IT Services

Responsible web development


1. Introduction

There are several key areas that should always be considered when developing and maintaining any website. This document outlines some of the responsibilities incumbent on those producing websites and web interfaces and provides some links to further information.

2. Accessibility

Ensuring that your site is accessible is important. The principle of accessibility is that your website should be usable by anyone, regardless of personal circumstances, technology, location, etc.

For site owners, this means ensuring that your site does not create barriers to the use of your site. This can be achieved by being aware of the diversity of your potential audience when designing your site. To a large extent this involves avoiding assumptions, for example:

This isn't to say that you can't make use of new technologies or advanced techniques to provide a richer user experience, but that you do so with an approach of progressive enhancement. The principle of progressive enhancement is that the core information and functionality of a site should be available to all. Additional enhancements to improve user experience are then added in addition, without compromising the core functionality for any user.

Further information on accessibility is available in our Introduction to Web Accessibility.

You may also find the following resources useful:

3. Usability

It is important to make your site as usable as possible, in order that users can get the most out of your site. There are a few simple things you can do to improve the usability of your site that can make a tremendous difference. One key area structure: your site should be structured so that users can easily and logically navigate to where they want to be; content should be well structured so that it is easy to read. People don't generally like reading large blocks of text, particularly on the Web, where readers tend to be more goal-oriented. It is good practice to break your content up using sub-headings, paragraphs, lists etc.

The type of language which you use is also very important; this will set the tone of your website and needs to be appropriate to the subject and audience of the site.

Some questions to bear in mind:

You may also find the following University guides useful:

4. Security

When producing a website it is important to consider the security of the site. If you are using any software such as a Content Management System (CMS) it is important that you check regularly for security updates and apply any such updates as soon as possible. If the site contains code written specifically for your site, you should ensure that the code does not contain any security vulnerabilities.

You may find the following resources useful:

5. Privacy

If you are collecting any information from people on your website, you will need to be clear about what information you're collecting from people, what you're going to do with it and who will have access to it. You will also need to take into account the data protection and freedom of information legislation that may apply to that information.

University Policy Statements on the subject:

6. Audience analysis

The intended audience(s) of a website has a large bearing on how the site should be presented. It is your responsibility to present content in a manner appropriate to your audience. Factors include the type of language used, choice of images, the aesthetic of the site, etc.

Some useful links:

7. Copyright

It is important that you have right to publish the content on your website. If you or your employer are creating all content for your website from scratch, this probably wont be an issue. However this is rarely the case. If you are contracting an external company to create your site, make sure that your agreement with them specifies who owns the material they create and that you are happy with these arrangements. If you are reusing material you have found online then you need to check copyright status and licensing conditions of that content. By default you are not allowed to reuse or adapt content belonging to others. However there is an increasing amount of material available under ‘open content licences’ such as Creative Commons which explicitly permit reuse under certain conditions without having to contact the authors directly.

Some useful links:

8. Identity

It is important to consider the identity of your website. Should the site be clearly identified as a University of Oxford website? Does the site require its own identity? If so, what should this be?

The identity of a website is for you to decide, however if you are going to use the University branding, be sure to refer to the branding guidelines.