Designing online services that work for all - Are housing associations incorporating inclusive design into their websites?

A photo of Simon Wissink, a white man with ginger hair and a ginger beard.

Account Director

20 minute read

Our usability and accessibility review of housing sector websites. The report found a number of areas in which the reviewed sites could be more inclusive to users.

Executive Summary

As more and more aspects of our daily lives are touched by the internet and technology, having good experiences online is more important than ever. The housing sector is one that is starting to realise the importance of a strong online approach as a way of better engaging with tenants and cutting costs at the same time. Consequently, increasing numbers of housing associations are working hard to grow their online self-service offerings.

However, many have work to do when it comes to the user experience of their websites and digital assets – a lack of awareness around digital strategy and budgetary constraints are just a couple of the reasons this has traditionally lagged behind. Yet, in the housing sector a good user experience has the potential to increase tenant engagement, improve customer service, simplify processes and cut costs.

In our research we investigated the UX of 10 housing association websites at random in February 2017 – looking at their usability, accessibility for all users, whether they worked across devices, and how well they were using online self-service. We also enlisted the help of Molly Watt, an independent consultant who lives with Usher Syndrome – which affects her hearing and sight – to test how well each of the sites accommodated users with visual and auditory impairments.

In our testing we found that:

  • On average the housing associations scored just 15.5 out of 30 on our testing matrix which assessed multiple factors
  • However, most of the websites had considered usability to some extent – 70% made it clear from the homepage what they had to offer and most made good use of content chunking - meaning content was easy to read
  • But, only three avoided carousels – a popular design trend which can frustrate users and lead to missed information
  • Seven out of the 10 websites scored below average (50%) when it came to accessibility
  • Only one of the websites had sufficient colour contrast – making it difficult for users with sight loss to view them
  • Just one was screen reader friendly, meaning those using assistive technology might struggle to view the other nine sites
  • Eight out of 10 had an online account area, but only half were easy to find
  • Most of the sites had invested in a responsive or adaptive website

You can download the full report, which includes useful recommendations for housing associations that are unsure where to start when it comes to improving their user experience.

Our usability and accessibility consultant, Molly Watt describes some of the issues she found when testing the sites in the video below.