graphic design

New signage spotted at OCAD, and it’s bad, as usual (sigh)

A couple of days ago (I think it was probably Tuesday, but it could have been Monday) I sat down at the food court and — lo and behold — I spotted new signage:

New directional signage point to the Annex Building and Main building

Unfortunately, it’s, as usual, bad. Just a quick glance immediately revealed obvious problems, such as, “where exactly is the Annex Building?”

Same sign seen close up

Since the arrow directly in front of me points to my left, naturally I looked left — but a sign was nowhere to be found. In other words, if a veritable visitor is to step inside the food court, they would be utterly lost as to where the Annex Building actually is:

No directional signage where the left-pointing arrow points to

Since the other arrow actually points towards the Annex Building what I did next was to look in that direction. But this is what replaced the big, old Ontario College of Art and Design sign:

Directional signage point to “Library Classrooms” and “Learning Centre” [sic]
Close-up of the same sign

Many things are wrong with this sign (such as it’s not the Learning Centre but the Learning Zone, which is also considered a library so the sign is really pointing to not one library but two), but for the moment let’s just say the visitor will follow both arrows and see the big sign. Unfortunately they would still not know where the “Annex Building” is because it’s not mentioned anywhere on the big sign. For whatever reason, even though the big sign marks the entrance to the Annex Building, there is no identification signage.

It feels, again, as if either a traffic analysis was never performed, a sign schedule was never produced, no one checked the design documents for obvious errors, or — God forbid — no one ever even asked for any design documents to be produced.

Let us pause for a moment here. I now know Facilities (as opposed to a design department as one might expect) handles signage, but this is still inexcusable: Even if most people in Facilities have no knowledge of EGD, someone still must know enough EGD to check the quality of any tenders. As it stands, if this is a tendered project then either really no one in Facilities knows any EGD, or OCAD’s tender process does not require EGD designs to produce design specs; on the other hand, if this is an in-house job, then shame on whoever did the design — OCAD staff should at least know how to spell the name of the library on the first floor.

I simply cannot understand how any of these scenarios could have happened. And it boggles the mind that errors so glaring that a student who has never been properly trained in EGD can spot on sight have slipped through the school bureaucracy unnoticed.

Please, spend fewer dollars on marketing and more on proper design. What OCAD needs is not more empty words saying how great we are but some proper EGD on campus (I’m not even asking for award-winning EGD) — some good design to show the world that OCAD is capable of teaching students good design — when instead what we see every day is so embarrassing it’s akin to saying our profs are incompetent. Until our EGD is fixed marketing won’t fix whatever image problem the school’s trying to fix.

What is a science poster anyway?

So what’s a science poster anyway? It’s not a commercial poster, obviously, but what is it exactly?

So as I’m pulling my hair figuring out how to fit everything into the space, I suddenly realized a science poster is an exhibition design problem. What it is, really, is a 48″ × 36″ 2D exhibition space, complete with artefacts (photos, illustrations, charts and tables) and integrated explanatory panels.

No wonder font size adjusted for anticipated viewing distance is so important. We aren’t really designing posters; we are actually designing mini exhibits.

The case of 51 McCaul's signage

I have been somewhat critical of OCAD’s new signage system. I admit I don’t really like the new aesthetics, but there really is something more; for example there is this:

Photo of the “OCAD University” sign at 51 McCaul as seen from across the street

As can be clearly seen from the photo, from across the street the sign reads only “University”; the first part of the sign, “OCAD,” is missing. However, if we are walking towards the building on the same side of the street, we find that the sign, as designed, should not have any part cut off:

Photo of the “OCAD University” sign at 51 McCaul as seen from the sidewalk on the same side of the street as the building

What’s happening is that the vertical overhang is blocking the line of sight to the upper part of the sign when viewed from across the street, and—no matter whether this is intentional or not—it makes people think that the designer had not taken the vertical overhang into account.

I find this really ironic: when I was in first year we did a bunch of EGD things which were just temporary signage, and the irony is that even I—a student with no EGD training—took the effort to try to make sure that any sign we made would not have visibility issues (given the restrictions imposed by our materials and fabrication method, of course). Yet this sign has two obvious visibiity issues:

  1. From a vantage point that would have been identified during traffic analysis, the sign is cut off;
  2. From the same vantage point, the sign might be too small (i.e., illegible) for some people, a problem that would have been identified during prototype testing.

