Designing inclusive brands

Toby Jervis
Toby Jervis

A few years ago, I was reading through a case study about the latest ‘Uber’ re-brand. I was drawn in by the beautiful typography and well-crafted brand applications you might come to expect when looking through these types of case studies. However, there was something I wasn’t quite expecting; something that really caught my eye. In amongst all of the usual slick logo animations and aspirational imagery, they had a section about accessibility. Promoting their 21:1 colour contrast ratio with a statement alongside stating, ‘we are a brand for everyone’.

This got me thinking. Accessibility should be commonplace in a company’s brand and visual identity guidelines. I have worked with so many companies who really care about inclusive design, people who actively want to make their products and service more accessible. However, I can’t recall any occasions where I’ve seen sections about accessibility in brand guidelines.

I can’t recall any occasions where I’ve seen sections about accessibility in brand guidelines.

I spent some time considering the occasions I’ve taken it upon myself to tweak a company’s corporate brand colours for a project, to meet WCAG AA or higher. It’s often a difficult decision to challenge the brand guidelines of the clients you work with. But it’s absolutely the right decision if it benefits them.

I started to think through logistics of how a colour update to a company’s brand guidelines might work. Updating the brand guidelines PDF? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Sure, it’s easy to change a colour in one place, but with multiple brand assets, brochures, emails, websites, apps, often designed or built by other agencies, all with their own code base, it can become a bit of a minefield.

No, to make changes we need to start looking at using the same design systems, patterns libraries and technology we created for web design and development. A single repository. A single source of truth for a brand with the ability to be updated quickly and efficiently. Just imagine accessibility built into all brand guidelines, with multiple contributors, explaining why it’s so important to the company. And not just guidelines, but woven into the fabric of their brand assets; suggested alt tags for images, downloadable design systems and pattern libraries with accessibility built into the heart of them, by every designer, developer or brand guardian that comes into contact with them, continually improved, never static.

The great thing is that these tools and platforms already exist for brands; look at Adele and Brand Cloudlines. It’s up to us all to ensure that companies adopt these platforms now, to ensure brands are more accessible in the future.