There continues to be a tension between web design that is “highly-designed” and web design that is accessible and search engine friendly. The former sites tend to be Flash only or rely heavily on DHTML.

So it is possible for a site to be beautiful but accessible?

Just yesterday I posted about “Dr Martens launches new website freedm2.com – beautiful but flawed?”. In one of the comments to my post, Jon Bovard cites the fashion / luxury market as the most obvious sector where you see stunningly beautiful sites but which are chock full of Flash or DHTML.

He gives the following examples:
http://www.asprey.com
http://www.louisvuitton.com/web/flash/index.jsp
http://www.darcyjewels.com/
http://www.marni.com
http://zegna.com/

I’d add http://www.gucci.com/ to that and no doubt there are many others.

It is easy to criticise such sites for their lack of accessibility compliance. Few of us are whiter than white when it comes to accessibility (this site included) so perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones. Often such brands are not governed out of the UK so accessibility (and possible litigation) aren’t really much of a commercial concern for them anyway.

However, it would be good if we, the industry, could give examples of how ‘beautiful’ sites can be built which are also accessible and search friendly.

Personally I think that navigation, ease-of-use, functionality etc. can be ‘beautiful’ in terms of customer experience. Have a look at a search on handbags on MSN’s new Live Search. Roll over the images. Play with the slider. Try the ‘Scratchpad’ and drag a few tasty bags into it. I think that is beautiful. Far more beautiful than the luxury brands’ sites which I can barely navigate.

However, let’s try and make ourselves give examples of sites which are graphically ‘beautiful’ (“look pretty”) and also accessible and search engine friendly. Can we think of any?

Css Zen Garden has examples of how CSS-driven sites (accessible and SEO friendly) can still be very graphically ‘designed’.

Also have a look at sIFR 2.0: Rich Accessible Typography for the Masses – Mike Davidson here explains sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement), “a method to insert rich typography into web pages without sacrificing accessibility, search engine friendliness, or markup semantics.” This seems an interesting development?

Any other examples you can add?

Ashley Friedlein
CEO
E-consultancy.com