Re: Visual Accessibility for Thought

A friend saw a popular event billboard and disclosed how he looked for the date of the event and could not find it. I was sure it wasn’t an oversight. The designer probably unknowingly ‘hid’ it somewhere, a place that defied simple reading — understanding.

I think of design like a simple task — imagine how you would arrange your house if you had a very inquisitive and active kid around. You would keep harmful objects beyond his reach, right? Now imagine that you are alone in your house, I bet you will rearrange it to ‘function’ for you.

Now, back to design. You would most likely feel awkward to see an official document designed using elements and effects so overwhelming you can hardly read the front cover — talk about graffiti.

In graphic design, particularly advert designs, the goal is to clearly communicate an idea to people. How people grasp the information validates how accessible it is and informs how they respond to it. Visual accessibility is given low consideration in graphic design as sometimes, designers get carried away by the design process, and when client-to-designer communication is ineffective, the designer just gives in to somewhat unreasonable clients’ requests to achieve what suddenly becomes most paramount — pay bills.

You will be a better designer than most, if you understand and apply how we (your dear fellow humans) process information and ideas. People subconsciously ‘feel’ how much you thought of them in the process, and hence find the needed connection. Attention is grabbed and communication achieved. What more can there be to it?

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. 
– Stephen R. Covey

There are the almost no-brainers like how most people read from left to right, top to bottom and how the design should reflect this. Also, it is important to keep in mind the diverse set of users to interact with your design — the colour-blind, the guy with low vision and has refused to get medicated glasses and probably someone with cognitive disability among others.

Think of the peculiar audience of your design. Young or old, male or female? Is the design for casual users or cerebral/power users? Last year, at FourthCanvas, we worked with the Lagos State Government on a project where we had to design for the a broad spectrum of people — a free skill-up program introduced to help the unemployed youth. We had to think of simple icons that everyone can relate to, such that we could have the attention of the average guy on the street. In a case like that, appeal is as important as simplicity.

A few pointers: In the design process, try to read your information as though you are the end user — is it coherent enough to be understood? If not, change the direction of the design — do not confuse us, thank you. Do not ‘hang’ important where it is of no use. Also, do not make colour the only visual means of conveying your information — think more of the tonal distribution of colours to create contrast. Export your finished design in grayscale to verify its clarity, because when the colours fail or fade, I will not be there to help, really.

If I have to look for an important information, get a migraine in trying, then your design is not totally accessible, no sir, not just yet. Name it — UI, Print or digital design. ‘Dear designer’, as Senior Designer, Tunji Ogunoye would put it, kindly remember that this does not put a lid on your creativity — you are only becoming more considerate and empathetic.

  • Mary Adefisayo( Design Lead, FourthCanvas)
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