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Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production
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How to Make 2024 the Year Your Brand Embraces Accessible Design
21/11/2023
Group745
Publication
London, UK
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As the 2025 European Accessibility Act deadline looms, brands and marketers need to get moving - but help is at hand, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton
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You know what they say. The best time to start an accessible design journey is five years ago, the second best time is today. If your brand’s New Year’s resolution is to bring accessible design into your business, brand, products and experience, then congratulations - it looks like your 2024 is going to be a particularly rewarding and transformative year! But if you’re still looking for ideas and inspiration, or you’re worried about getting it right or getting the rest of the business to buy in, we’ve spoken to a group of experts from brands and agencies to get you started.

In case you’re new to the concept, accessible design is a design process that focuses on the needs of people who have disabilities and which understands disability as something that arises due to obstacles created in the environment or experience with which people are interacting. That is to say, if someone can’t access your brand’s website, store, or content that’s a problem with your brand.

These accessible design tips for marketers and designers should help you understand where you need to get to but also how to build momentum and get buy-in from across your organisation. In just over a year, the European Accessibility Act 2025 comes into force, which will penalise businesses whose platforms and experiences throw up obstacles for users with disabilities. But don’t be intimidated, as our experts attest, accessible design is a practice that’s rewarding and can create unimaginable business benefits.


Know Your Audience

The possibilities that accessible and inclusive design offer are exciting, but before launching yourself enthusiastically into building a new product or experience, make sure you really understand the needs of who you’re creating for. Estyn Jones, creative director of experience design at R/GA Australia recommends building ‘groundwork’ before bowling into well meaning but poorly-informed new products or experiences. “Accessibility and inclusive design starts with a deep understanding of your user base. Some may have specific disabilities or visual impairments, while others might face situational constraints that impact their experience,” he says. “Research and observation is a good way to see first hand how experiences are being used. Interview diverse audience groups. Reach out to communities and groups that are designed to support those with accessibility needs. And observe people interacting with your service in their own environments or in typical environments you expect them to be engaging. “

“Know your audience,” agrees Paul Adams, creative technology lead for Accenture Song Southeast Asia. “This is the first rule in communication. Research and ask questions. Learn as much as you can about your users, e.g., how they talk, read, or ways of communicating that can impact how they might interact with the content you create.”

Ultimately it comes down to empathy, says David Chamberlain, chief design officer for Momentum Worldwide, North America. “The journey towards embedding accessible design thinking into the complete guest journey begins with empathy. It’s about genuinely understanding the diverse needs of your audience. By actively listening and observing your customers and considering their unique perspectives, you can identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.”


Proactive Collaboration with Disability Communities

To really make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, it’s important to make sure that you don’t simply see disability communities as passive research pools. People with disabilities should be central and engaged in a proactive and responsive manner.

“Proactively incorporate listening and learning from disability communities throughout projects,” says Dr Josh Loebner, Global HEad of Inclusive Design. “Nothing about us without us and with not for are rally cries amongst disability advocates and allies, both conveying a central theme that conversations and commitments that include accessibility, rights and other endeavours focused on these communities need to include them as well.”

Even better, make sure that your own organisation is truly diverse and inclusive so that your teams can be driven by people with relevant insight and experience. “Diverse teams make better and more inclusive projects and to do this your internal and partner teams should encompass different perspectives, skill sets, experiences, and demographics,” says Estyn Jones. “That’s crucial to bringing the best ideas and surfacing the challenges faced by those with accessibility needs.”

This also means being open to feedback that may be negative or critical. At Diageo, when developing their Johnnie Walker Princes Street experience, the team noticed that one of their distillery tours had received scathing reviews on Euan’s Guide, a disabled access review site. Instead of shutting critical voices out,  global design director Jeremy Lindley says that they actively engaged with them, and worked with Paul Ralph, an inclusive tourism specialist at Euan’s Guide who helped the team ensure that the multi-million pound development would be effectively designed.
 
Lean into the fact that the people who will want to point out issues that they’re having with your current platform or service are exactly who you should be listening to - and make it easy for them to share their experiences. “Make access to online support easy and visible, as well as setting up feedback loops within your site, so that individuals facing difficulties can quickly and efficiently share their concerns,” recommends Estyn.


