An audit is an in-depth review and analysis of a system, prototype, process or an idea. A design audit could be in reference to a website, the visual collaterals being used by a company or the physical plus functional appeal of a prototype or a product. A design audit has implications on marketing, brand, cultural and other communicative as well as perceived aspects of an organization.
Quick details: Audits
Structure: Structured, Semi-structured
Preparation: Product, Service or Documents to be audited, Audit brief
Deliverables: Audit report
More about Audits in Design and where it could be used
For instance, visuals are central to a company’s branding and marketing efforts. Irrespective of what kind of language is used to complement a message, the user experience and perception of the brand will be delivered from the combined impact of visual design as well as the language. Similarly, irrespective of how physically appealing a prototype or product packaging is, as long as the functional utility of the item doesn’t deliver a great user experience, user acceptance of a cumbersome-to-use design will stay low.
Companies often do not pay close attention to inconsistent messaging or design. When making a website, letterhead or any other collateral, the logo, typography or quality of designs can vary depending on the aesthetic sense of different designers working on these materials. An effective brand recall means consistent aesthetics in all forms of communication.
Organizations develop a brand manual that captures the brand language that the organization will follow across all channels and mediums. But, a design audit before creating such a manual and regularly after must be carried out to ensure uniformity. For a design audit, the auditor studies and records all visual as well as brand elements of an organization. The auditor studies the original elements such as the logo, how it is designed and how it can be used in different contexts in the brand manual. The brand manual also talks about the dos and don’ts of different design elements on the website, letterhead as well as social media.
Sometimes, it is a good practice to show the organization being audited by how much the visuals deviate from the brand language. Again, sometimes, the most elementary of elements such as the logo need to be redesigned to represent the values, culture or to target the right audience for the organization.
Other design research methods such as Heuristic Analysis and Usage Analytics can be a precursor to or a part of design audit.
Overall, design audits can either be qualitative (for visuals) or functional (for prototypes, digital as well as physical products).
|Qualitative||To analyze qualitative consistency and appeal of visuals.||A qualitative audits can help consistent communicative, effective marketing, better targeting and a closer to desired branding.||Qualitative audit results will be limited to the skill levels of the user or expert.|
|Functional||To understand the functional utility of a prototype or product.||An experienced auditor can perform functional audit where the auditor must be aware of the features that need to get delivered and whether user goals are being met.|
Advantages of Design Audit
1. In-depth insight
The insights obtained from a design audit are in-depth when the recruited users represent the different stakeholders for the organization.
2. Wider scope
As the users include management, employees, as well as customers for an organization, the opinions of an extremely diverse group are collated to devise a brand language that works for all.
3. Better Positioning
Design audits and reports guide the communication principles for a company, which allows it to create a better and stronger position for itself in the market.
4. Consistent communication
The primary objective of design audit is to ensure consistency in visual as well as textual communication of an organization.
Disadvantages of Design Audit
1. Diversity of users
In order to carry out a design audit, first diverse set of users need to be recruited and interviewed to understand the current positioning, target audience, brand language and overall strategy of the brand. This can give a general picture of what the visuals should represent, which color palettes to use, which typography would be appropriate as well as the visual style that the designs must adhere to.
2. Time & Cost Consuming
Design audit, depending on its level of details, can be both a time and cost consuming exercise.
3. Experienced Auditors
Only an experienced auditor can conduct a thorough audit and collate the findings into actionable items.
4. Not a one-time activity
Design audit is not a one-time activity, it must be conducted at regular intervals to constantly monitor and correct any deviation from the intended visual style of any brand.
Think Design's recommendation
In its generalized form, an audit could mean anything from a company’s financial data audit to a company’s social media audit to a design audit. In the context of design research, we could filter down our conversation around design audits.
Design Audits are required to gain an external, bird’s eye perspective to design that which already exists. An auditor/ researcher, in this case, acts as an expert and voices his opinions on the material to be audited. We would recommend proceeding with a basic structure (either fully or semi-structured) instead of doing it in an unstructured manner, in order to ensure that the time and capital invested gives you clear takeaways.