Gaston is UX/UI Designer who believes in the importance of incorporating qualitative and quantitative research methods and knowledge sharing.
Read time8 min
Documentation in the design system guides designers, developers, and other team members, providing step-by-step instructions on incorporating accessibility guidelines into the design. Furthermore, well-crafted documentation facilitates collaboration and enhances consistency in work, ensuring that all crucial aspects of accessibility are considered and effectively implemented.
In this article, we will explore:
- The importance of design systems and their impact on the user experience.
- How documentation in design systems should have accessibility as an essential component.
- Why it is relevant to avoid biases and research our users to provide products and services that cater to their needs, regardless of their physical conditions.
Table of contents:
Understanding Accessibility in Design Systems
Accessibility in design systems refers to the capacity of these systems to create interfaces and digital products that are usable by all individuals, including people with disabilities. A structured and well-documented design system can facilitate the implementation of accessibility practices within design teams, resulting in more inclusive products and accessible to everyone.
Accessibility entails ensuring that the content and functionalities of a digital product are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all people. This includes considering aspects such as color contrast, keyboard navigation, text readability, and compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers. In the context of design systems, ensuring accessibility from the outset is essential to maintain design consistency and prevent accessibility issues in later stages of the development process.
What are the benefits of considering accessibility in the products we design from the beginning?
- Usability: Products must have an inclusive focus. It should not be a mere decision but a priority.
- Inclusivity: Accessibility in design systems ensures that people with disabilities are not excluded, promoting inclusion and diversity within the user community.
- Costs and Time: By incorporating accessibility thinking from the start and applying it to all products based on the design system, costs and time associated with later corrections and updates are reduced.
This article, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), explains and describes WCAG 2.1 documentation and lists ways to improve accessibility. Following these guidelines in design systems ensure that all products comply with standards focused on accessibility, thereby they improve the user experience.
The Role of Documentation in Accessible Design Systems
Documentation plays a fundamental role in design systems and teams, as it serves as a guide that establishes standards and guidelines for designing digital accessible products. It provides a centralized reference accessible to all team members. This is essential to ensure all team members understand how to design and develop interface components and elements.
Furthermore, documentation in design systems fosters collaboration among designers, developers, and other stakeholders, as everyone can access the necessary information clearly and consistently. Transparency and clarity are essential pillars to ensure that the incorporation of an inclusive perspective is not considered separate from the team's processes.
Some examples of documentation found in design systems include:
- Style Guides: These establish the visual identity and overall appearance of the interface, including color palettes, typography, iconography, and design guidelines.
- Pattern Libraries: These contain examples of recurring design patterns, such as buttons, forms, and cards, to promote consistency and reusability in the design.
- Component Documentation: This details each component used in the design system, its characteristics, interactions, and how to implement it in development.
Many companies are incorporating web accessibility into their design systems and documenting their processes, such as Google, Microsoft, and Atlassian, among many others. This process shows that accessibility should not be treated as a trend; rather, making changes in the organization's design systems and their documentation is a priority when bringing our products to life.
In this sense, accessibility in design systems ensures that all users, regardless of their abilities, can interact with and use digital products effortlessly. Good accessibility allows users with disabilities to access and use the interface effectively, promoting a positive and enriching experience for everyone and contributing to social improvement beyond the screens, providing possibilities for hundreds of people who currently have some form of disability.
Key Elements of Accessibility Documentation in Design Process
As design systems are structures that increase in complexity, documentation of elements is crucial, especially when it comes to accessibility. They include accessibility standards that, far from limiting, serve as accessibility guidance to be modified based on the team's requirements and the stage of incorporating accessibility into the system.
In this regard, the description of Accessibility Objectives should be a concise statement of the accessibility goals the design system aims to achieve. These objectives may include complying with accessibility guidelines and providing an inclusive user experience. Additionally, guidelines for accessible design provide information on how to create accessible designs. This may consist of recommendations on readable font sizes, appropriate color contrasts, meaningful icons, and how to design interfaces for keyboard navigation and assistive devices.
Likewise, the documentation should include an accessible component library, providing examples and guidelines on how to implement UI elements in an accessible manner. For instance, inclusive component guides offer information on how to incorporate inclusive design into developing cards, notifications, toggle buttons, and other components.
Furthermore, establishing an inclusive structure within design systems that directly incorporates accessible components and patterns is essential. This ensures that every time designers and developers use the system, they work with accessible elements as a foundation.
Among the options that can be incorporated into a design system are:
- Labeling and Documentation: Every accessible component and guideline must be recognizable within the design system.
- Continuous Updates: Accessibility documentation should be kept up-to-date with international standards. This ensures the design system remains relevant and compliant with the latest accessibility guidelines.
- Accessible Forms: The documentation should address how to design and develop accessible forms, including proper labeling, clear instructions, and simple navigation.
- Multimedia Accessibility Considerations: Guidelines should be included to ensure that multimedia elements, such as images and videos, are accessible to individuals with auditory or visual impairments. This may involve providing alternative descriptions for images (alt text) and video captions.
