Beyond awareness: inclusive design for Graphic Communication

This week, Part 2 Graphic Communication students completed the inclusive design component of their integrated design modules. Building on the series of workshops we did earlier in the term and relevant readings, on Monday, students presented seminar papers to their peers on particular aspects of inclusive design.

Group photo of student presenters

On Monday, our Graphic Communication students presented inclusive design seminars to their peers (from left to right): Jordan Bellinger, Lewis Burfield, Maciej Bykowski, Fenella Astley, Rajvir Bhogal, Stephanie Boateng, Cherise Booker, June Lin and (front) Jordan Cairns.

Students discussed and debated, aspects such as:

  • The principles of inclusive design and how designers can make these achievable in real life projects
  • How design briefs often tend to create segregation and how designers can develop more inclusive solutions to briefs
  • The clear print debate – what the guidelines are, who they are for and how implementing these can differ for professional designers and everyday communicators
  • The challenges and key considerations of inclusive design for screen – including the use of colour, images, sound and navigation
  • Key debates and typographic research for inclusive design for children’s reading, focusing on readers who may have dyslexia or visual impairments
  • Inclusive wayfinding – including challenges and innovative proposals for solutions in contemporary design practice.

Students commented that the inclusive design workshops, readings and seminars they have done have helped them become “more consciously aware” of how important it is to consider inclusive design in their own work and how designers may have to take responsibility for designing inclusively for a range of users. The highlighted how it is important to realise that the people they are designing for are probably “not the same as you (the designer)” and that inclusive design is “not just being aware” but about embedding inclusive practices in our industry. They also noted that these seminars had made them aware that there is “not enough research” about inclusive design within our discipline.

Exploring visual acuity and assistive technologies

Today’s Breaking down Barriers workshops in Typography provided students with opportunities to explore a range of applications for inclusive design, from printed designs to wearable technologies.

Part 2 student Malaika Johnson exploring the role of assistive technologies in inclusive design.

Part 2 student Malaika Johnson exploring the role of assistive technologies in inclusive design.

Prof. Rachel McCrindle from Biomedical Engineering joined Information Design lecturer, Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys and the Part 2 Graphic Communication students. Rachel and Jeanne-Louise are part of a team of cross-disciplinary researchers exploring how the lives of people with aphasia (who may be undergoing rehabilitation following a brain injury) or dementia can be improved through assistive technologies. In a hands-on workshop, students explored an exciting variety of assistive technologies that we are developing and researching to help make a difference to people’s daily lives and their experiences of rehabilitation activities like cueing therapy.

In particular, cueing therapy resources that Graphic Communication student Carmen Martínez-Freile developed last summer as part of an undergraduate research opportunity (led by Jeanne-Louise, Rachel and other colleagues in Speech and Language Therapy) highlighted the role Graphic Communication can play in assistive technologies and inclusive design.

Cueing therapy boards

These cueing therapy resources were developed for our cross-disciplinary research project. Using illustrations prepared by student Carmen Martínez-Freile, we explored how different illustration styles influence people’s experience of cueing therapy resources.

Carmen’s resources were not the only Graphic Communication student-created resources incorporated into today’s workshops. We also used a worksheet developed by Typography student Jessie Webb to support visual acuity activities. In today’s activity, students evaluated whether particular typographic, colour and physicality attributes can be considered visually inclusive across a variety of genres, including brochures, business cards, receipts, forms and even the new Guardian newspaper redesign (just launched in the UK today).

Jeanne-Louise said she particularly enjoyed how today’s workshops demonstrated clear synergies between research and practice, while providing students with an opportunity to consider how graphic design can contribute to society beyond the ‘usual suspects’ like awareness campaigns. She hopes these workshops will inspire some students to explore inclusive design further in their final year dissertations and self-directed projects.

evaluating print documents

Typography student Siu-Yen Lo evaluating whether printed designs are visually inclusive, using learning resources created by other students in Typography.

Students assessing their own website designs

Computer Science students on a Part 2 “Human Computer Interaction and Applications” module taught by Biomedical Engineering have been designing and building a website as part of their coursework. This morning, they participated in an experiential learning session where they interacted with their own website designs while their vision and dexterity was impaired.

Student feedback showed that all “Agreed” or “Strongly agreed” that the session gave them a better appreciation of some of the challenges faced by older adults and/or people with disabilities. Students also commented that they liked the hands-on and interactive approach.

Many thanks to all the students for their participation and feedback!

Three students wearing simulator glasses and gloves interacting with laptops.

Students assessed their own website designs while wearing simulator glasses and gloves.

A student wearing simulator glasses interacting with a laptop.

The students noted challenges with being able to see the cursor on the screen and with reading small text.

A student wearing simulator glasses and gloves interacting with a smartphone.

The students assessed website designs on laptops and smartphones.

BdB wins CIOB award for innovation

Breaking down Barriers (BdB) are thrilled to have received a Highly Commended Award for Innovation in Education and Training in the 2016 Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) International Innovation & Research Awards Scheme.

Our BdB team champions a unique cross-disciplinary initiative to embed inclusive design across the University. Our vision is to ensure Reading graduates across all disciplines advocate inclusion in their professional practices and bring real benefits to the everyday lives of all users, particularly people with conditions related to ageing and/or cognitive and physical disabilities.

Students say that our BdB workshops have helped them “gain insight as to how thoughtful design can influence other industries and how we as designers must work together with these other industries in order to make the lives of the people that need a helping hand that little bit easier”.

