A design audit is basically a checkup of the visual elements and messaging of a brand to ensure that it expresses itself consistently across channels.
Consistency has a significant influence on user experience. When your website design and messaging are inconsistent across site pages, your visual style gets lost, and information architecture gets confusing. It can send mixed signals to your users, making them hesitant to commit to your brand or build a long-term relationship.
By analyzing the design elements of a brand, you can remedy such inconsistencies and build trust with your audience. Naturally, a better user experience and higher conversions will soon follow.
Think of brands such as Apple, McDonald's, or Starbucks that have successfully shaped their brand identity. Despite working in different markets and catering to diverse customer bases, they have managed to maintain a consistent visual identity and messaging.
All their design elements, from colors to typestyles, are uniform and instantly recognizable. Such consistency is reassuring to customers, which is what design audit aims to achieve.
A website design audit also gauges the functionality, usability, accessibility, and performance of your website or app that impact user experience. For that, it may look at factors such as ease of navigation, content organization, page load speed, mobile responsiveness, etc.
Here are the core areas of evaluation of a design audit:
A design audit becomes necessary when you identify performance issues or glaring inconsistencies in your website design.
As your business grows, you will add more features and elements to your website or apps. With so much going on, your designers may start veering off in different directions, creating a non-uniform brand image. In such cases, you can benefit from a design audit.
Conversely, you can conduct a digital audit if you are considering modifying or redesigning your digital products. It's also a good idea to run a design audit before launching a new website to ensure it is user-friendly, appealing, and functional before it goes live.
Before diving into the process of performing a website design audit, here are some of the ways your business can benefit from it:
One of the primary purposes of a design audit is to identify inconsistencies in design elements across a website, such as the color scheme, typography, layout, and messaging, and provide recommendations to remedy the same.
It brings uniformity to brand communication, provides a cohesive user experience, and improves trust.
Web design audits can identify design elements that cause frustration or confusion for users. It could be navigation issues, slow load time, font choices that strain the eye, incompatibility with all screen sizes, etc.
By addressing these issues, you can provide users with a seamless experience and win their loyalty.
A consistent visual identity makes a brand more recognizable. Customers get a sense of familiarity and trust whenever they see the design. A strong identity helps reinforce the brand's reputation and values in customers' minds and differentiates it from others.
Design issues such as poor navigation and slow page loading also affect the SEO effort of the website. Google considers user experience and website speed as important factors in its search algorithm.
In identifying these areas, a design audit can help your website rank better on Google by helping you improve its design and functionality. This practice can result in increased traffic, engagement, and conversions. It ultimately boils down to increased profit for the business.
Design audits help designers adhere to accessibility guidelines. It ensures that users with disabilities can also interact with your website, thus improving your business's inclusivity and broadening the reach of the website.
An audit can identify design areas that may need to be adjusted or redesigned to accommodate future growth or changes in the business.
It can save time and resources in the long run, as the website will be better equipped to accommodate new growth and changes without requiring a major overhaul or redesign.
First, you need to decide on the scope of the exercise. Are you auditing a certain component or performing an entire design audit? Having a clear idea of what you are looking for can prevent you from going astray during the audit.
It's also best to define your objectives, including audit goals, ROI, conversion criteria, etc., to help you set a timeline and budget for evaluation.
Once you've decided on these aspects, you can start the audit process confidently. Here is a step-by-step process generally followed during a design audit:
Performing a design inventory can be complicated and time-consuming, but it is a crucial first step in a design audit. During this step, you must gather every design element that forms your design system to obtain a complete overview of your website design.
The elements to be gathered include:
The best way to document these design elements is to screenshot everything and put them in a shared folder. You can also record videos of important user flows and processes to see how smooth the process is.
Once you have gathered these materials in one place, you can look at the whole picture, better understand the current design inconsistencies, and easily identify disparities.
Once your design inventory is complete, categorize the elements based on their functionality and nature. It will help create a clear design overview and identify duplicates, redundancies, or missing elements.
You can always start by grouping similar items. For example, you might group all buttons under one category and all landing pages under another. It allows you to easily compare items within each category and identify common traits and patterns.
Now that you've collected and sorted your design elements, it's time for you to put on your thinking hat and analyze the materials you've gathered. The essential aspects to analyze during this process include the following:
Study the design consistency thoroughly. You can follow this design checklist as a guide to cover the various aspects of design analysis:
Typography plays a crucial role in shaping the overall personality of your design. Hence, it should be an important consideration in a design audit. Your brand should have a set typeface that is legible, appropriate for your target audience, and consistent across platforms.
