The Secret Ingredient of a Great Designer (Part 4 of 4)

This year I was privileged to attend An Event Apart, Washington DC Edition. In this four-part series, I'll share insights from my trip, and talk about how empathy transforms a good designer into a great one.

If you haven't already, read part 1, 2, and 3 of this series!

A Great Designer Designs for Everyone

As a designer, I like to think we have the best intentions when making design decisions. Unfortunately, accessibility is not something that has been a high priority for many of us. It’s usually a “nice to have,” or “We’ll get to it if we have some extra time.” Sound familiar?

However, stories like this are cropping up:

Tech's Moral Reckoning headlines

It’s embarrassing. I see myself as forward-thinking, enlightened, and kind. But honestly, I’m pretty privileged. And I have enough privilege that I can ignore accessibility concerns and dismiss them as “edge case.” Not everyone has that privilege.

“We consider ourselves disruptive without sufficient consideration for the people and institutions we disrupt.”

- Anil Dash


Michael Sui talked with us about Human Centered Design Ethics. At Airbnb, he is a champion of accessibility, specifically from the UI/UX designer point-of-view. His team developed an in-house sketch tool called Design Lint that helped Airbnb design teams across the country increase accessibility of their digital experiences. They changed their whole design process from start to finish: updating deliverables to include color contrast ratios in their color palettes and specific usage guidelines to accompany them. They use focus groups and usability testing to identify poor copy choices. There are so many amazing things I wish I could show you, but unfortunately they were proprietary, so you’ll have to attend An Event Apart sometime and ask him about it!

For him, it became about so much more than just following a set of guidelines. Accessibility is a technique. Inclusive design (a practice of consciously designing experiences that let people belong) is a behavior, and it’s cultural. Our design decisions reveal our core cultural values.

“Inclusive design is a process. It is intentional facilitation/crafting of interactions within an ecosystem that incorporates inclusion as a core value.”

- Derek Featherstone

Derek Featherstone also spoke about Inclusive UX.

Starting with sketches and wireframes, we should be evaluating our designs for accessibility issues on an ongoing basis. You shouldn’t create something and pass it down, assembly-line fashion, for someone else to work on and never touch it again. It should be an environment of continuous collaboration, where accessibility is discussed from multiple perspectives.

We can integrate inclusive design into our process by:

  • Educating ourselves about the latest accessibility guidelines
  • Communicating via wireframes, storyboards, annotations
  • Incorporating Inclusive UX now, where we can, and prioritizing inclusive design as a “must have” in future projects.
  • Reverse engineering an existing site: Take a finished design and create a wireframe to identify accessibility problems. Ask yourselves how you could plan better in the future.
  • Creating interaction tables: Take an inventory of existing elements, their triggering events, results of the interactions and ARIA states.

“Nice to have” and “edge case” accessibility issues today will be tomorrow’s accessibility standard. Get ahead of the curve and address accessibility concerns now, not simply to be in compliance, but because it is the right thing to do. You have the ability and the power to make life easier for other human beings.

Further Reading:

Tech’s Moral Reckoning

Able, Allowed and Should by Margaret Gould Stewart

How to Meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 ← Just updated in June 2018!

WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices 1.1

The A11Y Project

MIND Patterns: Accessibility Patterns for the Web

Accessibility For Teams

Design Resources:

NCSU Color Contrast Analyzer Chrome Add-On

Color Contrast Checker

The Accessible Icon Project

There were EIGHTEEN amazing talks an An Event Apart DC, and I wish I could recap all of them. Each speaker brought something wonderfully unique to the table, and my brain is overflowing with inspiration. I love AEA conferences because you get such a nice variety of perspectives: marketing, design, development, and management. I’ve learned something practical and actionable from each one.

If you ever have the chance to attend An Event Apart conference, please take advantage of the opportunity. They offer conferences in all areas of the country, so there’s sure to be one headed your way soon!

Erin Fike
Graphic Designer
or drop us a note and say hello!