Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Designing for everyone

The Medium post 7 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about Accessibility got me thinking (again) about ways to better communicate with all sorts of people, online, on paper, and IRL.   I readily admit I'm not a design or communications expert.   But like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and porn, I (often) know good and bad design when I see it.

Let's start with my thoughts about the Medium post (in no order):

  • Color.   Jesse Hausler has several pieces of advice for color.   The first is "Don’t use color as the only visual means of conveying information."   The way I think about this is with printed materials.   What happens when someone prints your flyer in black and white or in grayscale?   Can readers tell what is important or not?   Certainly, online, designers can add clues (such as error state marks―that's what the triangles with exclamation points are called).   In print, this is more challenging but most certainly worth addressing.

    Hausler's second bit of advice for color is to ensure sufficient contrast AND to use an accessible color palette.   Both are important and with the tools Hausler links, it's easy for you to check the accessibility of your website and blog.

    Here's what I would add to the color discussion, albeit not from an accessibility perspective: Do use color but use it judiciously.   Meaning: Don't use a color background on a flyer if you expect people/organizations to print it out themselves.   No one wants to use that much ink and it's just bad design.   Use color where color is important.   In my experience, flyers are made to look good first.   Instead, they should convey the information first, using design (and color) to make the information understandable, etc.

  • Forms.   Jesse Hausler walks readers through the do's and don'ts of forms.   And while I understand little about the technical stuff, I understand the bigger ideas.   So read and share with your web designer.

Less about online design and more about content and illustrating content is Beyond the Written Word: Health Literacy and the Role of Pictures.   Ken Thorlton, content and messaging expert in the health field, explains how the judicious and appropriate use of images can help people better understand and implement content.   While most of the studies Thorlton cites are behind a paywalls, here is the results summary of one:

Both sets of these simple written materials were generally well understood. However, the presence of pictograms was shown to improve the comprehension of more complex information, resulting in significantly more participants in the experimental group obtaining a score for understanding >80% for both the medicine label and PIL. A clear preference for the materials incorporating pictograms was expressed.

Another study finds positive action related to images.

Just because findings support the use of images, however, images, especially gratuitous clipart, should not take over any flyer, postcard, or poster.   Graphics should complement the text.   And white space is our friend.

Finally, to the latest of fads that is just plain bad: Content in images only.   While images are easy to share in email and on websites and blogs, they are a bear for users.   What I mean: If I want to attend the event, I have to retype the important information into my calendar.   Okay, not a huge big deal.   But if there is a lot of content AND I want to share it, it's a pain.   And why should I have to do the work for someone else?

At a minimum, those who share image files (.png, .bmp, .jpg) should also share the text in those files.   An alternative is to create a cool logo or small graphic with the subject or event name and have all the text available in text form.

And yes, I have committed this offense.   So I, too, have to do better.

What do you want to see done better?   What are your design/communications pet peeves?   Leave your thoughts in a comment.

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