Some thoughts about RGD’s accessibility webinar (Hi @good_wally)

[I had originally planned to just comment on my question, but what I wrote in a related email discussion sort of didn’t make sense. So let me write that down here too. So these really are just unorganized random thoughts.]

Let me comment a bit on the question I posed near the end of the webinar, which ended up being literally the last question that got through: “What best practices would you recommend if the design had to work with a CMS hostile to doing things semantically?”

This is, of course, a real example, one that I had already mentioned previously. In this particular case, which is a different case than what I had blogged about last time, what I found was that the CMS was so hostile to authors that I could not even get Microformat 1.0 content (dtstart and dtend specifically) to stick.

Let us think a little bit here: Microformats are designed to work in pretty hostile environments. But in real-world environments that some designers have to work within, not even Microformat markup can survive. How can HTML structural elements survive? The answer is they don’t. I was not talking about environments where the the designer has the power to reconfigure the CMS (if so the question would have been moot); I was talking about situations where the designer is working with a non-technical client (with a CMS created by someone else) who has neither the technical skills to even go to the Administer screen nor the financial resources to hire someone to reconfigure their CMS. But they’ve already budgeted the money to redo their CMS—which you have no influence over either. I’m talking about a 100% hostile situation which you have no control over whatsoever.

So what do we do in such cases? When people talk about making existing sites accessible this is the reality. Whether the CMS in question is WordPress or Drupal isn’t really relevant; in this particular case the hostile CMS is actually Drupal, but you can’t reconfigure it.

In any case, I think the RGD is doing meaningful work in the accessibility area. A few days ago on an email discussion I actually cited RGD’s AccessAbility handbook because the RGD is actually one of the very few organizations that are not buying into the myth that print accessibility equals “large type size.”

But someone disputed RGD’s ability to create accessible PDF files because the “accessible PDF” version of the handbook was not produced by the RGD but by an outside contractor. While the latter is true, I think, to be fair, this need to be put in some context. First of all, producing an accessible PDF from InDesign is not straightforward, and the steps Adobe documented (the same steps described by ADOD) do not actually work, and I can say this because I tried it when I did my issue of Cadmium (the OCAD SU zine that’s no longer being produced) and verified that the documented procedure did not in fact work.

The other thing, which is quite tangential, is that (I might add having Accessibil-iT do the final work does not prove that RGD does not have the capability — it’s normal for graphic designers to contract out non-core tasks anyway —, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make) RGD has raised some points that do not seem to have been addressed by most other people talking about accessible print. So they are tackling a conceptual problem, with the appearance (let’s say this for the sake of argument) that they might not have the best practical skills (or craft). As our chatting at a pre-DesignThinkers student mixer two years ago showed, this is actually very “OCAD.”

Do all videos need to be captioned?

This looks just like how I feel!—me

I was at the opening for Craft Ontario’s LookListen exhibition and the usual thing happened: I knew no one (which turned out to be actually untrue, but I forgot her name), so I was planning to just see all the work and leave.

Except that this time seeing all the work would take a lot of time, because half a dozen pieces were music videos. Now the funny thing was that they used speakers instead of headphones, so during the opening you in fact couldn’t hear any music at all.

Music videos without music—yet touched me anyway.

This sort of reminded me of the art course in my program where the professor did not buy into the idea of “accessible art” in terms of how our program—at least on paper—defined accessibility. In this specific case was the video “accessible” or not? If you define “accessibility” as getting access to the lyrics, then it was completely inaccessible—even to hearing people. But if you defined “accessibiity” as getting access to the elicited emotions, then you could argue that the video was in fact, in an odd way, actually accessible.

This sort of brings us back to the RGD webinar I attended today. One random thing that struck me was how the presenter suggested that we “banish all colour cues.” My reaction was “banish? Are you serious?” Colour cues don’t need to be banished; they just need to be supplemented by other cues that are not colour-based: It turned out that this was in fact exactly what the presenter meant.

In the words of one of our profs, we need the cues to be in “different modalities.” I think those music videos that were in the gallery did use two different modalities. Yet they were created as pure art. Maybe in this sense art can actually inform design.

Observations, and observations not made

How we handled GradEx is full of missed opportunities. Not only have we missed it as an opportunity to put inclusive design into practice, we’ve also missed it as an opportunity to make design observations.

CH’s suggestion to have my shelves arranged as a ladder made it possible to observe visitor heights vs shelf heights. Of course, whether I made the observations is another matter: I didn’t, except for yesterday’s observation of how a person on a wheelchair interacted with the shelves and how today a little girl interacted with the bottom shelf, I made no observations.

