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How to Eliminate Bias in Web Design

Posted May 23, 2024


Posted May 23, 2024

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It’s easy for bias to work their way into web design and inadvertently exclude certain users. Discover how to identify and eliminate biases in web design and create more inclusive, accessible digital content.

A common assumption among businesses is ‘people with disabilities don’t visit my website’. This type of biased thinking inadvertently leads to web designs that are inaccessible to many people with disabilities. The design may look visually stunning, sure. Yet, it excludes a huge population of users from being able to access or interact with digital content.

The above is just one example of one type of bias. There are dozens of other biases that permeate web design and exclude users from content. That exclusion isn’t just harmful for users, but your business as well.

Here’s the good news: recognizing biases — in whatever form they take — is the first step towards eliminating them and creating inclusive web designs. Below, we’ll delve into the different types of biases that can work their way into designs and how they impact the user experience. We’ll also discuss six steps you can take to eliminate bias before the process begins.

What is Bias in Web Design?

In web design, bias can manifest in several ways — typically unconsciously — that can inadvertently exclude or marginalize certain groups. 

For example, a common form of bias is personal ableism, which refers to bias towards individuals with disabilities. This can result in actions or thoughts such as:

  • Thinking all disabilities are visible or that all individuals with disabilities have identified their disability.
  • Not accommodating a disabled person’s needs or making presumptions about an individual’s needs without asking them.
  • Treating an individual with a disability as “lesser than” or similar to a child (i.e., congratulating someone with a disability for completing a simple task).

Ableism can be harmful in web design as it can create products and services that are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities. 

When bias does permeate web designs, it can have far-reaching consequences. As we’ve mentioned, bias negatively impacts the user experience by creating feelings of exclusion. But bias can also continue harmful stereotypes, societal divisions, and inequality — all of which are detrimental to creating inclusive online spaces.

What are Common Types of Bias in Web Design?

There are dozens of biases that can work their way into web designs. Recognizing some of the most common types is the first step to blocking them from infiltrating the user experience (UX). Below, we’ll review a few different types of web design biases and how they impact a user’s experience.

  • Cognitive bias: Cognitive biases are inherent tendencies in human thinking that influence an individual’s decision-making and judgment. This can impact how information is presented and organized in web design which can create confusion for users. 
  • Confirmation bias: This type of bias occurs when users are seeking out information that confirms their existing preconceptions or beliefs. Confirmation bias can result in designers prioritizing information, features, or design choices that align with their own perspective. For example, a designer may favor a certain layout rather than considering what’s most accessible or usable for a variety of users.
  • Implicit bias: Also known as unconscious bias, implicit bias is a set of attitudes or stereotypes that we associate with groups of people without conscious knowledge. The example we mentioned at the beginning of this article — ‘people with disabilities don’t visit my website — is an example of implicit bias. 
  • Visual bias: While the aesthetic of a web page should be considered, it should not be prioritized over usability. This is a type of bias, called visual bias, where too much focus is placed on visual appeal rather than on function. For users with disabilities, this can create usability issues — particularly for those accessing content from assistive technologies. 
  • Mouse bias: Mouse bias occurs under the assumption that all users interact with digital content via a mouse or similar device. This can result in lack of keyboard accessibility, making it difficult for keyboard users or assistive technologies to navigate digital content effectively.
  • Overlooking focus state: Focus state is a web element that indicates which web element currently has keyboard focus. Designers may overlook focus state styling in favor of visual consistency or aesthetics. That oversight can result in accessibility barriers for keyboard users as they may be unable to identify which web element is currently in focus.
A stylized web browser with a number of accessibility issues highlighted by red exclamation points, next to icons of a wrench and some gears.

6 Ways to Eliminate Bias in Web Design

The first step to creating bias-free web designs is to recognize and accept the fact that a certain type of bias exists. We all hold biases — it’s part of being human — but it’s critical to identify and address biases. By doing so, designers and developers can move past limiting and usually damaging perspectives. 

Let’s delve into a few ways you can help eliminate bias in web design.

Identify Your Biases

The first step to eliminating bias is recognizing it exists in the first place. Acknowledging your bias and recognizing its influence on design choices gives you the awareness to actually address it. Identifying and acknowledging our own biases may be difficult, but tools such as the Gender Equity Toolkit or Project Implicit can help individuals challenge their unconscious biases.

Expand the Definition of Your Target Audience

It’s natural when designing digital content to create something that fits the needs of your target audience. However, to ensure you’re catering to the needs of your entire audience, you need to expand the definition of who your audience is.