Check your gathered material for any inconsistencies in typography. Evaluate the font selection, size, text alignment, line spacing, and white spacing. Using varying typography is not a good practice as it sends confusing brand images to your audience.
In addition to these technical aspects, you can evaluate if the typography is consistent with the brand's visual identity and effectively communicates the intended message.
Similar to design and typography, a brand's tone is equally vital. Different brands have different tones depending on their products or services. For example, a design for a children's toy is playful, bright, and fun, while a financial institution will have a more professional tone in its designs.
What is important is that the tone should be consistent across all mediums, be it website content, social media, or print advertisements. Inconsistencies in tone styles can cause mistrust among the audience and affect your brand building.
However, some brands may want to change how they address their audience as they evolve and grow. A design audit can help here. It enables you to look at your tone across mediums and revise it entirely.
A Heuristic evaluation involves the examination of the usability and accessibility of your website or app. This area often gets overlooked but is essential to UX design audits.
Heuristic evaluations help identify aesthetic, readability, and usability issues in your designs to ensure that people of all abilities can understand and access them.
Here is a checklist of the aspects to look at during Heuristic evaluation:
Surveys can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding users' issues, needs, and preferences. You can design the survey to elicit feedback on any specific design aspect. The result can help you identify areas of improvement and support the overall audit process.
Similarly, key decision-makers and stakeholders can provide a good understanding of the goals and objectives of the organization and the target audience. These insights can help designers better review how well the current design aligns with the brand's personality and goals.
Once you've completed the design analysis, you must share your findings with the stakeholders, including various departments such as content, development, and marketing.
How you want to share your insights is your choice. You can create a keynote presentation or an audit report, whichever you find most useful. Highlight the strength and weaknesses of the current design, point out the design inconsistencies, and suggest potential strategies to remedy them.
A well-organized presentation or report will help stakeholders identify the current situation better and convince them of the need for change or improvement.
Once you identify and communicate the design discrepancies, your next step is to create a strategy to ensure uniformity in designs and messaging across all channels.
While the level of inconsistencies will determine your next action, here are three main steps you can take:
If the inconsistencies are few, you're in luck. Fixing minor discrepancies like uneven logos or addressing non-uniform backgrounds requires little time and effort. You can tweak them right away and improve your design.
Show the relevant team where these inconsistencies occurred and how to prevent them in the future.
If the inconsistencies are significant, you may have to consider a design upgrade or redesign. For instance, if the design you're using is outdated or the tonality is inconsistent with your brand messaging, redesign is the way forward.
Redesigning is a big decision, but it offers a fresh start and provides an opportunity to redefine your values and brand positioning, and keeps your communication consistent moving forward.
This is the final step of the design audit process. Here you compile all design changes and guidelines into a manual. The manual can cover various aspects, such as logo usage, typography, and design style, among others.
It can be a valuable tool for designers to maintain consistency in future designs. It can also act as a guide to the entire team, helping them align their messaging with the brand image.
The time required to complete a design audit varies depending on the scope and complexity of the project. A small project can be completed in a few days, while a full-blown audit can take a few months. It also depends on the resource the organization can spare for the audit process.
It's best to communicate the budget and duration beforehand so auditors can decide the depth of their analysis. It will help set up a proper audit plan to avoid rushing at the end, which may lead to inaccurate results.
A digital audit is beneficial for businesses to understand their performance and user satisfaction metrics by addressing key questions. It can help identify design bottlenecks and usability issues, leading to a better understanding of what works and what doesn't.
Further, the audit can reveal user behavior, pain points, and the point at which they abandon the design interface. In summary, the results of the audit can help gain clarity on the following aspects of your design:
Is the site or app relevant to the users? Is it addressing users' pain points and meeting their expectations?
Is the value to the user clearly and concisely communicated through the website? Does the messaging reach the users? Do the users feel motivated to come back?
Is the design interface intuitive? Are there any confusing or ambiguous points in the interface that causes uncertainty to users? Can differently-abled users access the site?
Are calls to action clear and visible? Do they motivate users to take the desired action?
A design audit can be a worthwhile endeavour to optimize your conversions and enhance user engagement. It helps maintain consistency in design elements and user experience, which is essential for building trust and brand recognition.
Streamlining the website design can make it more functional and usable and create a positive brand perception. Conduct a design audit and maximize the potential of your websites and apps.