Sarah Horton – Access by Design

Why universal usability is as essential as the visual layout on the Web? Why keeping the site clean and simple is important? Why should we replace graphic with text navigation when possible? How to create forms that are painless to fill out by both visual and nonvisual users? Web designers who are unsure what the answers are to any of these questions should take a look at Sarah Horton’s Access by Design: a Guide to Universal Usability for Web Designers.

By eliminating the technical practices, Horton allows her book to focus on the design principles; therefore, anyone (with or without technical skills) who wishes to learn Web accessibility is welcome. With simple language complemented by clear visual illustrations, she walks readers through everything they need to know (including text, images, color, forms, links, lists, audio, and video) when creating universal usability for the Web. She points out what to do and what to avoid when designing for maximum accessibility, and shows both good and bad examples to back up her cases. For instance, nonvisual users may have a hard time distinguishing between parent and child items in compound lists; therefore, she suggests to either use ordered lists or break the compound list into sections with appropriate headings.

Although Horton favors flexible over fixed layouts, she does a thorough job of explaining the pros and cons of both designs. While the fixed design does not expand when users increase the text size, the flexible design causes readability issue with long lines of text. From my own experience, using em measurements is the best solution to accommodate readability. The default is presented in a fixed layout, but the text and the layout will expand or condense when users adjust the text size, and that is “where designers and users share control of its design.”

Access by Design offers nothing new on Web accessibility, but Horton’s clear and concise approach makes the book an important reading for Web designers and developers, especially the newcomers. Read it, learn it, and keep it by our side when working on Web sites.