A perfect example is the disabled community. Unconsciously, you may exclude users with disabilities from your target audience or think that only a handful of people with disabilities use the web. In reality, 1.3 billion people worldwide have a disability. Whether it’s a situational disability (i.e., being in a brightly lit or noisy area and not being able to see or hear digital content) or a permanent one, people with disabilities frequently interact with digital content. And if web designs aren’t designed with these users in mind, a huge audience is being left behind.

Conduct User Research

Once you’ve expanded the definition of your target audience, conduct user research. Digging into the diverse behaviors, preferences, and perspectives of your audience can help call attention to your unconscious biases and take more proactive steps to address them. 

For example, involving individuals with disabilities in your testing process can call attention to the lack of accessibility around certain web elements. Screen reader users, for instance, can identify where navigation can be improved or how specific web elements aren’t operable or perceivable by assistive technologies. With these insights, you can adjust web designs to be more accessible (while still maintaining visual appeal).

Diversify Your Teams

To create inclusive experiences for a wide range of users, you need a diverse team of designers. Bringing in people from various backgrounds brings in a variety of viewpoints that can help counter unconscious bias that sneaks into web designs. 

For example, involving people with disabilities during the design process can help to resolve accessibility issues before they go to development, saving your team valuable time. These individuals may also call attention to accessibility issues in your web designs that you weren’t aware of. With these insights, you can build more accessible designs from the very beginning.

Use Empathy

Empathy is one of the most powerful tools you can use in the design process. Immersing yourself in the world of your audience can help you better understand their needs and preferences and create inclusive designs that meet these needs.

When designing for individuals with disabilities, for example, consider what it would be like if you weren’t able to hear or if you couldn’t use your mouse. What solutions would you employ to ensure individuals with disabilities can still interact with audio content or navigate through a web page?

Get Continuous Feedback

Web design shouldn’t be a “one-and-done” process — it should be an ongoing process that addresses the new or emerging needs of your audience. By implementing a continuous feedback cycle, you can identify improvement opportunities in your designs. These feedback loops can also help to identify biases that may have crept in when you updated or changed designs. Remember to document your findings so you can implement improvements or best practices in future projects.

Stylized web browser with a magnifying glass over the accessibility symbol.

Benefits of Inclusive Design

Eliminating bias in web design brings a number of benefits for you, your organization, and your users. These benefits range from complying with legal standards to improved user engagement and loyalty. Some of these benefits include:

  • Compliance with legal requirements: Inclusive design best practices can help you comply with laws and regulations. For example, most countries have laws in place that prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public spaces. By eliminating bias and ensuring accessibility, you reduce the risk of legal action. 
  • Better user experience: Bias-free web designs are typically more intuitive, user-friendly, and accessible to a diverse range of users. Keeping the needs and preferences of all users in mind enables you to create a more user-friendly design. This results in more customer satisfaction and engagement, which leads to more revenue and growth opportunities. 
  • Attract more users: Designing with inclusivity in mind enables your designs to resonate with a broader audience, including individuals from marginalized groups or underrepresented groups. 
  • Increase engagement: By expanding the reach of your audience — and catering to  diverse demographics and preferences — you create a sense of belonging and acceptance among your users, leading to increased traffic and engagement.
  • Boost loyalty: Showcasing a commitment to inclusivity and diversity in your web designs enhances your reputation and builds trust with customers. By demonstrating your commitment to inclusivity in your digital designs, you differentiate yourself from competitors and foster stronger connections with customers. 

Here’s the bottom line: By eliminating bias in web design, you attract more users, increase engagement and loyalty, and position yourself (and your company) as someone who values inclusivity. This can help set you apart from your competitors and foster stronger connections with your users.

Embrace Inclusive, Bias-Free Designs with AudioEye

It’s all too easy for bias to work its way into web designs and perpetuate inequality and exclusion. To eliminate bias, you need to address it before the design process starts. Be aware of what types of bias currently exist and take proactive steps to eliminate them so you can create inclusive, accessible, and welcoming designs for all users. 

At AudioEye, we can help you identify accessibility issues that inadvertently exclude users with disabilities — whether permanent or situational — from your digital content. With our automated Web Accessibility Scanner, you can uncover common accessibility issues that hinder the user experience. These insights enable you to take proactive steps to remedy them before they impact your users or land you in legal trouble. AudioEye also offers accessibility training that includes best practices for inclusive design, Expert Audits of your most important web pages and workflows, and community testing. 

With AudioEye, getting started on the path to more accessible, inclusive, and bias-free web designs is easier than ever. Get started by entering the URL of your digital content in our accessible web scanner below.

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