✏️ Design systems and accessibility ♿

The recent announcement of Adobe’s Spectrum 2, with a notable emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity, brings to the forefront a crucial aspect of design systems that calls for some reflection. The question raised is not only pertinent but also underscores a fundamental principle that should indeed be considered a default in the realm of design. Why then is accessibility and inclusiveness being explicitly highlighted by Adobe, and should it not be an inherent and non-negotiable component of all design systems?

The concept and use of the term design system is somewhat relatively new. In the mid-2000s, we saw the adoption of modular frameworks and libraries, which began to standardise the structure and style of web components. It was only in the late 2000s that the concept of a style guide or pattern library began to emerge. The real turning point was in 2014 when the likes of Google introduced its Material Design System, or Salesforce and their Lightning Design System. By doing so, the concept of a design system gained prominence.

However, these initial design systems were predominantly centered on aesthetics, functionality, and the pursuit of consistency within user interfaces. While these facets remain undeniably critical, the design landscape has undergone a transformative paradigm shift, steering towards a more pronounced commitment to a user-centric approach. Design systems are moving beyond UI guidelines to encapsulating the full user experience.

In an ideal design landscape, accessibility and inclusivity should be considered foundational principles, embedded within the DNA of every design system, without the need for explicit statements, press releases or announcements. However, the reality is that we are navigating a transitional period where the design industry is recognising and embracing the pivotal role of accessibility in design. Adobe’s spotlight on this crucial aspect in Spectrum 2 is a step towards creating a standard that positions accessibility not as an exception but as an integral and non-negotiable component of every design system. As designers, developers, and businesses move forward, the aspiration should be to create digital experiences that are not just visually appealing and functional but, above all, universally accessible.

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