Design and Accessibility

planning, strategy, problem solving, collaboration

Design often gets confused with decoration, especially in graphic design. But at it's most basic level, design is problem solving. Formally defined, design is a specification to accomplish goals or achieve a unique expectation, subject to constraints. If that sounds like it includes pretty much everything, it's because it does, since every aspect of our built environment is the end-product of a design process, from software buttons, to power lines, to management structures.

So if design is everywhere, why does it sometimes seem like a separate, optional thing? Maybe one reason is that good design solves the problem without getting in the way. If it gets noticed at all, it seems simple and obvious, no matter how complicated the goals and constraints. One famous example in graphic design is the FedEx logo, where the letterforms create a right-pointing arrow out of the negative space. It communicates an impression so efficiently, someone might not consciously notice it. (And if you now can't stop noticing it... sorry about that.)

Whereas things that seem overtly "designy" try to draw attention to their design more than they try to solve the problem they were built for. For an example in graphic design, think of of a flyer with so many colors and fonts, it's almost difficult to read, let alone understand.

When the design process is an afterthought, things like usability and accessibility also have to be dealt with after the fact, forcing documents, software, and buildings into a set of criteria. But by focusing on effective solutions, an empathetic design process can also help ensure usability and accessibility long before something is finalized.

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