How and why we do Design Audits
What is a Design Audit?
A Design Audit, sometimes referred to as a UX Audit, is a systematic
assessment of the design and user experience (UX) of a product, website,
or application. The goal of a Design Audit is to assess how well a
digital product meets the needs and expectations of its users and to
identify areas for improvement based on design best practices. This
process involves a comprehensive analysis of various aspects of the
user experience, including usability, accessibility, design, content,
and overall user satisfaction.
Who might need a Design Audit?
At thoughtbot, we typically conduct a Design Audit at the start of a
new client engagement. Some organisations may also schedule periodic
Design Audits to ensure a product meets business and user experience
objectives, or they may be prompted by user feedback to do so.
This is a common need with products that have added a lot of
functionality as they scale without a structured design system or
a team of designers in place.
Why is a Design Audit beneficial?
The output of a Design Audit is usually a clear list of prioritised
user experience issues that the team can then solve. By acting on this
list of issues, companies can align their product to their customers
and can create a product based on reliable data and best practices,
rather than assumptions. Having a better user experience gives
companies a competitive advantage which leads to an increase in
sales and many delighted customers.
How long should a Design Audit take?
This question varies depending on the complexity of the project
you are conducting the audit on. A small, contained application
with around 10 “pages” and limited functionality might require an
audit of around 10 days. An audit of larger and more complex
applications might take as long as 3 or 4 weeks to complete.
What are the steps involved?
Our first step in a Design Audit is to get a better understanding
of the product, the customer and the company goals. Usually we
speak to team members and conduct customer interviews as a good
starting point. Once we understand what the aim of the product is
and what customers are looking to achieve by using it, it becomes
a lot clearer which actions need to be taken.
Next up we will evaluate the existing application.
Some key areas we might evaluate include:
We evaluate how easy it is for users to accomplish specific tasks
within the product. This often involves observing users as they
interact with the interface to identify any usability issues.
We will assess the product's compliance with accessibility standards
to ensure that it can be used by people with disabilities. This
might involve checking for proper use of alt text for images,
keyboard navigation, and other accessibility features.
We assess the visual design of the application. This will help us
to identify areas where the visual design is negatively impacting
the user experience. This can be accomplished by evaluating the
overall look and feel of the product, including the use of colours,
typography, imagery, and other design elements. Changes coming from
this exercise could be as simple as changing the font family,
increasing the font size or increasing the amount of white space
around elements to improve readability and to make the hierarchy
very apparent. On the other end of the spectrum, a more complex
recommendation could be to run a branding workshop to reassess the
brand colours, language and themes.
The written content of the application can be analysed by the quality
and relevance of the content within the product. This includes assessing
the clarity of information, appropriateness of language, and overall
content structure. A simple suggestion we might make to a client after
this exercise would be to remove some complex jargon. If most of their
users will not understand what the jargon means or it is not relevant,
the client should consider removing it. We find that clear, simple
language is often best. A more complex example could involve
reorganising the client’s content architecture. In this case, we might
begin by trimming the content to make sure that only the most critical
and relevant information is shown, before making it easy to uncover
those extra bits of information the user might need if they are
specifically looking for them.
Navigation and Information Architecture
We also often review the organisation of information and the effectiveness
of navigation elements to ensure that users can easily find what
they are looking for. Recommendations from this exercise range from
simple things like switching from hover to tap/click actions to
navigate mega drop downs (a common issue for large ecommerce websites),
to a complete reorganisation of the applications flow (in extreme
cases where it is very unclear for users where to go or what to do).
We will also usually check the speed and responsiveness of the
product to ensure it has a smooth and efficient user experience.
We may even spend some time collecting and analysing user feedback,
such as reviews, comments, and support inquiries, to understand
user perspectives and pain points.
After conducting the audit, we typically generate a detailed
report. This report outlines the findings, insights, and
recommendations for improvement. The goal is to provide actionable
insights that can guide the design and development teams in
enhancing the user experience of the product.
A good way to report items is by listing “The Problem -> Why
it is a problem -> A recommended solution -> The theory behind
the solution (the “Why”) -> An example of the solution in practice”.
If possible, try to prioritise each recommendation based on an
“Impact” and “Effort” scale. A recommendation with a high impact
and a low effort is something that will make a big difference
and can be done right away. A recommendation with a low impact
but a high effort involved to execute it is something that can
Optional high fidelity mockups
If we struggle to find a good example of the solution we are
proposing and if we have enough time, we might even do some
quick high fidelity mockups to illustrate what applying the
design theory and the recommendations could look like for that
client’s specific application. The output of this could be an
individual screen or even a clickable prototype. It is
important to stress that these mockups are not to be
implemented directly as they are; that is not the purpose of
the audit. The mockups are simply to demonstrate the theory
behind the recommendations rather than being the final solution.
What is the output?
Some assets that a client might be left with after a Design
- A detailed report which documents which problems were found,
why they are problematic, a recommended solution, the theory
behind the solution and an example of the solution in practice.
- These action items should be organised based on effort and
impact so that it is clear for the company what they need to
- An example of this report can be seen here.
- Roughwork and documented thinking around the proposed solutions.
- An example set of mockup designs to show the proposed solutions
in action. This could even, if time permits, become a working
prototype to test with customers.
- An example design system complete with colour palette, font guides,
components and branding work along with the theory behind each.
- A design workflow demonstrating how to incorporate design and
user testing into future development work if the company currently
does not have this.
- A compilation of resources may be required to help them with this.