Design, Accessibility

Digital nudging + universal design = <3

Digital nudging can sure be used for great evil, but it can also be used to help your users. Ensure positive effects for all of your users by universally designing your digital nudges!

4 min read


By Ingrid Asklund Larssen


December 22, 2022

Digital nudging is explained as guiding a user's behavior and choices through user-interface design. It can be used for many purposes, e.g. making a user add the correct items to their online shopping cart or to make an application form easier to navigate. This could be accomplished by using for example wording, colors or placement and sizing of elements. Digital nudging can help the user reach better and faster decisions. It could also ease normally demanding tasks by for example reducing the completion time. It can therefore be of great value for the user to be nudged.

There are several ways to navigate online. Most common is seeing what is in front of you on the screen, and using your keyboard and mouse to navigate. Alternatives to visual navigation exist. For example will a user with vision impairments likely use a screen reader, which is used to interpret the information on the screen into audio. Not all visual information is possible to effectively or precisely interpret and is therefore not possible to pass on to the user. Consequently, digital nudges do not necessarily benefit all users if they rely on, for example, vision, to be effective.


Imagine you are a designer in charge of a website that deals with several types of applications and forms. Then, imagine this hypothetical scenario:

  • There are three different applications that might be relevant for the user: application 1, application 2 and application 3.
  • It is difficult for the user to navigate and determine which application they should submit. In many cases, users submit the wrong application.
  • You have collected data which tells you that application 1 will be the correct option for 97.5% of the users.

Based on this, you would like to nudge the users towards application 1, and you start composing two different sketches. Disclaimer: you might find several choices that you, possibly an actual designer, would not make, but it will have to do for illustration purposes. Also, for the sake of keeping scope, this example will focus on screen readers and a limited amount of nudging techniques.

Sketch 1

A sketch which illustrates the importance of universal design when nudging
For a screen reader, the order of the elements is presumably presented as such: 1. text (paragraph 1), 2. text (paragraph 2), 3. button (Go to application 1), 4. button (Go to application 2), 5. text with link to application 3

Focusing on a screen reader as the mean to navigate the website, there are some things to take note of:

  • The application 1-button will be presented first for the user both visually and by screen reader.
  • Information about color will not be communicated by a screen reader. The user will not know that one button is greener and more inviting than the other.
  • We will have more of a listing of options, and there are few elements that separate the three options from a screen readers’ perspective. This means that the first button will not be much more prominent than the others.
  • The text itself could also be used to nudge, but seeing that it is a lot of text and all put together, it could lead to information overload or that the user does not bother to read all of it.

Sketch 2

A sketch which illustrates the importance of universal design when nudging
For a screen reader, the order of the elements is presumably presented as such: 1. text, 2. button (Go to application 1), 3. text, 4. button (Go to application 2) 5. text with link to application 3

Some things one can take note of from sketch 2, also here from a screen readers' perspective:

  • The application 1-button is more separated from the other options by using text, which could make it more prominent.
  • The text itself could also be used to nudge the user through wording and tone of voice. The separation of it might lead to the user not being as overwhelmed and taking the time to read it (compared to sketch 1).
  • The application 1-button is made visually bigger than the others. As with sketch 1, it is also here important to remember that a screen reader will not provide information about the size or color of the button.

Side-note: The order of the elements will for the screen reader depend on how the HTML code is structured. In these examples, it is assumed that the different elements (HTML-tags and other relevant attributes) produces the same order for the screen reader as described in the image caption.


When not benefitting from the positive effects of nudging, some users might find themselves in additional shortcomings in their everyday lives compared to others. This highlights the importance of universal design also in the context of digital nudging - it is important to design nudges that will have favorable effects despite disabilities or impairments.

To finalize, i would like to emphasize that the point of this article is not to tell you that you should not use colors or size to nudge; it simply means that it is important to be aware that for some users, wording, tone of voice and order would have greater impact. Hopefully, this new knowledge will make it somewhat easier to give this area some attention in upcoming projects. Good luck!

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