Using Icons to Encourage Visual Literacy on Campus

The role of design in instructional materials to engage a broad spectrum of student abilities.

Lance Hidy 
Accessible Media Specialist 
Northern Essex Community College

The academic administrators at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts, are considering adopting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a new methodology for improving student success and retention.

Having had disappointing results from other applied strategies, they are taking a fresh look at the role of design—especially for making instructional materials more accessible and engaging for a broad spectrum of student abilities. One important facet of UDL that the college is currently investigating is expanding the use of image content in text documents

To illustrate this idea, the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs asked me to develop a system of icons to represent every degree and certificate offered by the college, along with icons for the six academic divisions, and the nine athletic programs—87 in all. Many of the faculty who were invited to participate in the process of icon development for their disciplines said that it was an eye-opening experience, being the first time they had engaged in a visual thinking exercise.

As the collection of icons was finalized and distributed, employees were invited to use them to promote their disciplines. Additionally, a colorful poster of all 87 icons is circulating on campus and off, providing not only a useful recruiting tool, but also a new way for employees and students to understand what the college is

It is too early to assess how persuasive this icon project will be in shifting the college culture toward UDL and improved visual literacy. But it is providing a popular, concrete example of UDL that is already being used by everyone, and is being cited as campus committees begin debating the role of UDL in the next strategic plan.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.3: Merrimack College on March 30, 2019.

Teaching Inclusive Design: Design with Everyone in Mind

Ziddi Msangi
Associate Professor
Graphic Design
UMass Dartmouth

The World Health Organization defines disability as “a contextual variable”. One is more or less disabled by their interaction with a physical environment, social environment, or institutional environment. Inclusive Design aims to “reduce the experience of disability and enhance everyone’s experience and performance.

Universal design standards were developed to guide Designers in addressing disabling environments. The goal is to create accessible spaces for people with functional limitations.

Graphic design educators can integrate these principles in the design studio, providing a generation of students with the tools to improve the quality of life for all citizens.

“A User Expert is a person who has developed expertise by means of their lived experience in dealing with the challenges of the environment. due to a physical, sensory, and/or cognitive functional limitation. User/Experts include, older people with changing vision or stamina, people of short stature, limited grasp, or who use wheelchairs.”-Institute for Human Centered Design

In this model, we move beyond personas, as a way of identifying a users needs when developing a brand. User experts with functional limitations share their lived experience with students. The insight students gain from a User Expert helps guide the design process.

This presentation will share the visual outcome of junior level branding and identity projects, and the impact on student understanding. Over the course of the semester, students were in conversation with four User Experts who helped guide the development of the projects.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.