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Designing for the future: How to make your website accessible, sustainable & responsible

Discover how sustainable & accessible web design can elevate your website. Improve user experience, attract a wider audience & boost SEO with these actionable tips.

Published July 3, 2024

Introduction

Reflecting on today’s digital climate, websites are no longer just online brochures; they are essential tools for businesses and  organisations  to connect with their audience. But how a website is designed can have a significant impact, not just on user experience, but also on the environment and the accessibility of information for all. This article explores three key aspects of responsible web design: accessibility, sustainability, and overall responsibility.

The accessible website

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.3 billion people - 16% of the global population - live with some type of physical or cognitive disability (Source: WHO). If your website is not accessible, you’re missing out on a significant portion of potential customers.

Web accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites that are usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. This includes people with disabilities, situational limitations, or even temporary impairments. The goal of web accessibility is to ensure everyone has equal access to information and functionality on the web.

Here are some benefits of web accessibility:

  • Inclusivity: A website that is accessible reaches a wider audience, including people with disabilities who represent a significant portion of the population.
  • Improved SEO: Search engines favour websites that are well-structured and follow accessibility best practise.
  • Reduced Errors: Many accessibility improvements also enhance the overall user experience for everyone, not just those with disabilities.
  • Legal Compliance: In many countries, there are laws and regulations mandating a certain level of web accessibility for government websites and public services.

In order to create an accessible website, we have compiled several tips to consider when designing your webpage:

WCAG compliance

Follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for best practices. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It's a set of internationally recognised recommendations developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.  WCAG compliance refers to a website meeting these guidelines to a specific level.

Clear and concise content

Using simple language and proper formatting is easier to understand for everyone, particularly those with cognitive or learning disabilities. Clear and concise language also allows those with ADHD or dyslexia to focus on the information at hand. Lastly, people who rely on screen readers benefit from clear and concise content as concise writing makes it easier for the reader to understand the information being presented.

Alternative text

Alternative text (“alt text”) allows for those who are blind or visually impaired to interpret images using screen readers. Good alt text provides a written description of the image, conveying its meaning and context, so impaired users can understand what information the image contributes to the web page. Alt text allows all users to have equal access to information, and even improves user experience for non-impaired users who may have poor internet and cannot load the image in its entirety. Alt text even improves search engine optimisation (SEO).

Keyboard navigation

Keyboard navigation is essential for users with assistive technologies. People with motor limitations or those who use screen readers rely on keyboards to navigate websites.  Keyboard navigation allows them to move through the website, interact with elements, and access information using just the keyboard. Additionally, keyboard navigation creates a clear focus for users, indicating which element on the webpage is currently active.  This is especially helpful for users with attention difficulties or those who use screen readers.

Colour contrast

People with visual impairments like low vision or colour blindness may struggle to distinguish text and background colours with poor contrast.  High colour contrast ensures clear visibility of text and other elements, making the website usable for everyone. For all users, sufficient colour contrast between text and background reduces eye strain. This is especially important for users who spend extended periods reading on screens.

The sustainable website

By 2025, communications tech (inclusive of websites) will emit more carbon than any country except China, India and the U.S., amounting to 3.7% of global carbon emissions (SustainableWebDesign.org). If you’ve never considered how sustainable your website is (or is not), then chances are you are missing out on easy fixes that will not only speed up your website, but also save energy and have less of a carbon footprint.

Sustainable web design is all about creating websites with a minimal environmental impact. At its core, it focuses on efficient resource management and energy-saving practises. Having a sustainable website involves making several changes in your current design to optimise the way your website functions and how much energy it uses loading pages and existing on the internet.

Below are some developer-approved tips to get your website on track for more sustainable functionality:

Optimise code

Less complex code requires less processing power from servers, which translates to lower energy consumption. A streamlined website with efficient code will load faster for users. This improves user experience and can even boost your ranking in search results, as search engines favour faster loading websites.

Compress images

Smaller image files require less data to be transferred between the server and the user's device. This translates to less energy used by data centres and internet infrastructure. Think of it like sending a postcard instead of a whole box – less energy is used for transport.

Choose a green web hosting provider

Green web providers prioritise renewable energy sources like wind, solar, or hydro power to run their data centres. This significantly cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional providers relying on fossil fuels. Choosing a web hosting provider powered by renewable energy sources ensures your website itself is running on clean, sustainable power.

Utilise content delivery networks (CDNs)

Utilising Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) distributes website content across geographically dispersed servers, minimising the distance data needs to travel and further reducing energy consumption. Many CDNs offer content optimisation features that can further reduce the environmental impact. These features can include:

  • Image and video optimisation: Techniques like resizing, reformatting, and removing unnecessary data can significantly shrink file sizes without compromising quality. Smaller files require less energy to transmit.
  • Caching: Frequently accessed content is stored on the CDN's edge servers, reducing the need for the main server to be constantly accessed and lowering overall energy usage.

Optimise the user journey and experience

Optimising the user journey and experience means that there is less user frustration, less clicking around looking for what they need (which uses energy!), fewer repeat visits and lower server load. Eliminating unnecessary steps and dead ends gives you a happier user and a more sustainable website.

The responsible website

Web design responsibility refers to the duties and expectations associated with the role of a web designer.  These encompass various stages of the website creation process, ensuring the final product is not just visually attractive but also functional and accessible. And in today’s world of global climate change, sustainable.

Here are Novicell’s top tips for implementing web design responsibility:

Data security

Data security is a crucial aspect of web design responsibility for several reasons. First, user’s information is protected. A web designer has a responsibility to ensure that their user’s data is secure and protected from unauthorised access, breaches or leaks. Data security also builds users trust, and web design that prioritises data security fosters trust and creates a positive user experience. By taking data security seriously and integrating it into their design process, web designers can create websites that are not only functional and user-friendly but also secure and trustworthy for everyone.

Transparency

In today's digital age, users are increasingly concerned about their privacy and how their data is being used.  A transparent web design approach fosters trust by being clear and upfront with users about what information is being collected, how it's used, and with whom it's shared.  This openness builds confidence and encourages users to interact with the website.

Respectful and inclusive design

The web should be accessible and welcoming to everyone. Respectful design prioritises the needs of diverse users, considering factors like culture, ability and background. This ensures everyone can navigate the website comfortably and find the information they need. Unconscious bias can creep into web design choices, potentially excluding or marginalising certain user groups. Additionally, respectful design overlaps with accessibility best practices. It ensures features like clear language, proper colour contrast and keyboard navigation are implemented, making the website usable and inclusive for people with disabilities.

Conclusion

By embracing these principles of responsible web design, businesses and organisations can create websites that are not only visually appealing and user-friendly, but also sustainable, accessible to everyone, and trustworthy. This not only benefits the environment and users with disabilities, but also fosters trust and strengthens a website's overall impact. By following the tips and best practices outlined in this article, you can ensure your website is not just beautiful but sustainable, inclusive, and responsible in every way.

Wanna know more?

Get in touch with us today to find out how your website can be more accessible, sustainable and responsible.

Freddie Green
Creative Director
Freddie Green