Accessibility is now thought of as an essential - but too often it remains a late-stage box-ticking exercise. Piotr Wiśniewski, creative director at Admind, argues that accessibility shouldn't be thought of as a mere requirement, but an opportunity to expand the experience your brand can offer into new sensory realms.
Approximately 15% of the world's population experience some form of disability. Meanwhile populations, especially in developed countries, are continuing to age. In countries where life expectancy exceeds 70 years, people spend 11.5% of their lives living with a disability. Therefore, with the increasing digitization of our lives, brands need to consider the potential accessibility issues faced by senior users when creating online communication.
Accessibility is not just an issue concerning seniors or people with permanent disabilities; limitations can also be situational or temporary. It could be a broken arm, forgotten glasses, or taking a noisy streetcar. Designing with ease of access in mind helps all users.
How brands benefit from accessibility
Recently, Magna found that inaccessible communication carries negative repercussions for brands. 81% of respondents reported a damaging emotional reaction when brand communications were unavailable; and 38% felt frustrated.
When brands communicate accessibly, they benefit. Communications help prospective consumers interact with a company while building an emotional connection that can strengthen brand loyalty. A clear commitment to accessibility shows a company’s sense of social responsibility.
Accessible design is becoming more common in web and app development, focusing largely on the availability of different colors (contrast, color combinations), the typography used (type, size), or the addition of alternative text or audio description.
Unfortunately, when accessibility comes up in a project, mistakes still occur. And it's often only considered at audit level – at the moment when the project is almost ready. The issue of accessibility should accompany the design process from the beginning and be an outcome, not an audit practice.
Visual brand identity v accessibility
The matter becomes more complicated when thinking about brand identity. Some visual brand assets can make it impossible to provide visual accessibility - the color palette used in most brand communications has insufficient contrast. Even big brands like Airbnb and Twitter use inaccessible visual assets.
We need to redefine this approach and view accessibility as a way to think anew. Start creating brand visual identities in the spirit of accessibility from the get-go to avoid unnecessary friction at later stages of communication.
Digital accessibility: a new approach to brand identity
The digital age is a visual one. As a result, brands tend to stop at the sense of sight and forget the others. Brands need to think beyond the prism of a single sense and incorporate a multi-sensory approach.
Designing brand identity systems more holistically will help to create full digital experiences. Marketers need to change the way they think about brand communication and prioritize accessibility to engage more than one sense. They can build an ecosystem of communication where image, sound, and vibration work together to reflect a brand's character and personality. Each visual element should have a corresponding mirror image in sound and vibration. For instance, a graphic logo can be reflected in audio.
Sound branding isn't a new phenomenon; big brands are already evolving their communication in this area but often, they don't explore all the opportunities available. Marketers need to take full advantage of the capabilities offered by tech; otherwise, brand perceptions (by blind people and beyond) will be shallow.
Accessibility can become an inspiration jumping-off point for seeking new, fuller experiences that engage different senses to build greater engagement and a stronger relationship to brand.
Rebraining: the new opening
There is a misconception that designing for optimal accessibility will result in poor aesthetics. Designing in the spirit of accessibility allows projects to develop and improve. Rebranding is the perfect time to fix what didn't work before; to integrate accessibility into design rather than treat it independently. Accessibility is a tool for building successful, inclusive user experiences, encompassing all aspects of design and touchpoints.
Marketers should think about the human perspective when creating a brand identity. Barriers that may previously have acted as obstacles should be reconsidered as inspiration to create better, more complete experiences.
Creating more accessible assets will only broaden audiences, reduce traction frustration, and build more emotional connections between audiences and brands. Accessibility is a vital part of any communication and business strategy.