Is Web accessibility part of your brand standards?
Here’s what you should know as a brand strategist, art director, graphic designer, or marketing professional:
- Roughly 1 in 4 U.S. adults are living with a disability.
- Online accessibility is a civil rights issue.
- 71% of people with a disability will abandon a website that’s difficult to use.
Creating strong brand standards requires planning, strategy, and buy-in from your entire organization. Accessibility in marketing may seem like a complicated topic, but with a few simple guidelines and shifts in process, you can make changes that hugely benefit your brand (and users) in many ways.
If you’re thinking about refreshing your brand it could be an opportunity to refresh how accessibility is applied to your brand standards. Crafting digital experiences for all people, including those with visual, auditory, physical, or cognitive disabilities, starts with planning and designing for accessibility. An inclusive brand is for all to enjoy.
What are brand standards?
Brand standards are guidelines an organization puts together that help ensure that your writing, social media, print material, visual identity, and web presence are all consistent across different channels. For example, if someone comes to your company’s Facebook profile and then sees a printed pamphlet, they should be able to tell that both are from the same organization. They’re designed to help ensure people can immediately recognize who you are.
Who uses brand standards?
Employees, agencies, freelancers, students, faculty, administrators and legal teams have all reached out to me as a marketer to ask more about brand standards and how to best apply them to their work. They guide people on how to best represent an organization in a consistent way.
What is Web accessibility?
Ultimately, Web accessibility is about whether people can access your website easily and effectively. A quick checklist for your website would include:
- Is it easy to understand?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Can everyone see the colour contrast?
- Does your website work with a screen reader?
- Can you navigate with only a keyboard?
- Is the content still available when you zoom in?
Web accessibility standards can also be applied to social media, email marketing, a brand’s visual identity (such as fonts and colour) and brand voice. The more I learn about it the more I realize that there’s an enormous amount of overlap with marketing.
Basics of brand standards
Brand standards are essentially an instruction manual and rule book on how to communicate your brand. When people think of a brand they often think of logos, but really they go beyond that. Here are other basics that they should include:
- Voice and tone
- Brand values
This isn’t an exhaustive list but all of these are elements you can directly tie to best practices for Web accessibility.
Colours share a powerful connection with our emotions. That’s why they’re a huge part of every brand. We recognize the golden arches from the highway or a phone screen. We understand what kind of coffee comes from a smiling green Siren.
Yet, many don’t have the ability to see in colour. It’s estimated that 1 in 12 men are affected by colour blindness. When developing your brand standards you need to find a balance between brand colours and usability for all.
How to choose accessible colours for your brand
It’s a known fact that brands with great colour schemes didn’t come across them by accident. Large companies are very intentional with the colours they choose and there’s a lot of research that suggests that colour psychology plays a big part in how your audience feels about your brand. However, most of that becomes irrelevant when you consider that not everyone can see colour.
There’s a community dedicated to creating guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They cover a wide range of recommendations for making content that’s more accessible and inclusive.
In terms of colour accessibility, it’s recommended that brands use contrast to measure the difference in perceived brightness between two colours. This brightness difference is expressed as a ratio ranging from 1:1 (e.g. white on white) to 21:1 (e.g. black on a white). This ratio guideline should be considered when developing brand colours and tones.
Three tools to help marketers understand if their brand’s colour pallet is accessible:
- Accessible Colors evaluates your colour combination using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for contrast accessibility.
- Colorzilla is a Firefox add-on that assists web developers and graphic designers with colour-related tasks that are both basic and advanced.
- Use this link contrast checker to evaluate links that are identified using colour alone.
As a marketing leader, it’s important to recognize that all elements in your brand should have enough contrast. You can easily make this happen with the right brand colour combinations.
“Can we make the font just a little bit bigger?” Is something many creatives have heard over the course of their careers. 😬
Choosing the best typography for your brand will impact font styles, sizes, and spacing. Even with “perfect” font families in place, people with low vision, cognitive, language, and learning disabilities may still struggle to process the text.
There is no font that is exclusively better for accessibility than others. Instead, here’s what you should consider when creating rules around the font for your brand:
- Use simple, familiar, and easily-parsed fonts.
- Use a limited number of font variations.
- Avoid characters that are complex and ambiguous.
- Avoid small font sizes.
Best practices for accessible fonts
Generally speaking, base font sizes should be at least 14px minimum. Fonts should be defined with a relative value (ex. percentage, rem, or em) to allow for easy resizing.
Opt to use font variations sparingly such as italic, bold or ALL CAPS. These styling methods can be helpful but aren’t always easy for people to read:
No one wants to compromise their artistic vision but that doesn’t mean that accessible design has to be safe or boring. You can still incorporate fun fonts throughout your brand, but when building your brand standards, always consider how they could be impacting your audience.
Voice and tone
In terms of brand voice and tone, writers and marketers need to think about how users will access and engage with content both visually or audibly.
You can enhance the way a brand is searched, used, and accessed by considering accessibility in your brand standards. When writing web pages, emails, e-newsletters, or other types of communications, consider these guidelines:
- Make it brief: Put the most important information up front, and keep paragraphs and sentences short and to the point.
- Ensure it’s scannable: Large chunks of text should be broken up with informative headings. Use headings to convey meaning and structure. Include bullet points when appropriate.
- Keep it simple: Avoid using unnecessarily complex words and phrases. This helps users who may have cognitive disabilities or language barriers.
- Consistency counts: Consistency helps people on your website understand where to find the information they need. For example, if you’ve added a link somewhere on a webpage, make sure the text is underlined so the user understands there’s a link there.
Readers want content that speaks to them — not at them, and not past them. As a marketer, there’s a lot of ways to ensure that your brand voice and tone are inclusive. Make it as easy as possible to read to all readers.
Branding isn’t about you; it’s about customers’ needs and priorities. They communicate your brand’s identity, morals, and personality more than mission and vision. They also provide a reason for why an organization does something, like running a social responsibility campaign or taking a stance on certain issues.
Your brand values can be as broad or as niche as you want. For example, a B2B SaaS company that values accessibility could run a co-marketing/branding awareness campaign with a non-profit that also values accessibility. You can use brand values in virtually any marketing campaign to add a creative and personal edge to your brand. It’s another opportunity to tell your audience what your priorities are and what you care about.
Here’s an example of how McMaster’s University has included accessibility in their brand standards. I haven’t seen too many organizations bring this element officially into their brand but the opportunity is there and I think we’ll see this become a growing trend in the near future.
Stronger brand standards includes Web accessibility
Your brand guidelines are a document that anyone could pick up, look through, and fully understand everything there is to know about your brand and business. They should be shared widely and reviewed annually.
Branding is a big part of what makes a company recognized and loved by people, to change it could be seen as a risk. That said, your brand standards were designed to serve your audience. If they fail to do that then they need to evolve alongside the organization.