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Design Standards for AITS Developed Enterprise Applications

The Importance of Design Standards

AITS supports numerous digital tools that aid in the operation of the entire University of Illinois System. These web and mobile applications are used by a diverse userbase made up of students, faculty, staff and others to assist them in the various tasks needed to keep the university running smoothly. A single individual will likely use multiple applications during their time at the university, and since each of these applications represent the university, it is imperative that they all offer a consistent and high-quality experience. Having a set of standards for our applications is a key part of achieving this goal. These standards cover three main areas: usability, accessibility, and visual design.

Usability Standards

Usability is a broad term that is used to assess how easy the interface of a website, application, or mobile app is to use. By providing applications that are easy to use, we allow the members of our campus community to work more effectively and efficiently.

The usability of an interface is made up of various components, including but not limited to:

  • Usefulness: Does the application do what the user needs it to?
  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to learn how to use the application?
  • Efficiency: How quickly can users accomplish tasks?
  • Memorability: How easy is the application to use after not using it for a while?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, what are the consequences of those errors, and how easily can they be fixed?
  • Trustworthiness: Can users trust the information provided? Can they trust that the application is working as expected?

It’s important to remember that usability is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Just because one person finds an interface to be usable in a specific situation does not mean it is usable to all users in all situations. It’s important to consider numerous factors: Is it usable to the actual people who will use the application and not just the people creating it? Is it usable on different browsers and devices, and in different situations? Is it usable to people with disabilities? This last point is especially important and leads us to our next set of standards: accessibility.

Accessibility Standards

Accessibility refers to the practice of making sure websites are equally accessible to all users, regardless of their ability status. Since over a quarter of Americans identify as or disclose having a disability, a site that is not accessible is not usable to a large portion of the population.

Disabilities can be permanent (such as an amputee), temporary (broken arm), or even situational (holding something and only have one hand free). When designing an interface, you must consider the following disabilities:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Physical/motor

When possible, the experience of using an application should be the same for all users, regardless of ability. When that’s not possible, alternative, equal ways of using the application to complete tasks or receive information must be supplied to users who will not be able to use the site as is.

Making sure our applications are accessible is a legal requirement and it is the right thing to do. The standards we are required to meet for electronic and information technology are:

Visual Design Standards

Collage of UI Applications

Visual Design describes the visual aspects of an interface – the colors, fonts, layouts, graphics, etc. Consistent visual design across applications reassures users that the application is a still part University of Illinois System and that they are in the right place. Having a visually appealing and modern design also helps convey a sense of professionalism and increases trust in the application. Visual design standards can also help increase usability, as consistent designs across different applications mean that the user’s knowledge of one application can help them learn new ones quicker.

Visual Design is similar, but not exactly the same, as Brand Standards. While both deal with similar visual elements, the primary goals are different. Branding’s goal is to tell a story and convey a message. Visual Design’s goal in the context of application design is to aid in usability. Our visual design style accommodates the System brand standards, including things like university wordmarks, but is also broader and more oriented toward web and mobile interaction, and less towards external marketing.

Developed enterprise applications created by AITS use the same palette, design style, and interactions. While there may be unique features across different applications, universal elements (headers, footers, profile information, etc) should be consistent in appearance and behavior. Units wishing to match this consistent style can contact AITS User Experience and Design Team for a consultation and assistance.


Email the AITS User Experience and Design Team for a consultation and assistance.