Building accessible brands: the missing link of D&I

Accessibility is a hot topic – but too often it’s still an afterthought, says Erica Wong, senior brand consultant at Radley Yeldar. If accessibility is treated as post-design translation for specific needs, she says, it isn’t true accessibility. And that holds brands back.

Building inclusive brands means engaging more of your audiences in better ways. But diversity and inclusion alone aren’t enough. There’s still a missing link for brands: accessibility. Despite the crucial role it plays, accessibility remains a key topic that’s overlooked and underexplored.

Translation isn’t accessibility

An accessible brand is developed and designed so all people can access and experience it in the same way. By considering specific needs, it allows more people to engage with it. Seems straightforward, but the downfall for many brands is trying to solve this through translation. Brands are built, identities designed, assets and campaigns created – all before it gets translated into something accessible. Accessibility quickly fades away as an afterthought.

Accessibility needs to be reframed. Yes, designing and developing with accessibility in mind will directly improve equitable access, particularly for people with disabilities. But it also has potential impacts far beyond the needs of any one group. Solving for access issues raises the bar and improves the experience for all. Accessibility should equate to intuitive user experience, beautiful design and brilliant brand-building. When this happens, it highlights the true value of accessible brands: greater reach, more distinctiveness and increased engagement.

It’s easier said than done. There’s not much in the way of formal guidance across the creative process and it’s rarely a joined-up approach. This has some depressing consequences, with brand identities that exclude and design that suffers. If a brand uses an illegible typeface or poorly contrasted colors, it’s not an inclusive brand. If a design layout needs an alternate version to pass accessibility checks, it’s not good design.

The accessibility shift

Adapting traditional approaches to type or color choice might seem limiting at first, but without new challenges, we’d never find new (and better) solutions. We can push the bounds of what good design and branding looks like, using accessible considerations as a creative provocation.

Getting there needs to be an integrated effort. Accessibility then becomes a shared opportunity, instead of the sole responsibility of one department. We must shift our industry-wide approach to embrace a universal culture of inclusive design.

The first step requires the right standards. Existing guidance tends to fall to production or digital teams. Features such as document tagging (digital tags assigned for logical reading order in screen reader programs) and alternate text descriptions (contextual descriptors of images and charts) are growing more common, but could still be built more regularly into standard production cycles.

Digital channels have their own standards for accessibility requirements, but these principles need to be expanded and inclusive formats delivered as standard by organizations everywhere to improve.

The same need for standards applies to creative. At the heart of great design is a keen focus on purpose and what audiences need to know. This should be amplified in accessible design: using colors, fonts and layouts that are visually compelling and effective, imagery that shows people in authentic and nuanced ways, and language that is unbiased and welcoming.

There are three keys to start building accessible brands.

Solving holistically

Consider solving for multiple elements at once. For example, selecting colors that contrast well alongside finding legible type choices or developing navigable layouts. This creates a more cohesive brand system and allows us to find unexpected inspiration through multiple considerations. Of course, this shouldn’t be limited to digital applications but also extend to physical elements such as print materials, signage and environments.

Getting the balance right

Aim for the greatest level of accessibility that still retains the distinctiveness and personality of the brand. Push beyond the minimum. If it’s boring, it’s not doing enough. Infuse some excitement through experimentation.

Creating clarity

Simplify and optimize for visibility and clarity. A full overhaul isn’t always needed. For many brands undergoing a brand identity or logo refresh, the priority is to make it easier for people to see it in modern formats, removing smaller details that muddy the water.

The more we learn about delivering with D&I in mind, the better our work becomes. Improving accessibility is key to this. So, let’s build it in right from the start so everyone can make this happen, from strategists to designers, copywriters to developers – and clients as well. After all, we’re working toward the same end goal: better ways of communicating and engaging with audiences. So, enough with translation – it’s time to bring accessibility into the heart of our creative thinking and build more inclusive brands.

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