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Accessible Design Using the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS)

The U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) is a toolkit of principles, guidance, and code that makes it easier to build accessible, mobile-friendly government websites. USWDS uses human-centered design to support human-centered design teams.

There are many ways to build a website or service. The design team created USWDS to deliver unique benefits to government teams. Below are several benefits of using USWDS to help create your content.

Benefits of the USWDS

Universal Design: Compliance from the start

The requirements for federal websites and digital services can seem confusing. That’s where the U.S. Web Design System can help. USWDS principles, guidance, and code meet these requirements from the start. It includes accessible, mobile-friendly components out of the box. The USWDS site provides tools and solutions that make compliance simpler.

The design system is built by government, for government, with government in mind. The system focuses on what government teams need to help them do their best work. The core characteristics of the system are accessibility and mobile-friendliness. The design team is always striving to stay up-to-date with the latest requirements and standards.

Proven design solutions users expect

Designers and developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to buttons, forms, and other common elements when designing and building a site. USWDS can help users provide a more seamless experience.

The design system helps users know what to expect when they visit federal websites. The system helps designers and developers provide consistent usability, accessibility, editorial style, and look-and-feel across their websites and digital services. This consistency delivers a more seamless, user-friendly experience (a key requirement of 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21st Century IDEA) and also increases trust in government.

Team alignment and common goals

Effective, high-performing teams typically have team agreements. You can strengthen your team’s agreement to common principles and human-centered design right from the start. The USWDS design principles are an important first step for any team agreement:

  • Start with real user needs.
  • Earn trust.
  • Embrace accessibility.
  • Promote continuity.
  • Listen.

You can use these principles to align teams across the federal government around common goals. They support and reflect requirements for federal websites and digital services, codified in the 21st Century IDEA.

Mission focus

Focus on your mission, not your markup. Designers and developers using USWDS will spend less time building from scratch and more time building solutions. The system speeds up the development process by adapting to your brand’s look-and-feel, editorial style guidelines, user needs, and overall digital strategy. This streamlined process gives teams more time to concentrate on higher-level goals.

Get off the redesign treadmill. When the design system improves, so does your project. By using the design system, your service benefits from the system’s continuous improvement. The system fixes bugs, improves accessibility, and reduces technical debt at scale. Each improvement to the design system improves all design system sites.

A cross-functional design system community

As more and more agencies adopt and adapt the design system, the community of content managers, designers, and developers who use it grows. The USWDS design team chats, asks questions, and shares solutions in a public Slack open to design system users (sign up to join the USWDS community and also through the USWDS GitHub organization. User contributions to the community, which can range from simple questions to new components, help colleagues with their own questions and implementations.

Effective stewardship of public resources

USWDS exists to share service expertise across the federal government so all teams can benefit from any team’s improvements. When you build with USWDS, you benefit from the experience of teams and individuals from your agency and others. What you build helps improve the design system for the next teams that use it.

This process helps get the most from the teams that use the design system. It builds the institutional memory available to new teams. It promotes user-centered, data-driven decision making and governance. It results in faster, more effective service delivery over time. Everything we as a community invest in the design system is shared, multiplied, and compounded to the greatest extent possible. USWDS uses the scale of the federal government to help individual teams perform at their peak.

Key USWDS Concepts and Tools

USWDS includes over 40 accessible, mobile-friendly components out of the box, ensuring consistency and saving teams the need to build everything from scratch for their web-design and redesign projects.

USWDS also provides tools and solutions, including a simple way to pick accessible colors or a component that displays required links, that make it easy to comply with legal requirements, such as the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Users don’t need to understand the following concepts and tools to install the design system, but you will need to know them to build with it:

  • Design tokens: Design tokens are predefined units of color, spacing, typography, opacity, and more that form the building blocks of the design system.
  • Components: Components are simple and consistent solutions to common user interface needs, like form fields, buttons, and icons. If tokens are the building blocks of the design system, components are the building blocks of a site or service.
  • Utilities: Utilities are single-purpose classes mapped to USWDS tokens. Utilities allow developers to prototype with design system utilities without writing Sass or CSS.
  • Implementations: Implementations are how teams use USWDS in their projects, like in Drupal, as well as other platforms and frameworks. We’ll link to projects and community supported implementations.

Note: The information above was derived from introductory materials on the USWDS site. Explore the USWDS site for more information on how to get started and effectively employ this great design system.

Reviewed/Updated: June 2024

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