A design audit might sound a little intimidating, after all, the word audit doesn’t exactly scream fun. But, it’s actually a very beneficial exercise. A design audit is merely an analysis of the design elements in use by a company. Its main purpose is to make sure that the branding is consistent among all channels and outlets. When I say branding I do mostly mean visual design elements, however, branding is also the written and verbal communication as well as the user experience. A good design audit will also take those into consideration, to make sure it’s consistent as well. The truth is that a design audit is a good thing, it means a company has grown a lot and now simply needs to re-align its design efforts. Briefly, let’s discuss the benefits of design audit for companies and then let’s get right into how to conduct one.
Benefits of a design audit
No matter if your company is tiny or huge, a design audit might be in order if your company is growing and evolving. It’s a great idea because it will help you manage your visual design material and written message. In turn, this will lead to a well-defined identity and branding.
When inconsistencies in both visual style and message start shining through, a brand is weakened. It no longer has a solid foundation, and it starts diverging into different directions. Consistency is key, and by conducting an audit you are creating a chance to once again strengthen the brand. Think of a design audit as an opportunity to check the quality of the designs, the products, and the user experience.
The visual branding audit
First thing first, it’s time to gather all the design assets. And I am serious when I say all of it. Gather all the ads, the social media posts, the website and its desktop and mobile versions, the mobile apps, the letterheads and the business cards. Include lead magnets, content upgrades, master classes or webinar slides. Include any pitch decks too. Anything that is is a touchpoint for a customer. Everything.
What you want to do here is study the different collaterals to notice patterns and their deviations. For example, you may notice that the social media ads are using the wrong logo file, or the quality of the graphics is just not what it needs to be. You may notice that you have many functionally similar sections throughout your website, but they are all designed differently.
Now you know to provide the people who run the Twitter and Facebook ads with the correct logo file and render final ad images in higher quality. You also now know that you will need to sit down and make sure that the footer is the same on every page, or that the custom made graphics for Leadpages use the correct brand colours.
Additionally, this might give you ideas on how you and the design team might want to update the branding going forward. Maybe you have too many or too few colours to perfectly depict the vibe your company is going for.
This is honestly as simple as taking a good look at all the visual design assets, looking for deviations and doing something about it. Yet, it yields so much information.
Tone, voice, and message
While you’re taking a look at all the visual stuff, also consider the content itself. In the previous example, the only thing I didn’t mention was audio/radio ads because it’s the only thing that inherently doesn’t automatically come with a visual aspect too like would a video.
Once again, take a look at the actual content. Read everything, listen to everything. Again notice what patterns you see, or should see but don’t. Just like with the visuals, you’re looking out to make sure that the tone, voice, and message is correct and consistent and making notes on where it deviates.
Pay attention to what no longer sounds like the company or any evolving patterns that just don’t seem right fit anymore. Once again, you will also naturally be realizing that maybe the company needs to have a more authoritative voice, be more playful, or use a softer vocabulary. Maybe you and your team will also come to a realization on how to improve the overall tone, voice, and message of the company to be even stronger, better and relevant to the target audience.
Heuristics for usability and accessibility
Another thing a good design audit will include is a heuristic evaluation. This one focuses on the usability and accessibility of a website or app. Usability and accessibility are crucial for a good user experience. Those also help make your company and brand shine. Usability problems will affect people’s perception of your company too. They can be something simple, like a broken link, or complicated, like a confusing online order form. Accessibility problems, like missing alt tags, or low contrast between text and background, also mater.
Nielsen created a thorough heuristic evaluation guide back in 1994 that is still popular and reliable today. They defined 10 heuristics to checkup:
- Visibility of system status
- Provide feedback to the user on where are they, what is going on, what they need to do next, where “next” is and so on
- Match between system and the real world
- Always use natural flowing language, speak the way your target audience does, not like a computer
- User control and freedom
- Provide an easy ability to undo an action or to redo it
- Consistency and standards
- Always be consistent
- Error prevention
- Make it as easy and obvious as possible for a user to avoid or prevent an error
- Recognition rather than recall
- Make the life of the user easy by not making them have to think; your job is to make their experience with you seamless, not cumbersome
- Flexibility and efficiency of use
- Make sure that the experience can be appropriate for novice and power users
- Aesthetic and minimalist design
- Every design element has to have a clear purpose; keep things as simple as possible
- Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
- Use plain English error messages as if you’re speaking to a friend; explain what went wrong and the exact solution to fix the error
- Help and documentation
- Help and documentation should be easily accessible and understandable
Next, you go through your website, web app, or mobile app, and little by little make note where the experience falls shorts of these heuristics.
For the best possible results of a heuristic evaluation, it’s best to have many people objectively evaluate your designs. Aim to get at least 10.
Utilize a design system
You can tie all of this together into a design system. Once you’re done with the audit, regroup. Figure out what needs to go, what stays and what needs to be updated. When it comes to the visual design and brand messaging, consider implementing a design system. We’ve written a couple great pieces on how to build a design system to scale and what best to include in one. Keeping your styles in a design system will ensure ongoing consistency so that you don’t have to do a design audit every few months.
As you can see, a design audit can be extremely helpful! It will boost consistency for your company’s branding and improve the user experience. Don’t forget, the truth is that a design audit means that your company and brand are growing but just got a little out of hand. Nothing to worry about, you now know what you must do in order to tighten up your brand’s visuals and message.
Have you done a design audit before? Did you find it helpful for your company? Share any tips you might have for us in the comments!