The prime goal of a UI (user interface) designer is to create a good experience for all users, regardless of ability. This becomes even more important when we consider that roughly 285 million people are visually impaired, between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant mobility difficulties, and 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss.
As a developer, you should want your website to be accessible, easy to navigate, understandable, and usable by all. By prioritizing accessibility, designers create inclusive experiences that break down barriers and provide equal access to information and functionality. It not only helps to comply with legal requirements but also expands the potential user base, enhances the overall user experience, and demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility. This is also reiterated by the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, who says,
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Accessibility in UI design refers to the practice of creating interfaces that can be easily understood, operated, and navigated by individuals with physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities. By incorporating accessible design principles into UI development, designers can break down barriers and ensure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can engage with digital content seamlessly.
One of the key aspects of accessible UI design is providing alternative ways of interaction beyond conventional methods such as mouse or keyboard inputs. For example, incorporating voice recognition, gestures, or eye-tracking technologies allows users with limited mobility to navigate and interact with the interface effectively. By integrating these alternative input methods, UI designers can empower individuals with disabilities to access digital platforms independently, promoting inclusivity.
Another crucial consideration is the visual aspect of UI design. Designers must ensure that information is displayed in a clear and legible manner, making effective use of color contrast, font size, and typography. By paying attention to these visual elements, UI designers can improve readability, especially for individuals with visual impairments or colorblindness. Additionally, providing adjustable text size and contrast settings enables users to personalize their viewing experience according to their specific needs.
Moreover, well-designed UIs should prioritize logical and streamlined navigation structures. This means creating intuitive menus, grouping related content together, and providing meaningful labels. For individuals with cognitive disabilities, including autism or attention disorders, clear and concise instructions can enhance their understanding and engagement with the interface.
So, here are ten ways to make your user interface designs more accessible and inclusive and to ensure that you’re designing for all.
- Use Color and Contrast to Create Distinction
Color is one of the prime aspects of design. Ensuring proper contrast between the background and foreground, using appropriate shades to create distinction, and highlighting important information are some of the easiest ways to make your site more accessible. After all, designing for a colorblind user or someone who wears prescription glasses is just as important as designing for somebody who doesn’t have these disabilities.
You can use the tool WebAIM Color Contrast checker to achieve a balanced color contrast. The tool allows you to input specific hex codes or choose from a color wheel, and then make incremental adjustments to reach AA (minimum contrast) or AAA (enhanced contrast) contrast standards between elements.
- Use Clear and Consistent Navigation Options
Ease of navigation is one of the most important factors when determining a website’s accessibility. Some ways to do this are:
- Ensure that navigation across pages within a website has consistent naming, styling, and positioning.
- Provide users with a site search or a site map.
- Help users understand where they are on a website or page by providing orientation cues, such as breadcrumbs and clear headings.
- Use More Than Just a Color to Indicate Status Change
While color can be useful to convey information, it should not be the only way information is conveyed. While using color to differentiate elements, make sure to always provide additional identification that does not rely on color perception to make your designs accessible. Some ways in which you can do this are:
- Use an asterisk in addition to color to indicate required form fields.
- Use labels to distinguish areas on graphs.
- Add explanatory text.
- Provide Visual Focus Indication for Keyboard Users
Some users use the Tab key to jump between focusable elements (i.e., links, form fields, and any other content that has been added to the tab order with the HTML tabindex attribute). However, it is often difficult for keyboard users to tell where they are on the page. Hence, designers must always provide a clear and visible indication of which element of the page the user is currently on.
While web browsers do have default focus indicators, they’re not really that great. It is hence a good idea to modify the CSS hover: for focusable elements such as links, buttons, form fields, menu items, widgets, calendar picker, etc. Focusable elements are almost always interactive. An effective focus indicator:
- Has good contrast
- Has complementary shape and size to the element
- Uses a complementary but eye-catching color scheme
- Is animated to help users track focus movement
- Degrades gracefully (is visible on older browsers)
- Is the same across browsers
- Provide Image / Media Alternatives
All media types on your web page, be they audio, video, or images must have text alternatives that describe the information or function represented by them (except for when the images are purely decorative). Some best practices that can be followed are:
- All images must have a descriptive alt attribute: When an image does not have alt text, provide a null alt attribute instead of not using an alt attribute at all. This conveys that the image has no functional meaning to it.
- <img alt=”” … />
- Use <fig> and <figcaption> for groups of images and a more expressive caption.
- Hide purely decorative images from assistive technology: Images that have no function or information content whatsoever are decorative images. These can be hidden from screen readers in multiple ways such as by using a null alt attribute, using ARIA role=”presentation”, using a CSS background image
- Design Accessible Forms
No one enjoys filling out forms with confusing inputs, unclear expected formats, cryptic error messages, or lack of keyboard accessibility. Now pair this with an impairment or disability, and you’re in for a frustrating experience. To make sure the users of your page do not have to go through this, here are some points you must keep in mind while designing accessible forms:
- All input fields should have clearly associated labels. Always use the actual label HTML element for this and not simply a span or div element.
- Use placeholder text to give the user an idea about the format and nature of the input. However, never use it as a replacement for labels, since the placeholder text disappears once the user has entered some information.
- Always make sure to identify the required and optional fields clearly.
- When validating a form, error messages should be displayed as soon as possible, preferably on the client side rather than waiting until the whole form is submitted. The error messages should be as meaningful and clear as possible.
- All elements of the form should be reachable for keyboard users through the Tab key. The tab order should be sequential and should make sense to the user.
- Ensure That Interactive Elements are Easy to Identify
Provide distinct styles for interactive elements, such as links and buttons, to make them easy to identify. For example, change the appearance of links on mouse hover, keyboard focus, and touch-screen activation. Ensure that styles and naming for interactive elements are used consistently throughout the website.
- Organize Content with Visual Hierarchy
Establishing a visual hierarchy involves paying close attention to how UI elements are positioned in your web design and creating coherency between those respective elements to drive meaning. Some best practices that can be followed for the same are:
- Do not crowd your screens or you’ll end up intimidating the user.
- People with impaired vision may require items on the screen to be magnified, so make your content scalable.
- Call-to-action buttons should be clear and distinctive.
- Place important information near eye level.
- Use suitable headings to group related content.
- Use whitespace and proximity to make relationships between content more apparent.
- Z-pattern visual hierarchy
- Carry Out User Testing
Even after you’ve done your best trying to make your website as accessible as possible, there might be some areas that a person using assistive technologies may not find as user friendly as you intended them to be.
The best and most efficient way to identify and rectify such problem areas is through user testing. Conducting informal evaluations throughout a product development project is more effective than formal usability testing at the end of a project.
User testing has many benefits. Crucially, you’ll be able to understand the range of functional limitations of your design and then provide solutions to those limitations. Testing gives you the opportunity to explore, investigate, and understand how real people deal with your design.
- Know That Accessibility is not a Barrier to Innovation
One of the most important parts of creating accessible designs lies in knowing that it is in no way a hindrance to innovation. The design constraints do not make your product boring but give you new ideas to explore what makes a better product for all of your users.
Embrace accessibility guidelines as you would any set of design constraints. They are part of the challenge of creating amazing products for a diverse audience.