- Accessible Navigation Guidelines: The documentation should establish guidelines for clear and consistent navigation throughout the digital product, making it easier for users to find the information they need without difficulties. This includes keyboard navigation and logical content structure with headings in logical order.
Clear and Concise Documentation
Documentation plays a crucial role in the accurate implementation of accessibility in your design systems. The importance of documentation lies in providing clear and detailed instructions to designers and developers, enabling them to understand accessibility guidelines and apply them consistently in their projects.
Well-structured documentation also facilitates collaboration among team members, ensuring everyone is knowledgeable about the overall work and focused on a common accessibility goal.
Some aspects of clear and concise documentation:
- Hierarchy: Organize documentation clearly and logically, allowing users to access information quickly and easily. Group related topics and prioritize titles and subtitles to aid navigation and understanding.
- Tags and Categories: Use appropriate tags and categories to classify accessibility-related documentation. This helps designers and developers find specific information more efficiently.
- Indexes and Table of Contents: Include indexes and tables of contents listing the topics covered in the documentation. These elements facilitate search and serve as quick references to relevant information.
- Images: Use images and diagrams to visualize key accessibility concepts, such as the structure of an accessible page, examples of appropriate image tags, and how to improve keyboard navigation.
- Examples: Provide practical examples of implementing accessibility requirements in common design elements like buttons, forms, and navigation menus. These examples help team members better understand how to apply accessibility in practice.
- Code Snippets: Include code snippets and technical solutions to address specific accessibility challenges. These code snippets can assist developers in quickly implementing digital accessibility best practices in their codebase.
Achieving consistency across products and different teams is a task that involves everyone. A deep understanding of people with disabilities is achieved through empathy. Design systems conceived with an accessibility perspective represent a paradigm shift that offers more opportunities and includes more people.
Collaboration and Accessibility Documentation
Collaboration among designers, developers, and accessibility experts is crucial to ensure accessibility documentation is comprehensive and effective. It is essential to achieve active participation from each team member. Every opinion is fundamental to building empathy and making everyone part of constructing an accessible design system that is integrated into each unit of work.
Each team member brings unique perspectives and knowledge that, when combined, enrich the documentation and ensure that all relevant aspects of accessibility are addressed. Each team is responsible for nurturing and consolidating an inclusive perspective, ensuring everyone keeps the documentation of the accessible design system in mind.
Team dynamics should provide spaces to discuss the importance of including contributions from diverse perspectives to create inclusive accessibility documentation. People with different abilities and experiences can identify unique challenges and needs related to accessibility. Considering these diverse perspectives makes the documentation more comprehensive and accessible to a wider range of users.
Collaboration allows team members to share their knowledge and solve challenges together. By working together, potential obstacles in implementing accessibility can be identified and addressed. Furthermore, maintaining constant communication ensures that the accessibility documentation of design systems stays updated with the latest practices and accessibility standards, guaranteeing that the information provided is accurate and essential.
Maintaining and Updating Accessibility Documentation
Keeping accessibility documentation up to date is essential to ensure digital products remain inclusive and comply with current standards. As accessibility guidelines and best practices evolve, it is necessary to review and update the documentation to reflect these changes and ensure that design and development teams have the most accurate and relevant information.
A key strategy for maintaining up-to-date documentation is establishing a regular review process. This may involve designating a team responsible for reviewing and updating the documentation at specific intervals. Additionally, staying informed about the latest developments in accessibility is crucial to ensure the documentation is current.
Accessibility is an ever-evolving process, and it is essential to recognize the importance of evaluation and iteration. Gathering user feedback, conducting accessibility testing, and being open to continuous improvements will allow accessibility documentation to improve over time.
Constant iteration ensures that the documentation remains relevant and effective in enhancing the accessibility of digital products. For both current and future team members, documentation is crucial for aligning digital products as a whole. Avoiding biases and developing inclusive practices are essential for teams looking to scale their products.
Accessibility is a necessity in today's products. Fostering good practices within technology teams is crucial for the future of products that include everyone. It is a complex and challenging process.
Collaboration among designers, developers, and accessibility experts is crucial in creating robust accessibility documentation. By incorporating diverse perspectives and knowledge, design systems can better address the needs of all users.
Accessibility should not be an option but a responsibility for everyone. The present and future of design systems must be accessible, and documentation of design systems should be a priority for all teams. Including user research and feedback is essential for the maturity of design systems and documentation. It helps to create better digital experiences where technology becomes part of the solution, not the problem.
As technology evolves, it is imperative to prioritize accessibility and ensure that digital products are inclusive, usable, and welcoming to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. By working collaboratively, fostering empathy, and continuously updating documentation, we can build a more accessible and inclusive digital world for everyone.
Inclusive Design Principles - Microsoft Design
Livingston Elise, How to document accessibility as a UX designer, Medium, May 13, 2021
Shawn Lawton Henry. Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design. Madison, WI: ET\Lawton, 2007.
Kalbag Laura, Accessibility for everyone, A Book Apart 2017