Don't Be Afraid to Reach Out

At the beginning of the journey, there can be a lot of complexities to navigate and new jargon to learn. Thankfully, there is a passionate community of experts who are committed to the very real human rights issue of accessibility. Sometimes the best way to clear the confusion is to simply have a conversation.

"Reach out to an accessible design industry leader," urges Josh. "I can guarantee our doors are always open to share a conversation.Another consideration would be to attend an industry event where there’s a panel, keynote speaker or other conversation about disability inclusion and accessibility."


Priorities Impactful Projects and Quick Wins to Build Momentum 

One thing that soon becomes apparent once you start unpicking all of the possible accessibility concerns around your brand, product and services is that every touchpoint has the capacity to include or exclude - and that there are many different needs to accommodate. It can feel overwhelming. So how do you prioritise where to start?

Jeremy Lindley empathises with that feeling of being confused and unable to figure out first steps. “There is a risk that you can feel overwhelmed by the thought of making changes to become more accessible,” he says. “My advice would be to fix what you can – start with the needs of which you are aware and remember that you are unlikely to be able to satisfy every requirement in the short term.  Starting the journey to inclusive design is important, and the learnings along the way will make your designs better for everyone.” 

Brad Scott, principal at Applied Design, recommends figuring out which aspects are going to have the most impact on the greatest number of people - and also looking for the quick wins. “Focus on the client, the product/service they offer, and their target audience. Identify the dimensions of accessibility that will help reach/work for the greatest number of people and start there. Next go for the things that are quick to implement, there are some things like closed captioning and appropriate contrast ratios, for example, that are both effective and easy to implement,” he says.

Identifying these quick wins can be tricky, particularly as different media channels have different constraints, opportunities and mechanisms. Josh says that an accessibility expert can help you identify opportunities more efficiently.

“Different marketing channels require varied commitments towards accessibility,” explains Josh. “Work with accessibility experts to better understand what, among marketing channels, would be some quick wins, and those that will take longer. As an example in the fast-moving consumer goods category it’s much faster to make a change to a package label, to include a QR code for connected packaging that benefits those with visual disabilities, than retooling manufacturing or materials to create an easy-open-package. That doesn’t mean the easy-open-package shouldn’t be developed, but just prioritised in a way that other accessibility considerations could be established sooner than others.” 

If you are able to tackle something really consequential with a large enough reach, it can also really help galvanise support from across your organisation and with external patterns, which then creates momentum. 

Paul Adams at Accenture Song breaks down how that might work. “Tackle the biggest impact (which could be language that you use towards end-users or converting all image buttons to text buttons to make them more machine readable) first to gain buy-in and then use that as a beacon to drive other conversations through the different parts of the organisation. Even better if you can gain external recognition from agencies to help support your mission. It’s helpful to have data to substantiate your decisions, such as site traffic, conversation rates, CTR, etc., to present a compelling business case for investment and alignment.  


Facts Are Your Friends When It Comes to Buy In

Paul’s advice leads us to the issue that can make the difference between accessible design being a siloed off side project and being a transformational force for good - buy in.

Thankfully, one thing that you have on your side is facts. The benefits of accessible design are easily demonstrated.

“Facts, evidence and first hand insight are your best allies. Seeing is believing,” says Estyn. “So go out and get proof, and find creative ways to test and share recordings with people. Challenge people in your business to complete tasks in real-life scenarios, or set up examples of how others might use your products.”

There’s also a pretty strong business case for it too, says Brad Scott. “Make a business case for it, show them the numbers. One in four people have a disability. To potentially miss 25% of your target audience due to a lack of accessible design is a huge loss.”
 
Jeremy Lindley has your back with three substantial reports that really underline those numbers. “The business case for diversity and inclusion is strong.  At Diageo we talk about Inclusive Design as being both the right thing to do, and also that it produces better business results. McKinsey have produced three reports between 2015 and 2022 that outline the strong business case for diversity and inclusion:  Why diversity matters; Delivering through diversityDiversity wins: how inclusion matters.  

Accessible Design Helps Everyone

While accessible design often focuses on niche groups of users with highly specific needs, it turns out that niche solutions can often make life better for your broader customer base too. It’s a strong argument when you’re fighting for commitment and resources internally.

