The Many Lenses Of Accessible Design

Sshekhar Jha
May 12, 2022

‘Accessible Design’ is a phrase that has gained significant currency in the global web/mobile design ecosystem over the past few years. The concept of accessible design has undergone a sea change, and making design more inclusive to accommodate the needs of users, is at the center of that evolution.

The first challenge that designers often face while conceptualizing designs that are increasingly accessible is that they don’t know what they don’t know. What that means is that they’re often not sure which problem to solve and which ‘need’ to design for.

What helps in these situations is a change of perspective. Viewing the challenge from a different point of view can often change the way we create a solution to the challenge of creating a more inclusive design.

But how many such points of view exist for us to consider? Let’s have a look:

  1. Animations and Special Effects

Animations are what bring a design blueprint to life and, by extension, bring the brand to life. They act as an initial hook for new users, helping to drive the focus to the key elements of the interface. The trick to making your design more accessible by using animations is to not overdo it.

Avoid fast, flashy, and frequent transitions. Instead, opt for animation elements that are easy to navigate, follow, and not optically overwhelming.

  1. Audio and Video

One of the biggest no-gos of creating a good design is video without optional subtitles and lack of vocal navigation. It can be a huge impediment to the overall experience. 

Also, If you do decide to have videos, ensure that they don’t use autoplay. It can be inconvenient for users to find the source of the video they didn’t want to watch and close it from there.

  1. Colour

The colours you use are a big part of your overall design language. They’re capable of uplifting the whole look and feel of your design and go a long way in setting up a brand’s perception.

To users who are colour blind, however, excessive use of colours may be a problem. Colours also communicate different messages in different cultures, so a great way to navigate this barrier is to use non-colour identifiers for your icons and symbols. Use text descriptors to eliminate any potential perceptual discrepancies, and avoid using oversaturated or high-contrast colour shades.

  1. Controls

UI elements such as buttons, links, inputs or any other interactive content are what constitute controls. The size of these elements and the distance between two elements is a major considerations while designing and placing them on your design layout. 

Having visible text labels goes a long way in ensuring that users don’t click on the wrong button by mistake. In addition, providing users with the ability to customize the size of buttons is also a great way to hand them control of how they want to interact with your layout.

  1. Fonts

Fixed fonts are a thing of the past. Today, with so many screens of different sizes, resolutions and pixel densities, fonts have to be adaptive. It needs to be easy to read to aid readability, which is where the focus needs to be on font styles.

Goes without saying that users should have the option to choose different fonts, their sizes, spacing, and dimensions. Providing that ability is a necessary element of accessible design.

  1. Images and Icons

Images can be hugely emotive. They have the ability to convey thoughts, ideas and feelings without a single word of text. That is why there’s no scope for misinterpretation. Inserting the right image/icon at the right place and the right size is critical to the context of its placement. Having a short description helps, but to aid your efforts to create an inclusive design, ensure that nothing is lost in translation in your icon placement.

  1. Structure

The structure of your layout is the soul of what you design. How you structure your layout will directly dictate how users interact with it. All of the points discussed above play a part in the overall structure of your design; hence it’s important that you’re clear with what you want to convey and how users get there.

A neat structure goes a long way in furthering your efforts to create an accessible design and can make or break the perception of your brand. Creating a design that’s accessible and inclusive isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s continually evolving, which is why there are separate guidelines for the content that you use. 

These guidelines act as a north star amongst the ever-changing standards of what’s acceptable and what’s dormant, when it comes to inclusivity in design, and every designer must be generally aware of them.

Your content must be:

  1. Perceivable

Comprehending what’s communicated is as important as what’s communicated. That’s why your content needs to be not just readable but also audible. Give your users tools to access your content in different ways, as they choose. 

  1. Operable

Your content needs to be supported by an operable interface. Make sure that it’s easily navigable so that what you want to communicate doesn’t get lost.

  1. Understandable

Make sure that your content doesn’t overwhelm the user upon first interaction. Make it easily readable, and keep the experience as predictable as possible so that the user doesn’t feel lost. As an added feature, input elements that help users where you feel help may be needed.

  1. Robust

Your content needs to be compatible with different kinds of agents. It needs to hold its own across different kinds of screens, those differences being size, resolution, pixel density etc.

Ingratiating accessibility into design will always be an ongoing endeavour. In the long run, whoever will be able to think ahead of the curve, will get to set the pattern for others to follow. 

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