One would assume that graphic design is accessible to its audience, yet a graphic designer’s decisions can inadvertently exclude individuals. It’s a simple matter of we don’t know what we don’t know.
When creating a communication, a graphic designer should consider more than specific communication objectives, brand guidelines, etc. For example, will the design effectively translate for those with vision issues or hearing loss?
What does this mean for graphic designers?
Designers may view accessibility as a barrier to creativity. Alternatively, accessibility can be viewed like any other guideline such as objectives, logo usage, color palette and typography. When accessibility guidelines are embraced upfront, they become part of the overall design challenge to influence an approach to engage the entire audience.
What does this mean for employers?
Employee communication influences an employee’s experience and overall perception of its employer. Ensuring that communication is accessible will only strengthen perception of the employer and broaden the inclusion of a diverse employee audience.
General guidelines for design accessibility
- The main point should be obvious and simple.
This seems obvious, but as a designer, sometimes we want to be clever or more abstract given the situation. And that is perfectly fine, providing the main point is easily distinguishable (you only have a few seconds to hook the user).
- Color is just one of many design tools.
There are variations and severities of color blindness, so consider what the design will look like in grayscale. If it works great in grayscale, it will be accessible to all (and it will be even better in color for those that are not color blind).
- Contrast is critical.
Adequate contrast between a background and text is even more important when considering color blindness because content may not be visible.
- Make fields (and their labels) visible.
For someone that is color blind or has significant vision loss, filing out a form (long-hand or electronic) can be difficult if the field is not visible and its label so small it is illegible.
- Ensure readability (not just contrast, but font size as well).
Designers tend to love large and very small type. If the platform is electronic, hopefully the font size is customizable to a degree so the user can adjust accordingly. But in print, it can be much more difficult and limiting.
- Be mindful of animation and effects.
Flashing effects and intense patterns can trigger headaches, vertigo and in rare cases, seizures. For motion graphics with such effects, first display a warning. Other solutions may include altering the video or providing an alternative to the video, like a detailed storyboard or graphic communication that combines still images and text.
- Make motion graphics work effectively without audio.
If a video works effectively without sound, then it is icing on the cake for those that hear well. If the video has significant voice over, like a training video, then consider providing subtitles or a transcript.
- How many Fortune 100 companies fail to meet at least one of six standards to make career pages/websites accessible?
- Many color-blind people think peanut butter is what color?
- How many men out of 12 are color blind?
- What famous musician had significant hearing loss and compensated by feeling the vibrations of the piano and using an ear trumpet?
- How many million Americans under the age of 65 have hearing loss?
- What percentage of U.S. websites fail at least one Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) failure?
Answers: 1. 89 2. Green 3. One. 4. Ludwig van Beethoven. 5. 30 million or 62% of those experiencing hearing loss 6. 96% in 2022
There is a plethora of resources around design accessibility. Here are a few to get you started:
Color blindness simulator: https://www.color-blindness.com/coblis-color-blindness-simulator/
Hearing loss simulator: https://www.starkey.com/hearing-loss-simulator/simulator
Digital accessibility: https://www.accessibility.com/blog/how-to-limit-seizure-triggers-in-digital-content
Web contrast checker: https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/
Web accessibility testing: https://webaim.org/resources/evalquickref/
Digital compliance: https://www.levelaccess.com/
So now you know! Enjoy the challenge of creating accessible design and reap the benefits by engaging your employee audience and influencing a positive experience.