Usability, Accessibility, and Ethics

Woman typing on keyboard

The web is accessed by millions of users everyday. These users all have different abilities and needs and interact with the web and apps in a variety of different ways. For example, some users primarily use a keyboard for navigation while other uses may use a screen reader. Regardless of how a user interacts with a website, decisions and considerations should be made to make the web a more useable, accessible, and ethical place for all users.

What is usability?

Usability is how easily a user can learn and use your product. It is defined by these five heuristics:

  • Learnability: Can users easily use the product the first time they experience the website or app?
  • Efficiency: Can the user perform tasks quickly?
  • Memorability: How easily can the user jump back in after a time away from the product?
  • Errors: If the user makes an error, how is it handled? Can errors be prevented?
  • Satisfaction: Is the design overall enjoyable to the user?

If a user encounters a site or app that is unclear, difficult to use, or doesn’t provide them with what they are looking for, the user can become frustrated. This in turn provides a poor experience for your user, and ultimately can cause a user to leave your site or app.

How can we improve usability?

The most effective way to improve usability is through user testing. Observe what your users do while interacting with your product. Where do users encounter difficulties, where do users prevail? Observing your users interact with your product can help assess where usability improvements are needed within your product.

What is Accessibility

Accessibility is the practice of creating inclusive websites that can be used by anyone, regardless of capability. Users with visual, mobile, auditory, vestibular, and some cognitive sensitivities and challenges may use different behaviors or software to interactive with their computers and the web.

How can we improve accessibility?

Accessibility can be a complex subject for beginners, but there are quite a few ways to incorporate accessibility into your design or development practices. Some things to consider when working with accessibility:

  • Keyboard navigation: Can the user navigate the website using only the keyboard? Is it clear what element is focused on when the user is navigating using the keyboard?
  • Content: Is the web page title informative and descriptive? Are the headings descriptive to their respective section.
  • Images: Do images have alt text for those who may not be able to view them?
  • Flow and proximity: Are headings, content, lists, and forms laid out in a way that flows a predictable manner? Is semantic markup used?
  • Controls: Are links (anchors) and buttons use appropriately and are they easy to identify?
  • Animations: Are considerations in place for those with motion and animation sensitivities?

Web accessibility is not exclusive to those with disabilities, and can provide value for those without disabilities as well. Web accessibility can improve the livelihood of individuals, businesses, and society overall, and in many cases web accessibility is becoming required by law.

Ethics and Anti Patterns

Anti patterns are deceiving actions, prompts, or content used on websites and apps that lead to user to do something they didn’t intend to. Anti patterns take advantage of the fact that most users will skim content on a website or app. This can sometimes appear that a company is communicating one thing, while really doing another.

Some common types of anti patterns:

  • Hidden costs: The user is presented with unexpected charges at the very last step of the checkout process
  • Disguised Ads: These ads are disguised as other elements to trick the user to click on them
  • Forced Continuity: After your “free” trial ends, your credit card is charged without any warning or notification.
  • Sneak Into Basket: During the purchase process, and item is automatically snuck into your cart

How to recognize and avoid anti patterns

Being able to spot anti patterns is a great step into avoiding them in your design and development practices. Consider your user — is this action beneficial to the user or the brand? Can this information be misleading? Does this implementation force the user to select something they aren’t intending to? Avoiding anti patterns can provide a more ethical experience for the user.


It’s important to remember the web should be designed and developed for the user. As authors of the web, designers and developers can start creating better user experiences by considering better decisions to improve usability, accessibility, and ethics for all users.