CIOB Innovation and Research Awards highlight the importance of innovation and research in raising performance levels, enhancing best practice and improving the quality of the built environment. The CIOB judges said: “This innovation in education is a practical, engaging and demonstrable way to bring to life a real social challenge with widespread value and application. The innovation shows a genuine commitment to invest in the UK’s building stock and educate the next generation of professionals to ensure the needs of all users of a facility are firmly met.”

BdB began at the University of Reading as a collaboration between the School of Built Environment, the Henley Business School and the School of Arts and Communication Design in 2015. Since then we have been joined by staff within the School of Biological Sciences and collaborated with the Centre for Staff Development and, most recently, the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, as well as external partners.

Congratulations to all our team!

Training Speech and Language Therapists

Speech and language therapy (SLT) students took part in an experiential learning session today, with activities that were tailored for their professional training. The activities were designed to enable the students to gain insight into how a range of impairments and conditions may affect people in everyday activities, and also to have experience of how other people’s impairments may impact their role as SLTs.

With their dexterity impaired, students were asked to fill a plastic cup full of water and stir a sachet of thickener into it – as SLTs, they may often interact with people with swallowing difficulties who require thickened drinks. They were asked to administer a speech and language assessment to somebody whose vision was impaired, and then to undertake the assessment with their own vision impaired. Students were asked to have a conversation, with one person sitting in a wheelchair and the other pushing the wheelchair whilst having their hearing impaired. Students also carried out activities whilst wearing bariatric training suits or ageing simulation suits.

Student feedback highlighted that they enjoyed the interactivity and the opportunity to try a range of equipment. They also liked that the activities were SLT-focused.

Thanks to all the students for their enthusiastic participation! Much credit is due to Melissa Loucas (Clinical Tutor) for designing the SLT activities and leading the workshop, and to Allie Biddle and Mirjana Sokolovic-Perovic for their support today and for their instrumental roles in making this workshop happen.

Two hands wearing gloves which simulate dexterity impairment holding a plastic cup full of water.

Carrying a plastic cup full of water while wearing gloves which simulate dexterity impairment.

A student wearing gloves that simulate dexterity impairment trying to open a small sachet of thickering.

Trying to open a sachet of thickener with impaired dexterity.

A student wearing simulation goggles and gloves stirring thickener into a plastic cup of water.

Trying to dissolve thickener into a cup of water with impaired dexterity and impaired vision.

One student administers a speech and language assessment to another who is wearing vision impairment simulation glasses.

One student administers a speech and language assessment to another who is wearing vision impairment simulation glasses.

One student is wearing ear defenders, pushing another student in a wheelchair. They have stopped to speak with a third student.

Experiencing how different body positions and different impairments can affect conversation.

Student wearing a bariatric training suit.

Trying on a bariatric training suit.

A student helps another student who is wearing an ageing simulation suit to go down the stairs.

Being helped down the stairs whilst wearing an ageing simulation suit.

Designing movement-based games

It was great to have people from BdB at the Biomedical Engineering seminar today on “Designing Playful Systems to Support Well-being” by Dr. Kathrin Gerling who is Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Lincoln. Kathrin presented three projects on movement-based play for older adults in long-term care, participatory game design with young people with mobility impairment, and playful interactive wheelchair skills training, and reflected on the challenges and opportunities that emerge when working with and developing for vulnerable end-users.

photo of a slide titled interactive wheelchair skills training with a photo of a person in a wheelchair with a trainer

University Teaching and Learning Conference

BdB were invited to join the marketplace activities at the University’s teaching and learning conference today, which had a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. We were pleased to share the project with people from across the University, including Psychology, Law, Education, Henley Business School, Clinical Language Sciences, Careers, the Students’ Union, and the Academic Practice Programme. A number of people expressed interest in running a workshop – thank you for your interest and enthusiasm. We will be in touch! Particular thanks to Jessie Webb, undergraduate student in Typography, for joining us to share her BdB experiences.

person wearing goggles simulating diabetic retinopathy and gloves to impair dexterity

A better appreciation of challenges

Robotics and Cybernetics MEng students took part in an experiential learning session last Friday. In their feedback, the students indicated that the session gave them a better appreciation of some of the challenges faced by older adults and/or people with disabilities, and that it encouraged them to think about the inclusivity of products and services.

Student wearing an ageing suit using a kiosk

This student noted that he was able to read the screen of the top-up kiosk without difficulty, but that the labels stuck on to the machine were more difficult to see.

Student in a wheelchair stuck on a curb

This curb was lowered, but there was still enough of a difference in the levels to get stuck.

A student in an ageing simulation suit and a student in a wheelchair stopped at a crosswalk

Contemplating the distance to the students’ union via two different routes.

Sri Lankan academic visit

visiting academics from Sri Lanka

BdB were delighted to share the project’s activities with a delegation of visiting academics from Sri Lanka, hosted by Professor Lynn McAlpine from the University of Oxford.  The purpose of the visit was to learn more about teaching and learning in the UK, to inform the development of new programmes in Bachelor of ICT and Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Sri Lanka.

Welcoming the Minister for Disabled People to Reading


Yesterday BdB were proud to welcome Penny Mordaunt,  Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health to the University. As part of her visit, the Minister experimented with a number of projects contributing to a more inclusive world and simulation tools exploring the everyday challenges people face in relation to a range of disabilities and conditions.

“Inclusivity and accessibility should be at the forefront of good design, and I’m delighted to see the University of Reading leading the way with their Breaking down Barriers scheme,” said Mordaunt.