25 Years Designing Custom Websites
Five years ago we celebrated 20 with a huge party with my favorite local live band Led Loco. This year. Zoomparty! Meh.
But one thing that a pandemic brings is introspection. And 25 years is a long time. Nearly half my life. When I started Propeller, I was 27. I had no idea what I was doing, but I enjoyed the adventure of exploring this new medium. The Web was brand new. I had to actually explain to people what websites were all the time. And what was fun was that there were no conventions. There were no rules. And that was good and bad. Yes, the design freedom was great, but it also invited a lot of bad design and poor usability across the Web. Remember those tiny type days with micro fonts? Grey on grey?
Over 25 years web design has evolved and the balance between form and function has matured. Conventions and rules for usability have become established. Designers shifted their thought from designing for themselves to designing for an increasingly broad spectrum of users - to include people with disabilities. And today designers embrace “universal design” to provide digital inclusion for all.
Yes, the embrace of web accessibility is largely due to the rampant ADA lawsuits targeting websites that are not accessible. Many brands also want to avoid any risk of being called out as discriminatory in a time of such DEI focus. And then there are those brands that learn of the challenges that this audience has with digital accessibility, and embrace all efforts to ensure their digital products are inclusive to all. Because digital inclusion is a real issue. Unless a website or app is specifically designed to meet WCAG standards for web accessibility, it won't be accessible or ADA compliant. Few sites are. And I honestly don’t care what motivates companies, organizations or institutions to invest in digital accessibility, as long as they do it and do it right.
My mother has macular degeneration. The center of her retina is deteriorating causing vision loss in the center of her view. Yet she still uses her phone and computer using her peripheral vision. We got her a big 40” monitor and settings are at their maximum size. Seeing how sites respond to these settings is at times amazing but too often they fail. Compared to the fixed-width days, today’s responsive design methods enable content to display on screens as small as our mobiles to my mom's mega monitor. For any website to maintain visual integrity and be usable at this scale is impressive. But we have a long way to go.
Sadly, a time is coming when zooming tools won’t be enough, and we’ll need to shift to using a screen reader to explore the Web. And not only will this involve a challenging learning curve for my mom but I also know that even once she learns the tools, she’ll be hitting a lot of walls. Because unless a website or app is purposefully designed and programmed to be accessible, it simply won’t be. And today, few websites have been built to be accessible.
Helping people like my mom by both building accessible websites and also helping others to make their websites accessible is incredibly rewarding. It’s brought meaning to the work that I just didn’t have before. Before establishing Accessibility.Works and focusing on accessibility, we were just building websites. Yes, we took a great deal of pride in the design and custom features. We established strong processes and systems for building sites better and faster. But we weren’t making the world any better.
Now, thanks to my team, we are.
- Dave Gibson
founder / president
Photo by Richard Burlton on Unsplash