Access as Design Requirement: Improving Attitudes and Commitment

Access needs to be core to the design process if we want emerging digital designers to design for the public good.

As a discipline, we often focus and reward visual design and aesthetics over, rather than in addition to, usability and accessibility. If we want emerging digital designers to design for the public good, then access needs to be core to their process and their education. Creating a learning environment that makes access a priority both in the way the course is delivered and in the learning objectives impacts who student designers consider as audiences and how they prioritize the needs and desires of those audience members.

Students in four sections of a beginning web design course over three semesters were given a pre-course survey, designed by Teach Access, to measure student perceptions and knowledge of accessibility and disability. Accessibility was regularly discussed throughout the course and was a design requirement on all assignments. Interventions across the three semesters evolved based on results of the prior semester. At the end of the course, students were given a post-course survey, to measure shifts in perception and understanding of accessibility.

In this session, I will share the interventions introduced each semester and the philosophy behind each intervention. In addition, I’ll share the statistically significant results and discuss the successes and failures of each iteration of interventions. As educators, the way we approach access in the classroom influences future generations of designers, therefore it is important to begin to systematically study the impact of the course design decisions we make.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.3: Fordham University on May 16, 2019.

How Hard Is It To Navigate A Rectangle? Harder Than You Think

Neil Ward
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Drake University

Wayfinding and signage are important pieces of a buildings structure and interior space, especially on college/university campuses. They provide a visual blueprint that informs students, administrators, faculty, and public visitors where they are and attempts to direct them to classrooms, galleries, labs, performance spaces, and offices. When the signage is missing, incomplete, or inconsistent, all who enter the space are left confused and quite possibly frustrated as they wander around. A missing/poor wayfinding system can intensify these feelings when an individual is mobility challenged and unable to use the stairs. Especially when the building in question is rectangular in shape.

This is a particular problem senior level graphic design students encountered during a Research and Application class in the Fall semester of 2016. Using photo ethnography, observational research, and visual anthropology, students learned and observed how and why visitors entered, moved through, and exited the Fine Arts Building (A building that is rectangular in shape). Based on their findings, students designed a wayfinding system for the building that heavily considered those who are mobility challenged.

An individual (we will call her Jane) from the Office of Student Disabilities, who is mobility challenged, volunteered to test the wayfinding systems. During the user test, dialogue ensued between both parties about what was missing, what could be done better, and what to think about for future iterations. Upon debriefing, students passionately discussed their systems and the building as a whole through Jane’s point of view. Experiencing movement through the building with Jane they unanimously decided the current systems are unacceptable for a campus deemed accessible. Furthermore, they were inspired by Jane’s encouragement and the notion of how their wayfinding could continually and positively impact a large audience.

“How hard is it to navigate a rectangle? Harder than you think” will feature project visuals, the unexpected drive to design for social good, and the issue of accessibility to inspire empathy through wayfinding.

 

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.1: Kean University on Saturday, Oct 22, 2016.