I think the rearrangement of the chairs is working. It’s more logical. At the very least they announce “Look! We’ve got a video here!” Interestingly, most people do not sit on the chairs. They just stand and watch the video.

We really should have videotaped the whole thing just for all the missed observations. If we’re allowed to, of course. And hindsight is always 20/20.

Why graphic design is not dead

DK and I chatted a bit yesterday about GradEx. We quickly went to “What is the point of this exhibition,” then to “Our program has no personality,” and then beyond. But as I pondered this today I realized that the fact that our program has no personality is not a showstopper.

Bringing organization to disorganized elements and imposing a scheme to a composition that has no harmony shouldn’t be something foreign to us: This is what graphic designers do.

I still remember during the post-conference townhall at AIGA’s 2012 “Pivot” conference when Ric Grefé talked about the importance of keeping our “craft” or risk losing our “specialness.” I was skeptical we had anything special to talk about. Doesn’t everyone have our technical skills these days? And then I was not even a good graphic designer.

But the amazing thing is that even a not-so-good graphic designer who has never even been properly trained was able see problems that even people trained in other design disciplines apparently failed to see. I see this as validation of Ric Grefé’s claim: We do have something special (I still don’t know what it is), and our specialness does not lie in our technical software skills—our “craft” is something else.

Which I believe brings us back to “What is the point of this exhibition.” When I chatted with the guy who’s showing sculpture next doors today one thing I mentioned was that I wanted to do GradEx because I didn’t feel I finished until I do this. When NW said it’s almost finished and I said “Two more days!” I really felt those were the right words to say.

For a design student, the end is not having thesis done (“I thought thesis was hell; GradEx is also hell,” as relayed by RT), neither is it having technically graduated (as I so call my awkward situation), nor is it convocation; the end is having gone through GradEx, in all its “hellish” ways. Like what DEEP and INCD’s “Culminating Festival” should have been, GradEx is a full environmental graphic design (EGD) project, complete with inclusivity and accessibility issues to solve.

This year’s two cohorts have not tackled it rightly, as an inclusive design problem (to be fair, neither has OCAD Administration tackled it rightly, as an EGD problem), so we have mostly squandered the precious opportunity. I wish next year’s cohort will take GradEx more seriously for what it is—an EGD project worthy of tackling from an inclusive design viewpoint.

A few things we should have done (not my program, but OCAD as a whole)

I thought I liked this year’s map. At least the sale is on the map. But people have asked UH enough weird questions that she suspected the map isn’t showing stairs or elevators or how to get to other buildings.

But I just checked the map and these things are all there. Yet people aren’t finding this information. This is a failure of the graphic design.

And the app? Sorry, it might have been a cool idea, but people aren’t using the app as far as I can see. People are asking me where to find the paintings. People aren’t using the app; they’re using the printed maps. And 21 colour codes with neither alternate text nor icons is non-inclusive design.

Last years I thought the signs were bad. This year’s signs are no better.

And showing at GradEx certainly changed my views of just how bad our signs are. People don’t know where they can find more things on the first floor. We have no directional signage.

All this is embarassment for a design school.

A few things we should have done

Someone asked me a seemingly-random question this morning: The two chairs, are they just random, or have they been designed to be placed there so something looks better when I sit on them?

Not so random really, is it? They should not have been just placed there randomly, and once I thought of that it’s obvious where they should have been placed: In front of the monitor.

Every exhibition where films are shown have benches or chairs for people to sit on. We have a short film. The only logical place chairs should be placed is in front of the screen, so that people can sit down and watch the film.

Also, I tried changing the lighting. If we turned off two thirds of the lighting it’s more obvious that we’re showing a film, but then the posters wouldn’t get sufficient lighting. This means two things: Posters should have had their own lighting, and where we’ve had put the screen isn’t really the best place the screen could have been placed.

And people don’t realize what’s on the wall are lyrics. Maybe we should have had better signage. No, we definitely should have had better signage.

And of course if I knew I would be doing lighting for my shelves I would have made a wooden box or something to house the messy cables.

Everything have been placed in the room piecemeal, without regard to what the whole should look like. People are confused because our program has no personality, but also because we have not designed the space to create more coherence. We could have done better—at the least as well as MAAD.

PS: Oh yea, we probably should have had a book for people to sign and leave comments too.

Stupid IKEA designs (do not buy...)

I’ve spent so much on GradEx that at OCAD I’ve literally only spent more on tuition.

