Burberry : Lacking contrast

Fashionability shades accessibility.

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The Site

Burberry, a UK-based clothing company, provides a browsing experience that challenges its claims to accessibility. Burberry has discrete websites for its retail and corporate audiences but retains a strong element of brand consistency across the estate. The templates of both sites utilise an almost monotone colour palette along with a small font size on internal pages. Contrast ratios between the text and background elements are low. For example, left menu links on the corporate site appear in mid-grey against a beige background, while the retail (‘store’) site uses light grey lettering on a dark grey background. Large fashion-page quality images are a feature of both at higher levels. The corporate site has an accessibility page that states the company “believes” the site “meets or exceeds” the minimum requirements of the World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative (WCAG WAI). There is no accessibility information on the store site.

The Takeaway

While it is not surprising for the website of a luxury fashion house to strive for style points, Burberry’s low-contrast approach strains its estate’s usability for significant numbers of visitors. Its intention in this respect is probably not to reinforce the exclusivity of the brand, although the lack of accessibility information on the retail site suggests an assumed discrimination is in play – there is information and explanation for corporate visitors (read an older more regulatory minded crowd). Burberry’s claim to meet the standards is technically correct in respect of the contrast ‘minimum’ (WCAG 1.4.3) but its effort falls well short of the contrast ‘enhanced’ requirement (WCAG 1.4.6). The small size of the text emphasises the problem this creates and thus the need to take a qualitative view of the issue into account. Demonstrating a more sympathetic understanding of the standards (one that goes beyond technical compliance) would demonstrate a greater understanding of visitor need and the aims of the guidelines. Something as simple as a change in the shade of text colour on the corporate site, for example, would improve browsing for the partially sighted and make pages easier to scan for everyone without major sacrifices to style.

First published 15 March, 2012
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