We found that people prefer using the terms “brown” and “black” to talk about skin tone, rather than terms such as “light(er)” and “dark(er)”. Modifiers of brown, such as “medium brown” or “dark brown”, were also commonly used and liked.
“Brown” was considered helpful, direct, specific and captured a range of skin tones. Whereas “Dark skin” was considered vague, subjective and unclear.
“Brown and black skin’ is better – some people may not see themselves as ‘dark skin’… Dark skin can evoke shame, but brown and black, you can see where you fit. My dark and someone else’s dark can be very different.”
People liked content about symptoms appearing differently depending on skin tone and appreciated being told that symptoms may be harder to see on brown and black skin.
We also learned that content could appear biased if we lead with imagery of white skin or descriptions of how a condition appears on white skin.
People with a visual impairment found it helpful when we included descriptions that weren’t visual, such as how a skin symptom feels to the touch, and the shape, pattern, size, and texture of it. They also appreciated descriptions of the sensation of how it feels, for example, if it hurts when touched.
Alternative text (alt-text) is a text description of an image for people who cannot see the image. We discovered that descriptive and meaningful alt-text is helpful for those who have a visual impairment. Although, alt-text should be no more than 125 characters due to the way it’s read out by some screen reader software.
Describing images of skin symptoms in alt-text alone was often impossible due to the level of detail needed. We overcame this challenge by providing a longer description of the image in addition to alt-text.