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(Last updated: February 17, 2023)

Accessible Systems


If you design for everyone, you design for no one.
— Fulton Suri, Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design, 2005.

The design process typically goes something like this. A branding agency huddles in their studio around a new client they’ve received and begins to develop a strong strategic framework that can be used to build out this new or existing brand. The strategists then work their magic and pass it back to the designers to express visual executions across those established strategic territories. Once the client selects a visual direction, the design team begins to develop that system to include a logo or wordmark, color, typography and given environments that adhere to the project needs. Once the system is developed into a dynamic set of guidelines, it is then handed off to a “digital agency” or “interaction studio” to execute the given identity system across “interactive” environments. Then, something interesting happens as the system gets in the hands of the interaction designers.

The interaction team goes on to find opportunities for the brand to be executed across UI/UX patterns, cards, buttons and other visual motifs. As they are testing and flexing this identity system, they realize that most of the assets including typography, color, and animation don’t meet the testable success criteria for accessibility standards. This criteria is measured across three levels, A, AA, and AAA. Why is this? You would think that the branding team who interviewed countless humans from all backgrounds would have considered the use of potential accessibility concerns when developing this identity. Identity systems should be designed for an inclusive audience, right? This might seem like a typical story from an interaction designer. Once these system flaws are discovered, they then have to push back on the brand team. Even worse, the brand team finds out later from the interaction studio and gets annoyed when their colors or typography doesn’t match up to the guidelines they’ve meticulously built out.

I’ve been both, the identity designer not considering accessibility standards along with the interaction designer that gets annoyed when accessibility wasn’t considered in an identity system. From working at branding agencies at all scales, not once has the idea of accessibility ever been brought to the surface in a critique, client conversation or a touchpoint in the deliverables until I stepped foot into an interaction design space.

It’s the job of the identity designer to test every single potential logo, typographic and color treatment to meet the needs of strategy along with the clients needs. So then, why hasn’t accessibility been considered? How do we consider accessibility standards while designing these dynamic and ubiquitous identity systems? While in many ways, under the mythical idea of the average consumer.1 Especially now that these systems are being scrolled past, shared and moving in various ways. This shouldn’t be a restriction, it should be an opportunity and primary framework into how we work as designers, identity or interaction, labels aside. Brands are missing audience insights and opportunities to extend their reach by not addressing these accessibility concerns. Identities now, more than ever, are living and breathing systems that flex across an outstanding number of surfaces and each and every one of those surfaces should be considered and legible to every consumer. It shouldn’t just be the role of the interaction designer to consider these criteria, but for all designers.

  1. Kuang, Cliff, and Robert Fabricant. User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play. Picador, 2020.