Designing accessibility as a habit, not an afterthought

3
min read

Maddie

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Accessibility is a vital aspect of successful web design, yet too often we see that it is implemented late in the process, or sometimes not at all. To ensure inclusive user experiences, accessibility must become a habit throughout design.

Why is accessibility important?

Inclusive and accessible web design is an ethical consideration and legal requirement, yet 97% of the world’s top one million websites don’t offer full accessibility.

The vast majority of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) failures on these homepages fell into categories such as low contrast text, missing alt text, empty links, missing form labels, empty buttons, and missing document language, with 96.5% of all detected errors falling into these categories. Addressing these issues alone would significantly improve accessibility across the web.

Forgetting to design for accessibility means that you are potentially failing to meet the needs of 15% of your target audience (WHO 2021). Implementing best-practices from the start ensures that all of your users are able to have a good experience.

How to apply accessibility throughout your work

Designing for a range of user needs can be a complex process, and there’s always room to improve. Here are three points to consider:

Keep learning

There are hundreds of resources available which contain all sorts of information to help you learn more about designing for accessibility. To start, you can read articles that people have created on the subject, especially if there is an article on the niche you are designing within.

Another way to learn is to see what has been done before. Run an accessibility checker on your competitors’ websites. If they’ve done well, look closer at what they’ve done. Look at what other large companies are doing, look at where they’ve failed, and where they have succeeded.

You can also run a chrome add-on, such as Funkify (which has a 4 day free trial) or Silktide (free), which simulates sight disabilities such as dyslexia, colour blindness, blurred vision, and partial vision loss. You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes.

Check it often

Run an accessibility check every week, month, or quarter (depending on how often it changes on your website), or if you are particularly on it you can run an accessibility check every time you make a major or structural change to the website you are designing.

Similarly, whenever you use a new background colour or new text colour, check the colours you want to use against the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. There are tools available online that will let you enter your hex codes and let you know if they are A, AA, or AAA compatible. Accessible web’s colour contrast checker is useful, and you can find others easily through google.

Make it easy for yourself

You’ll find it easier to design for accessibility if you embed it within the small actions that you take. For example, If you have a word template for article drafts and a section for images, add in a space for the alt text right next to the images. Then whenever you add in an image, add in the alt text. If you have a template you need to use, add in the accessibility reminders where appropriate. Before too long, these steps will become instinctual.

Still not sure where to start?

You can read WCAG 2.1 for more guidance on how to design for accessibility. Don’t forget to check all three levels, sometimes the difference between A, AA, and AAA is very small, making it worth jumping straight to the AAA guidance. If reading through documents isn’t for you, there are some simplified versions out there which help to break down what you should be doing to improve the accessibility of your website.

You can also run an accessibility check on your website to figure out what to improve next. A great chrome add-on tool to use is WAVE, which is powered by WebAIM. When run, it has a colour contrast checker and looks for any structural accessibility issues on the webpage it is checking.

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The great resignation, quiet quitting, skills shortages, in-housing nightmares… all phrases that have become increasingly common when talking about the workplace. There’s no denying that hybrid ways of working have changed the business landscape – and now, more than ever, businesses are looking at ways to optimise how they create content. But what is the best way to get great content?

The traditional options

Agencies

External agencies bring an outside perspective, and the potential to see creative and marketing opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. However, they’re also known for working in pretty rigid models and working in silo to your internal teams with account managers blocking access – missing possibilities for collaboration.

In-house teams

With your delivery team in-house you can realise the benefits of having your content created by a team who are already experts in your company and its culture, as well as having more creative and financial control over outputs. However, sometimes being part of the furniture can mean resource is not put to good use, creativity can get stale and the breadth of experience within the team can be limited.

Freelancers

Using freelance resource can be ideal for plugging some skills gaps, but they don’t come with out their own issues. Freelancers often don’t tend to, or want to, work as a part of a collaborative team, which can make managing wider projects where freelancers are involved more difficult. Plus there are added admin implications such as IR35 compliance and general management of disparate freelancers.

Recruiters

Recruiters can be a good option to help you find the resource you need for a particular project – but that’s kind of all they do. They aren’t content specialists, they focus on individuals rather than teams and don’t manage the people they put in your teams – so if it doesn’t work out you’re back to square one.

The Ah Um option

We’ve taken the best bits of in-house teams, freelancers, external agencies and recruiters and designed a way of creating content that delivers everything you need, in the most flexible, efficient way possible.


How do we do this? We build, embed and run the creative teams you need for your projects directly within your business, for the time you need them. So you can…

  • Get flexibility – onboard and stand down teams on a project-by-project basis, a bit like how an in-house team would work

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  • Realise top-level outputs – embedding a creative team for a particular project means you can achieve the outputs you need without letting other internal projects slip, and without increasing headcount, and long-term costs

  • Mitigate risk – increase the creative capabilities of your existing teams without taking on additional risk or admin – we’ll deal with any personnel absence/changes/issues so you don’t have to

So, you could say we’re like an external agency in structure and experience, but we deliver more like an integrated, in-house team. Our teams take the time to get really involved in your project, understanding the nitty gritty of your product and business, no matter how technical and work with you to get it right, while bringing the fresh eyes and outside perspective needed to make your comms and content strategy fresh, accessible and exciting for your audience.