“Investing in accessible solutions has always provided outsized benefits. Ramps assist wheelchair users in getting around, along with parents pushing prams and travellers lugging suitcases,” says Re’s Jon Hewitt. “More recently, the streaming wars have given captions a new, surprising lease of life. Created for the hearing impaired, it’s now used by second language learners, commuters on rattling trains and teenagers in close proximity to their parents. Closed captions have found use beyond their original, intended audience. It shows that investments in accessibility have future, outsized returns: a better quality of life for everyone.”


Reach Out to Existing Advocates

Josh points out that you likely have a cohort of potential advocates with a vested interest in the success of accessible design within your business.

“With one in five people globally identifying as disabled, I can guarantee some are already part of the brand, whether in the workforce or among key stakeholders and consumers, but these groups may not be as engaged or connected because they’ve not been heard or seen,” says Josh. “To gain buy-in across the business, start with listening to internal employee resource groups, industry organisations that advocate for greater accessibility, industry peers that are advancing in the space, and ultimately consumers with disabilities. This listening provides irrefutable foundational data to recognize gaps that need to be bridged. From there, facilitate workshops to plan and construct roadmaps forward on the pathway of progress. 
 

Bridge the Communication Gap

Talking of internal advocates, Paul Adams reminds us that it’s important to ensure that all of the functions involved in creating or maintaining a product, service or experience are on the same page about what accessible design is and why your organisation is embracing it. 

“There is a great gap in understanding what accessible design is, especially in the development space,” he says. “I remember asking a potential job candidate who was an engineer for his take on accessibility, and he started talking about access rights; another one said that it was business users making decisions that would affect the end-user. For context, we discussed why someone with a larger screen would be privileged to information vs someone with a smaller screen. One could result in the end-user being in jail for not knowing what they signed off on due to hidden information. Accessibility design principles had to be put in place to avoid that scenario.  
 
“From a content design perspective, the gap also extends to businesses and designers,” he continues. “Content designers are often only brought in at the end of the project for copyediting, but it’s important to understand how all the content should come together in service to the user versus being seen as language to wordsmith or create.”


Embrace Flexibility Over Perfection

The likelihood of your brand being ‘fully accessible’, that is to say, that you’ve anticipated and designed for every possible need is small. And that’s particularly true when you’re at the early stages of your accessible transformation.

The best way to ensure that everyone can be included is to foster a culture of flexibility and empowered employees who are willing and able to adapt and find human-level solutions.

That’s something that Jeremy Lindley learned when working with Paul Ralph on Johnnie Walker Princes Street and Diageo’s Scotland Distillery Visitor Experiences. “I asked Paul to help us make the brand experience centres “fully inclusive”. Paul’s response was that it was unlikely we would ever be able to anticipate the needs of every visitor – and in fact some needs would contradict others. Instead Paul advised us to make every effort to provide accessible design, but also to create a culture of welcomeness, flexibility and problem solving with the teams. I am very proud of the teams that work across our Scotland Brand Homes who live this inclusive culture every day, working hard to understand and accommodate the needs of everyone.  A culture of inclusion is as important as physical access.”

 

Accessibility Should Be At the Heart of Design

It’s tempting to think that accessible design is only or primarily linked with the design of digital experiences. It’s not - it touches your print, outdoor, physical retail spaces, video content and more. And so accessibility should be at the heart of your whole design ethos, and your brand architecture, from logo to tone of voice and colour palette, should be evaluated for their accessibility over multiple platforms. 

“More often than not, a brand’s visual identity and guidelines overlook digital considerations and fail to consider accessibility in their visual language,” explains Estyn. “For example, primary colours that aren't distinguishable for colour blind individuals or small, condensed typefaces that pose challenges for people with specific learning disorders. 
“When accessibility isn’t considered at this top level, then a product will never really be designed for accessibility. We’ll always prioritise the brand over the experience and neglecting aspects like colour contrast, typeface choice, CTA labelling, and image accessibility. “

WCAG - the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - are globally recognised standards for accessible digital experiences and Jon Hewitt at Re advises that the WCAG principles can inform your whole approach. “Define a creative approach that puts WCAG accessibility principles at the core of the brand’s development. These principles go far beyond just accessible colour contrast and influence a range of things including how brands create content, for example ensuring subtitles, captions and audio descriptions are created for video.”

