for people with hearing impairments.
What is Usability?
Usability in digital design is the degree of how easily and quickly a user can achieve their goals when using a website or application. While accessibility is focused on making websites and applications available to everyone, usability is concerned with ensuring that everyone, once they access a product, can navigate it. The aim of good usability is to ensure that anyone can find what they want without any prior or outside knowledge of the website or application. Some examples of usability design choices include:
- Are buttons and links where users expect them to be?
- Do clickable components, such as buttons, look clickable?
- Is it clear where a button will take the user by reading the text on it?
- Can a user reach all the important buttons on mobile devices using just one of their thumbs?
- Is the navigation clear enough so that users can find the information they are looking for?
- Can users scan a page easily?
- Are there visual cues, such as buttons changing colour when clicked on, or loading a screen animation, to indicate to the user that the website has registered their input?
- Do forms require all the right information, and have measures been put in to ensure people cannot make errors, such as submitting a form with missing fields?
Why is it Important?
There are many reasons why it is vital to consider accessibility and usability when creating a digital product. The main reason is that it ensures that as many people as possible can access and use a certain website or application. By consequence, this means greater revenue for the company behind the product, as having a more accessible website or application means more people can use it, and potentially be converted into customers. Likewise, it also means that, by considering accessibility and usability, you are creating a greater user experience for others. Lastly, it ensures you are creating a quality, modern, empathetic digital product that can be competitive and relevant in the oversaturated digital market.
How to Practice Good Accessibility and Usability
While it may sound straightforward, creating a website or application that displays great accessibility and usability is a difficult and time-consuming process. Regardless, there are several ways one can go about taking on this challenge.
- Hire a UX/UI designer: UX/UI designers specialises in creating good and quality user experiences for digital products. As such, they have all the knowledge, skill, and experience to improve the accessibility and usability of a website or application.
- Read Through Guidelines: Just like with many other processes in life, accessibility and usability have general guidelines and rules for people to follow to make their designing easier. Here are some examples of good ones to look at to get you started:
- Use Tools: There are many digital tools out there, a lot of them for free, that helps designers more easily determine the usability and accessibility level of a digital product. Some helpful free one’s for you to start with include:
- WCAG – Contrast Checker: a plugin for Google Chrome that allows users to determine whether the colour contrast of a website is good enough or not, as well as see how a website looks for people with colour blindness.
- Lighthouse: A developer tool for Google Chrome that measures the accessibility and usability of a website.
- Crazy Egg: Tracks user behavior on a website, such as what they click on.
- ColorBox: Helps create accessible colour schemes.
- Contaste: Tests colour contrast between text and background.
- WAVE: An accessibility evaluation tool.
- Who Can Use: Helps designers understand how different colour combinations affect people with various visual disabilities.
- GTmetric: Measures the speed of your website.
- BrowserShots: Shows you how a website looks in different browsers.
- Test Your Product: The best way to know if something is wrong with a website or application is getting an outside opinion. If possible, gather a group of people, preferably those who have no prior experience with the product, or even those who have disabilities, and have them perform tasks on the website. Record their thoughts about the website, and what they have difficulty with. By doing so, you know what changes to make.
When users go on a website or application for the first time, they should be able to jump right on in, a navigate it making very few errors. Following best practices when it comes to accessibility and usability is a great way to achieve this result. As such, it should be a priority to ensure these principles are considered and implemented into any digital product. This not only creates a better user experience for everyone, but also makes a website more profitable and popular. As such, just like how accessibility and usability intends it to be, everyone, both the users and company, benefits.
October 20, 2021