Where the World Wide Web Shines

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Here’s a fabulous post by Vitaly Friedman that looks at how to make accessible front-end components and what problems there are today when it comes to building them.

There’s so much great info packed into this one post that I’m going to keep it open in a tab for quite some time. But I have two thoughts here. First, just skimming through the article is enough to make anyone realize that accessibility is a complex subject and it’s so very easy to get things wrong; colors, images, text, HTML, mouse pointer vs. touch, small screens vs. large screens, charts and data viz, form components, layout and semantic ordering. The list goes on and on. It’s clear to me now (and I am late to the party) that accessibility is a full-time job.

Second, Vitaly makes note of some of the excellent work that the Government Digital Service (GDS) is doing in the UK by releasing open-source components such as accessible-autocomplete. And I have to say, I think the work that GDS is doing is so very inspiring to me as a web designer and developer.

Here’s a story: a few years ago I had to book an appointment to get a driver’s license. I hopped on the website and, immediately, I recognized that it was using the GDS design system. That gave me a great sigh of relief, but then I found myself sailing through this form at lightning speed. By the end, I realized that this is what every website should feel like; I used the site, did what I needed to do as quickly as possible, and then left.

It was one of the most shocking experiences for me as a web designer because there was no cruft, no junk, and no messing around with the experience in any way. It was fast, didn’t break down, crash the browser, or confuse me at all. The form inputs were big and clickable and the correct keyboard was selected when I viewed it on my phone. All of this accessibility work that they’ve poured into making things just work is a joyous thing.

This reminds me of something that Jeremy Keith wrote about the other day when he used another government website to get vaccinated:

[…] it’s a sequence of short forms, clearly labelled. Semantic accessible HTML, some CSS, and nothing more. If your browser doesn’t support JavaScript (or you’ve disabled it for privacy reasons), that won’t make any difference to your experience. This is the design system in action and it’s an absolute pleasure to experience.

[…] Maybe I’ll never need to visit that URL again. In the case of the NHS, I hope I won’t need to visit again. I just need to get in, accomplish my task, and get out again. This is where the World Wide Web shines.