Illustration by Kyle Webster

The tech industry is fast-paced, which means user experience (UX) designers are constantly working to create and maintain a positive experience for their products. Evaluating new feature requests, conducting user research, and designing deliverables are all part of the process while also working with product managers to ensure design and business strategies are aligned. 

This collaboration can lead to amazing designs, but design continuity issues, accessibility gaps, or other roadblocks can challenge design teams. That’s why it’s important to schedule regular UX design audits to evaluate, identify, and resolve gaps that may exist. 

Let’s take a look and learn what a design audit is and how it can help your design team.

3D design of different components of a digital product.
3D design of different components of a digital product. Image credit Adobe.

What is a UX audit?

A design audit is a quality assurance activity that’s goal is to review products and evaluate them from a user experience perspective to ensure it meets accessibility, user interface (UI) component continuity, and design unity requirements. In doing so, designers can identify previously unforeseen gaps and issues within their product’s designs that need to be addressed in future design sprints. Some common issues that can be discovered during a design audit are:

  • Images missing alt text for accessibility screen readers
  • Inconsistent font type and size usage throughout the website
  • Missing navigation links
  • Outdated content
  • Incorrect usage of component patterns
  • Off-brand colors used that do not meet accessibility requirements
  • Layout is not used and that causes components to look cluttered or askew

Design audits involve design collaboration among all the members on the team to be successful and not overwhelming for a single person to do on their own. This is why it is important to demonstrate the importance of conducting a UX design audit and getting your team excited about how you can improve the overall usability of the product.

When should you do a UX design audit?

Doing a design audit as often and as regularly as possible can help keep your design team on track. The longer you wait to conduct a design audit, the greater the chance for undiscovered gaps to create issues, which will be more difficult to resolve further along in the design process.

How do I perform a UX design audit for a website?

A proper UX design audit will assess your digital product and designs from several different perspectives, including usability heuristics, accessibility guidelines, UI component continuity, and adherence to the product’s style guide. With these perspectives, designers can conduct a UX design audit to determine how a single screen, for example, is currently meeting the guidelines for any of these areas. 

Let’s take a closer look at what each of these perspectives means and how to use them to audit existing design work.

Usability heuristics

One of the most common evaluative processes in any UX design audit is the inclusion of Jack Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for user interface design. This involves assessing the user interface of your website or other digital product from a human-centered and UX perspective. The 10 usability heuristics include:

  • Visibility of system status. Ensuring users can easily identify and understand the current system status to guide them through next steps.
  • Match between system and the real world. Making sure that the language and actions used are similar to how a user would expect something to work in the real world, which includes avoiding unnecessary confusion and mistakes.
  • User control and freedom. Users should never feel locked into a current interaction and should have an exit available to them, in addition to undo and redo options.
  • Consistency and standards. Your product should be easy to learn while making repeated UI components work the same way as before to avoid users being confronted with unexpected results.
  • Error prevention. User errors should be avoided as much as possible. When they do happen, the user should be guided on how to avoid that error in the future.
  • Recognition rather than recall. Try to avoid forcing users to remember information in order to continue using your product. Make it easier for them to recognize what an element may do.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use. Find ways to accelerate the use of your product, while allowing customization for users to adjust certain functionality to fit with their preferred work process.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design. Avoid over-complicating designs. Keep it simple to avoid confusing users.
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors. No user wants to be confronted with an error message, but when it happens, the message should clearly explain why it occurred and how to avoid it in the future.
  • Help and documentation. Try to think about the types of information a user may need or look for and make sure that information is accessible, searchable, and easy to find. 

Accessibility guidelines

Making a product accessible is a top priority for design teams and brands to ensure that all people are able to use their design. Some companies have even constructed their own heavily researched accessibility guidelines to help designers evaluate and identify accessibility. However, if your company does not have one of its own, a great resource is the W3C Accessibility Initiative.

UI component continuity

Although continuity, in general, is a key part of the usability heuristics mentioned earlier, it deserves its own part in the evaluation process. Continuity can become a common issue when there are tight deadlines and various design team members working on the same project. 

An example of assessing continuity would be to isolate all the models that are used across your product and ensure that anyone using them shares a similar experience. Make sure to test your UI component patterns with users by utilizing prototyping tools to create usability tests.

Style guide adherence

A UI style guide is a single source for design documentation, which provides guidelines for the look, feel, and tone of a product. This not only helps with brand consistency and continuity, but it also controls a key part of the experience users will have when using your product. Following a style guide will ensure that the user experience doesn’t change from page to page.

UX audit template

It is important to build your UX audit template correctly to ensure you are gathering the data you need to provide insights and recommendations to your team. To help you get started, open a new spreadsheet and use the following headings as columns to evaluate each issue that you’ll place in its own row:

  • Issue Description. A brief explanation of the issue.
  • Source Location. Where in the product is the issue located. Be exact.
  • Usability Heuristic. Which usability heuristic is the issue not meeting?
  • Accessibility. Is this an accessibility issue? Yes or no.
  • User Impact. How badly is it impacting the user experience? Low, medium, high.
  • Design Sizing. What is the design effort needed to correct? Low, medium, high.
  • Development Sizing. What is the development effort needed to correct? Low, medium, high.
  • Priority. An overall priority score based on the results of the other columns. Low, medium, high.

UX design audit insights

The most valuable part of the UX design audit comes at the end when the team gets UX metrics and an assessment of the product from the variety of perspectives discussed above. Your team will come to realize the importance of quality assurance. Remember, design audits aren’t intended to critique any single person on the team, but they are used to improve your products and collaboration as a whole.

It is also important that the development and product teams review the UX design audit to discuss and evaluate from a feasibility and priority perspective. This makes it’s easier to plan for unresolved issues in future sprints.

Starting your first UX design audit

Starting your first UX design audit may seem overwhelming at first, but once you know what to do and look for, it will become a straightforward process. To begin, build your design audit template using the suggested column headings discussed earlier and then go screen by screen to document your findings. Make sure you’re taking into account both the 10 usability heuristics and accessibility guidelines, in addition to the product’s overall design continuity and unity.

For your first audit, it is encouraged to break up the scope of work into smaller and more manageable components and see how many designers you can afford to involve. Begin discussing the need to conduct an audit during design critiques, and commit to a date to do a kickoff meeting with your larger product team. Once you complete your first design audit, the others will likely go more smoothly.