A socially conscious web design prioritizes the experiences of users over aesthetics. Design working hand-in-hand with social responsibility is a fairly new concept. It is only in the recent decades that we have started to call out stereotypes reflected in conceptualizing web design. Web design, or even in any other industry, could cover a lot of things when it comes to social responsibility. It could be on gender neutrality, racial equality, inclusivity of ability, and even eco-friendliness. As designers, we could be advocates for our principles, but we may not always find clients that are on the same page as us. We don’t want to create work that could offend another. Thankfully, there are simple and very subtle rules that we could follow to create a socially conscious web design.
The product should not cause a person any harm
Many UX and UI designs often focus on the flow of using a website. Would the typeface strain the eyes? Is the background color too bright even in normal light? Is the layout good enough to avoid visual clutter that could give the users a headache? These design questions are all good and valid, but physical health should not be the only consideration in design. All other forms of health are rarely considered when creating designs for websites.
One of the first things we should ask ourselves when designing a website is: “would my design harm my user in any way?”. This encompasses more than just ergonomically designing UX or UI. For instance, does the brand represent ideals that could offend a group or a culture? Could the copywriting of a certain statement negatively affect a person emotionally or psychologically? Am I creating a dangerous stereotype that could be misunderstood by the younger users? Being aware of these social responsibilities significantly affects design conceptualizations that we often do mindlessly.
Gender is not decided by the website’s color
When we are trying to target a specific portion of the demography, our color palettes should not be dictated by “gender stereotypes”. For instance, a lot of websites for makeup lines and fashion brands use the color pink loudly or subtly in the design. Although we generally accept “pink is a girl color” as a social norm, why should we be limited by this? In the day and age when gender is non-binary, why only choose between pink or blue when there are thousands of other colors to choose from? In fact, there are numerous gender-neutral color palettes available for our use. As long as the user experience and ergonomics of a website are not significantly altered, choose any color palette you think would work best for your design.
Inclusivity for the elderly and differently-abled
Always consider the users of your website. The internet is accessible for everyone, regardless of ability or age. There are simple design tasks that could create big differences in the usability of a website.
Here are some pro-tips for designing an inclusive website:
- Black text on a white background is the most friendly for the elderly and readers with sight difficulties
- Describing links help readers know where to click. Using cues like “Click on this link” or “Go to the video by clicking here” is helpful to lead readers to where the links are.
- Write periods between abbreviations. Write “U.S.” instead of “US” so the screen reader will read it as “U-S” instead of “us”
- Use videos that have subtitles or provide transcripts for videos you use on your website
- Alt tags on images are read aloud by screen readers, so put alt tags on your uploaded images
Eco-friendly websites exist
What we all don’t know is that the internet creates a huge carbon footprint. It is one of our responsibilities are designers to make sure that our websites do not contribute as much to this wastage in energy. Here are some tips to create an eco-friendly website:
- Choose a host that has the same goal. Maybe choose a host that uses renewable energy or those that adhere to eco-friendly practices
- Site speed is key not only for improving user experience but also for keeping a green website. Faster websites use up less energy both from the user and the host.
Don’t ask just do
Now, not every other designer may agree with this idea. But, it is not necessary to inquire with the client if we should create a socially conscious website. Just do it. In fact, social responsibility should be automatic in web design because even the client has very limited control over who interacts with their website. A socially conscious website does not have to be elaborate nor expensive. It’s all about being aware of simple tasks (see examples above) and include them in the design.