Here’s a contentious opinion. Website design isn’t just about looking and sounding good. It’s about making the information held on a website easily accessible. No matter who your ideal customer is, you want your target audience to be able to use your website successfully. And for that, it needs to be accessible.
The principles of UX design and Design for All back this up, so you’d think that user-centred design would be part and parcel of any design agency’s remit. Yet – and hold onto your hats here – a shocking 91% of websites are inaccessible to those who rely on assistive technology. What’s more, 73% of Brits living with disabilities are unable to complete transactions on more than a quarter of websites they visit. What’s difficult to comprehend is that not only does this lack of inclusivity affect a large number of people, but it also disregards an estimated spending power of £11.75 billion in the UK alone.
Despite this, it’s not difficult to build accessible websites – you just need to have a desire to do it and the know-how. Here are some things to consider when you’re next briefing or evaluating a website design:
1. Make your navigation simple and easy to use
Let’s start at the top with your website’s navigation. Opting for simpler navigation won’t harm your design but will make it easier for those with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Here are some guidelines:
- Place navigation menus in conventional locations – either at the top of your page or on the left-hand side
- Make sure your navigation menu is consistently visible
- Provide a generous clickable area
- Ensure menus can be operated by keyboard and mouse users
- Provide multiple options for reaching pages on your site. In addition to your navigation menu, think about providing links to related pages, a table of contents and your sitemap.
2. Demand a responsive website
It beggars belief that so many websites don’t cater for mobiles and other handheld devices. With device usage off the scale, businesses with unresponsive websites are playing a risky game.
What is a responsive website exactly? A responsive website, or a website with a responsive design, is one that looks good and is easy to use on any device. It ‘responds’ to the device that it’s being viewed on. This means anyone can use your website, regardless of their tech set-up. And that’s not all – search engines favour responsive websites, making this a no-brainer for any business with a website.
3. Think about the language you use
We’re big fans of using creative language to set a brand apart, but there are limits. It’s always best to keep things clear and concise when it comes to labels and instructions. Avoid using generic call to actions like ‘click here’. Instead, use descriptive text to give your users context about the link’s destination. For example, ‘Read the blog’, ‘Get in touch’ or ‘Learn more’.
The same goes for your navigation menu. Clarity beats Cool every time, so aim for labels such as ‘About us’ or ‘Meet the team’ instead of something abstract and non-specific like ‘Experience awesome’.
4. Provide accessible alternatives to multimedia files
With so many different media options out there, it’s tempting to fill your website with videos, gifs, audio files and more. And although they add information and share your brand experience in an engaging way, they can make your website less accessible.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them though. Just provide accessible alternatives. As a rule of thumb, make sure every media format has options which make it accessible to users with visual impairments or hearing difficulties. This could be as simple as providing subtitles or making sure your alt-text tags are as creative and useful as the visuals they describe.
5. Don’t rely on colour
Although colour is a major element in most branding, relying on it to add impact and convey meaning will leave some website users out in the cold. This is why the initial stages of website design at Room11 are always done in black and white. Colour can overly influence design choice. We prefer to crack the basics – ensuring the design communicates the right messages and emotions in black and white – before finalising in line with the colour palette in the brand guidelines.
6. Follow HTML heading conventions
The way you structure your website’s headings has an enormous bearing on the accessibility of your site. Using a proper heading structure – <h1>, <h2> all the way to <h6> – to organise your content does two things. One, it helps sighted users scan the page. Two, it allows assistive technologies to navigate webpages for those with sight impairments. Without a proper heading structure, a blind user would need to read the entire page to get the information they need.
Text that’s bold or styled differently will not be automatically identified as a subheading. You must use HTML coding levels to provide accessibility.
7. Label your images, videos and links
Make sure everyone benefits from the images, videos and links you include on your website by adding clear and descriptive text labels to each file type. Known as ‘Alt-text’, these are labels which can be read by screen readers. This helps those who are blind or have visual impairments to understand the images and media on a website. Again, doing this does more than provide accessibility. Well-written alt-text tags give you extra credit with search engines, helping your website climb the SERPs.
Hardwiring accessibility into your website should be par for the course and doesn’t need to impact visual appeal or affect your brand messaging. If anything, accessibility opens your website, and therefore your business, to everyone. And who wouldn’t want that?
Is it time to make your website more accessible? Give us a shout. We’d love to hear about how we could help you open your business to more people.