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Take a sneak peek behind the scenes at Ah Um and get to know what Charley, our creative designer, gets up to day-to-day.

A typical day on client work 💪

At Ah Um we focus on understanding our clients before creating their content, so a typical morning for me might include reviewing some brand guidelines and messaging documents. When those don’t exist, I’ll use tools like colour-picking software which help me grab a palette from their existing website!

If we’re working with clients using the embedded team model, we will also join in on the client’s standups and meetings to ensure we’re working efficiently as part of their team.

For video and animation based projects, I’ll make a moodboard containing imagery, fonts, tone of voice and any other information which sets the client apart from its competitors. Once this is done I start the sketching phase. Check out our brainstorming article for the specifics! Then I’ll spend the afternoon working closely with the other project members, and help to create a pitch deck for us to showcase our ideas to the client.

A typical day with no client work 💡

On a day with no client biz I’ll work on designs, videos and animations for our social media channels.

I also make sure to spend time on my personal development, which includes good old chats with the boss about my ambitions, enrolling on courses to help me hone my skills, and watching the BEST youtube tutorials (thank you Ben Marriott).

Courses and development 🔧

One of my goals has been to improve my motion design and animation skills, so I have used my yearly training budget to take part in Ben Marriott’s Master Motion Design course. It was incredible! I’m obsessed with his tutorials and this course was just an entire new level of detail. I learned sooo many useful techniques and workflow tricks that can be applied to every project for a smoother overall process and improved end product. We covered loads of animation styles and took a deep dive into the technical bits of after effects (my favourite thing to nerd out about).

This year I’d love to look into hand-drawn animation courses as liquid motion and morphing would be super cool techniques to integrate into my work.

Work-life balance 🌳

I really enjoy being creative and I spend most of my free time doing things like design, film and music, so having a full time job in the area I enjoy the most makes me really happy. However, when working from home I sometimes use up all my creativity at work and have none left to use on my hobbies, and vice versa! I’ve found that going into the office once or twice a week helps me have that separation between work and life, and even if it’s been a super intense working day, I still feel like I can spend time on my hobbies at home.

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As the year comes to a close we’ve found some time to reflect on what we’ve learnt as an agency, and how we’ve grown over the past 12 months. From working with a diverse range of clients on projects of varying scale, to facing new professional and personal challenges, we have faced lots of learning curves and opportunities to grow.

To make sure these important learnings aren’t forgotten in the merry haze of Christmas, we’ve asked the team to share with us what they feel their most important takeaways from this year are.

Adrian — Managing Director

This year has felt like our “first proper year” as a business. We’re settled, both physically in our new office, and mentally with our agency offering and positioning. We’re more comfortable in what we do and are focusing in the areas we’re good at which is ultimately leading to better, more meaningful work. What really has been motivating is to be having exciting conversations everyday around creative innovation and the model we’re bringing to market. Everyone is interested. Not just our clients but everyone is asking questions — partners, press, contemporaries and our wider network of creative talent. It’s not all about the numbers, but performance is good too. We’re pretty happy to have had 116% growth YoY. Ultimately we are still a small, independent company without any funding in a competitive, changing market. Sometimes we can be over ambitious, get distracted or focus in the wrong areas. But with the vision we have, and increased rigour and focus in 2023, I’m pretty excited to see what we can achieve. In the next few years I’m hoping we’ll be defining the way creatives collaborate and work. Watch this space. And yea, we’ll finally put up our website in Jan because the best thing I did this year was take a few days off and let the team sort it out. Needless to say they smashed it. Thanks guys.

Maddie — UX Lead

One thing I’ve learnt this year after moving from a large company to a small agency is the importance of adaptability and flexibility. Smaller agencies tend to have less structure and are more fluid in terms of roles and responsibilities. This was a challenge for me at first, but it’s also been a great opportunity to learn new skills and take on a variety of tasks and projects. I’ve learnt the significance of effective communication and collaboration in a small team, as everyone plays an important role in the success of Ah Um. Overall working here has been a valuable learning experience that has taught me the importance of adaptability and the value of strong communication and collaboration in small teams.

Lorna — Content Lead

The big thing I’ve learned this year is that I love being back in the office! It’s so great to regularly be seeing the team in person, working closely together throughout the day and exploring all the great stuff on our doorstep. Plus we’ve even started having in-person meetings with clients, which makes such a difference.

I’ve also been reminded again and again what a great team we have. Everyone works hard and pulls together, always having fun as they do. And we continue to champion the things that are important to us — mental health, wellness, personal interests and personal development. Here’s to 2023 and great things for Ah Um!

Sam — Copywriter

The fact that we’ve worked across a range of clients from multiple industries (and pitched to others) has been a great experience. It’s been useful to learn from a diverse group of people, particularly about their own challenges, and how we could solve them through content production and strategy.

From a copywriting perspective, I’d say this year has also been beneficial in getting experience writing on a lot of different projects, with different formats/audiences in mind. Writing across social media / email / sales decks / scripts has taught me a lot in how to tailor writing to the medium.

Charley — Creative Designer

This year I’ve learnt that I really enjoy being immersed in the clients’ world and understanding their values completely before getting into the creative work. It really helps my design visions come together and makes the workload feel lighter.

And that’s a wrap…

2022 done, almost! Looking to the new year, we’re excited to continue defining our creative collaboration model and achieving even greater success. Here’s to 2023!

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