User experience (UX) is the focal point driving successful web design. Whether it be visual, contextual, technical or analytical, every aspect of the design relates back to user experience. A website can only be truly successful when users are able to see the value of what is being presented to them. For this reason, understanding the needs of the user is essential in UX design.
A detailed understanding of potential users emanates from an acute awareness of best practices not only in visual web design but in web accessibility. Visual design alone is not enough to ensure a superior user experience. Accessibility considers the needs of all users, regardless of capability, technology or culture. Consequently, it ensures inclusivity for a broader spectrum of users.
The challenge for designers then is how to design for accessibility. In order to understand the various needs of users, the designer must examine every aspect of the design and consider its function for the user. This requires taking a different perspective and viewing each piece of the design as the user would see them.
The text within a website is the key to communicating with the user. It establishes the purpose that drives conversion, providing the information which motivates users to visit the site and gives them a call to action. Because text is so influential, it is crucial that it be readable. Although that may seem to be an obvious consideration, there are many sites whose text cause difficulties for users. Everything from the structure of the site to the fonts used within it can have a significant impact on readability for the user.
The layout of text provides focus for the user and helps to orient them as they navigate throughout a site. Clearly defined headings and labels give context and can establish key themes within the content. Font selection is also an important element in readability. Both the size and style of the selected fonts can create obstacles for users if chosen carelessly. Designers must ensure that fonts are neither too small nor extremely large so that users are not overwhelmed or strained while reading. Sizes should also be responsive so that the site is compatible with all devices and screens, while also being flexible enough to allow for resizing.
Aside from the font itself, the text used should have sufficient contrast so that it is distinguishable against its background. The main goal of the text is to provide the user clarity which will encourage them to take action.
Color can serve an important function within a design, evoking emotion or promoting specific ideas. Although color preferences may vary from user to user, there are best practices to follow in order to achieve accessibility and craft a better overall user experience. Color blindness, for example, is a common visual deficiency affecting approximately one in 12 men and one in 200 women. With this knowledge, designers should ensure that the colors they include do not inhibit these users. Red-green color blindness is the most common form of color blindness that causes difficulties in distinguishing between shades of red, green and yellow. Designers can make use of color testing tools, which allow them to see how color blindness might affect how users view their design.
In addition to specific colors, designers should also consider visual indicators used throughout the site. Particularly on areas where users are inputting information, color should not be used as the sole visual indicator. To be effective, the design should also incorporate text or symbols to indicate important features so that the message is clear to the user regardless of their visual ability.
Media And Motion
Including photo, video, audio and animated elements throughout a site can add dramatic or playful effects, which can be highly effective in engaging the user. However, they can also confuse or distract users if overused or used inappropriately. Certain users may be prone to seizures, experience dizziness or have sensitivities causing headaches or nausea. In these cases, it is best to design for safe animation. This involves implementing moving elements carefully and intentionally so that the motion does not overwhelm the user.
When it comes to video and audio, clips should be sure to include subtitles or transcripts for the hearing-impaired or for users who simply prefer to read. Images used throughout the site should also have alternative text that replaces the image if, for instance, the site does not load properly. Alt-text also helps visually impaired users by providing a description of the items displayed on the page.
Navigation And Controls
During the development of the website, the designer should consider how the user will move through the site and take action. Many users use keyboard-only navigation, so it is important to enable the site to be compatible with this type of navigation. The user should be able to move throughout the site regardless of what hardware or software they are using. They should also be able to use the “tab” key or shortcuts to move around the site, so there must be a logical order for tabbing. Additionally, buttons and links should be clear for users, with proper sizing and spacing considerations.
As industries become increasingly aware of best practices in web design, accessibility is quickly becoming a standard function. Creating an accessible design is not only crucial when considering user experience, but also when examining the overall success of the website. Achieving accessibility allows users to take action, which is what drives conversion for the business. The key then to producing exceptional designs lies in understanding the diverse needs of users and crafting an experience that is accessible to them.