Anyway, after talking with RT yesterday I went to Canadian Tire today to look for lighting systems. To my utter surprise, I found absolutely nothing. So I walked over to IKEA because I actually knew they have LED lighting systems.

So after spending more time than I should, I settled on the Omlopp countertop light because it seemed to look the best—even though it’s exceeding expensive for what I was going to do. The Omlopp is a complicated system and I actually managed to forget to get the power cord and had to later go back to IKEA to get it, losing two hours of precious setup time.

There’s also something about the shelving system I’ve chose that really bugged me: The Ekby Laiva is decent enough, but to install the Ekby Valter bracket with a power screwdriver is next to impossible. You can’t even use a normal manual screwdriver; you pretty much has to use an “offset screwdriver” because the spaces are so tight.

In any case let me get back to my point: after I tried installing the light to the second shelf a serious design problem with the Omlopp became very obvious—You can’t remove it. And I know this very well because I actually managed to install my second Omlopp backwards and after trying to pry it off (in order to fix it) for maybe half an hour I just gave up and concluded that prying it off is simply impossible.

Yes, you read that right: Once you’ve installed the Omlopp on anything you can’t take it back out. An Omlopp that has been “clicked” into place is as good as having been epoxied onto the shelf. The shelf and the light are now one; you can’t even repaint the shelf now.

It’s not that I haven’t seen stupid IKEA designs, but the Omlopp has to be the stupidest design I’ve ever seen, and it’s mighty expensive. If there’s anything I’m getting from this expensive exercise, it’s “Do not buy Omlopp.”

The disaster is still a graphic design problem

This past couple of days I’ve been telling people that my GradEx setup is a disaster. When it comes to 3D spaces I’m still a graphic designer, not an artist. I didn’t have time to finish my layout so I had to improvise, and I just can’t do it. Or at least that’s what I thought.

When I was walking to the subway station today (basically after giving up for the day, not after finishing any significant amount of work) I suddenly realized something: The disaster that it is is still a graphic design problem—not an art problem, not an architecture problem, not even necessarily an environmental design problem. All that’s changed is that the shelves are now in place and their place is fixed, but this doesn’t make it not a graphic design problem; this just changed the problem so that it now has an additional constraint.

Which means it’s not a problem I can’t solve. In fact, if anything, the problem should now be easier to solve because it’s now better defined. I’m not sure if I can solve it in time but this is definitely still within my area…

MCA 140 has been repainted

Yesterday when I tried to get into MCA 140 to check the ceiling (because I forgot to photograph it the last time I was there) it was locked. I figure since crits aren’t officially finished until today the room probably would be unlocked today.

Sure enough, when I tried to check the room today it was unlocked. But what stuck out was the smell: the smell of fresh paint. The room has been repainted.

But why bother to repaint it now if most students doing GradEx are going to repaint their rooms anyway? I’m not saying we’re going to (I really want to if I can figure out how to deal with the air vents and ducts—and of course if I can convince everyone else in my program), but I’m genuinely curious.

New era at OCADU re-announced: New students will no longer be able to join Facebook’s “OCAD” network.

Just got this in my student email:

This is a message to all students: The following service will be decommissioned on APRIL 30, 2015 at 9:00 AM: REDIRECT SERVICE FOR THE STUDENT.OCAD.CA DOMAIN. When student email was migrated to Gmail in 2012, the email domain was changed from @student.ocad.ca to @student.ocadu.ca.  To facilitate the transition and avoid service interruption, a server was set up to redirect all email from the old domain to the new domain.  That service is now scheduled to be decommissioned. What does this mean for you? If you have subscribed to any services (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) using your email address with the old domain (student.ocad.ca), you will need to update your email address for each of those services.  A communication was sent out in 2012 to alert students, so it is very likely that those affected would have updated their various accounts at that time. If in doubt, check which email address you used to subscribe to various online services and ensure that your student email address is the current @student.ocadu.ca. Contact the IT Help Desk at ithelp@ocadu.ca or x277 for more information.

This isn’t new; according to them the last time this was considered was two years ago. I mentioned on Facebook that this would mean new students would not be able to join the “OCAD” network. They pulled the decommission. Two years later they are announcing the decommission again.

So what changed? Maybe they forgot. Or they thought joining a Facebook network isn’t something they should care about. Or maybe something else. I don’t know.

Sure, Facebook networks do hardly a thing any more; but it’s still a show of affiliation. April 30, 2015 will still be a milestone in OCAD’s history: Officially denying new students the possibility of showing their sense of belonging to the school by joining a network on Facebook.

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