Paul Adams concurs. “Leverage the WCAG2.1 standards, colour and font guidelines, specifically around contrast, spacing and typographic sizes. At Accenture, we adopt a design system that encompasses these and enforces reuse as well as document error scenarios of when parts can go wrong, such as form validation, and how to handle these.”


Accessibility Isn't a One-and-Done

Ultimately accessible design isn’t a one-off effort or an exercise in checking a box. To succeed it requires integration across an organisation’s whole culture.
“It’s not merely about complying with legal regulations or checking boxes; it is about embracing the mindset that champions diversity and ensures that everyone, regardless of abilities or limitations, can fully engage with and enjoy a brand’s experience,” says David Chamberlain.

“Accessibility is not just a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing commitment. Regular audits and user testing are essential to ensure that your brand experience remains inclusive. Feedback from individuals with disabilities should be actively sought and welcomed, enabling you to make continuous improvements,” he continues. “Lastly, accessible design thinking is not an isolated concept; it’s a journey that permeates every facet of a brand’s guest experience. By embracing this mindset and consistently working towards inclusivity, brands can create experiences that resonate with a broader audience, foster loyalty, and most importantly, make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

That sense of cohesion will take time to develop, though. So while a holistic embrace of accessible design thinking is, indeed, the long-term goal - it’s also true that the more accessible design projects you do, the more enthusiasm spreads and culture starts to change.

“Wonderfully, these projects imbue an ongoing passion that individuals and teams push to continue across other projects and programmes,” says Josh. “Each project launched is a fulcrum of change dynamically impacting some communities and inviting them into brand narratives, and consumer engagement for the first time is powerful.” 


Don't Wait for a Company-Wide Mandate

While successful accessible design is something that is integrated across an organisation, it’s unlikely that that’s your starting point. If you’re a marketer or designer working at a brand, you might feel tempted to hold back and wait for a mandate from the CEO -- but that might well lead to a crazy scramble when laws change. In Europe, for example, companies have until 2025 to comply with the European Accessibility Act - and they do risk being fined if their digital platforms are not sufficiently accessible.

But a marketing or design department might find that it can make a start on developing its accessible design practice, doing that initial research, ensuring that the brand’s assets are sufficiently legible, that content is subtitled. All of that will help build evidence and, hopefully, create something that the rest of the organisation can understand and embrace. 

“Start with design,” says Paul Adams. “This is high enough upstream to help shape the conversations that naturally flow downstream. Most of the designers at Song are trained in ethnographic research so they can empathise with end-users for who end-users are. Some accessibility designs are straight-forward e.g., handling colour that focuses on contrast; some are behind-the-scenes and take longer to change e.g., animations, multimedia content, images or even making a website menu accessible can be challenging. Start with what you can influence. If you wait for the organisation to agree on one vision or a law to pass mandating accessibility, then you’ll be in panic mode.”









Resources


OK, you’re ready to get started - but where can you turn to for more depth? Our experts have shared some guides and tools.


Starting Points
Microsoft's Inclusive Design Hub has a range of resources including the Inclusive 101 Design Guidebook and Inclusive Activity Cards

WCAG2.1 Web guidelines for most up to date international online accessibility  standards

Technical Tools
These tools can help evaluate web accessibility but human assessment is still needed, including feedback from real users.

FIGMA offers a suite of plugins for accessibility that helps to check web designs against compliance. Figma’s a11y, checks the contrast ratio of text against WCAG’s AA and AAA compliance levels. 
WAVE helps you evaluate how accessible your web content is. 
Pa11Y is a web dashboard that runs accessibility tests on your web pages automatically.
JAWS at commonly used screen reader software that turns text into audio or Braille. 
Google Lighthouse: Monitors aspects of your site like load times, accessibility, and search engine optimization. 
Accessibility Insights: An open-source product developed by Microsoft that carries out conducts automated checks to pinpoint prevalent accessibility issues. 


Organisations and Communities
Where to find groups to work with
Employee resource groups centering on disability, deaf communities and neurodiversity 
National organisations centering on disability and accessibility, such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind, and/or SCOPE in the United Kingdom (there are similar organisations focused on particular disability types and government entities across the globe)
Student disability centres at universities 
Disability cultural centres 
Civic accessibility organisations in local communities

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