Let me just say I’m really disappointed. If OCAD is spending so much on branding and marketing, surely it should make sure its EGD artefacts are well designed. It does not help in the school’s marketing if someone walked into our campus and saw illegible signs, could not find a campus map, or could find no usable wayfinding system.

First impressions of automated checkers for WCAG 2.0 AA

A week ago I finished my assignment on automated checkers for WCAG 2.0 AA. I asked it to check the home page of another blog of mine and it spewed out 223 “potential problems.” (A classmate told me she got more than a thousand.)

I drudgingly went through the list and at the end what did I find?

Three legitimate concerns.

Yes, three out of 223 were all I could find. That’s an accuracy of just slightly over 1%.

Granted, from an AI point of view I know that we don’t talk about accuracy but rather about recall and precision, and a lot of the bogus warnings do concern deep AI problems such as how human language can be understood. Or impossible-to-solve ones like guessing the author’s intent. That said, some of those warnings—especially those related to standard third-party Javascript library API calls, standard icons, or, incredibly, non-breaking spaces—are just incredulous.

I’m not hating the checker or have anything against it per se, but for these checkers to be taken seriously they really have to get better. An accuracy of 1% is not going to work.

WCAG first impressions

Since some of us are talking about aChecker, I threw my own site at it and it spewed out a slew of complaints. I didn’t assume my site was flawless (in fact I knew it had many problems), but the amount of complaints it threw at me was just too much.

I mean, some of what it spew back at me was justified. (For example, I didn’t know WCAG requires the lang attribute to be tagged onto the HTML element instead of the BODY element—not that the requirement made any sense.) But some of it was just bogus. Contrast problems for non-textual elements that happens to be text? With the advent of webfonts, textual data can be anything (especially when people have started talking about using specialized dingbat fonts as a replacement for graphics). You just can’t infer that a piece of textual data will be actual text, especially when the glyphs concerned are obviously symbols.

The problem is that these requirements are divorced from both the context of what the text is and how the text is actually used.

So I wonder: Will the mandatory adoption of WCAG actually produce the opposite effect of what is intended? Will people, out of the requirement (as opposed to the desire) to be compliant with the WCAG, forego simple text for graphics, throwing the web back to where it was 10 years ago when heavy graphics ruled? I don’t want to believe in this, but if WCAG 2.0 AA is going to become mandatory, I think this will be a very real possibility.

Unexpected discovery on Big Welcome Day

I actually talked about this in my study plan: my lack of knowledge about AODA’s effects on non-digital design. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was checking out the stuff that I got from RGD Ontario’s booth and found Access Ability : A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design.

Obviously, three weeks ago I already found Inclusive Design : A Universal Need in the OCAD library. However, the primary focus of that book was interior design and architecture, fields that I wouldn’t be qualified to even touch.

So I was definitely very happy to have found something from none other than RGD Ontario. For one, this means there is something about graphic design to talk about; and secondly, it means that this something is not some obscure, fringe thing that has no consequence—in other words, I am not crazy or wasting my time trying to steer my direction away from digital technologies…

The face2face postcard project

For outliers like us, by the time orientation kicks off in September we will already have had our first semester finished (and very likely graded), so participating in any sort of orientation activity might feel a little superfluous. However, I think the face2face postcard project (something that I just found out a couple of days ago that we are even told “not required to participate”) is an interesting enough idea that I will very possibly participate in.

Of course, someone whose first semester is already ending is probably going to be over-thinking about the problem. First off, I perceive the project as essentially having three dimensions: an exercise in identity design, (ok, this might be stretching things a bit) an experiment in interaction design, and (ok, this might seem totally out there but remember my first semester is already almost history) a study in inclusive design.

With the program’s focus on digital inclusion, treating a postcard project as an inclusive design problem might seem like a wacky idea. However, the reality is that the world we live in is still a physical one, constructed of physical things. While digital technology can make many things simpler and more flexible, we can never truly, fully dissociate ourselves from its intrinsic physicality. Moreoever—borrowing the engineer’s jargon—, digital is not “passively safe”—in the sense that if loss of inclusivity is to be considered a catastrophic failure. And so I genuinely believe that inclusivity cannot hinge on digital technology alone; but then what does it even mean for a piece of 5″×7″ cardboard to be “inclusive”?

In the mind of this naïve first-year student, the single true barrier to accessing this piece of 5″×7″ cardboard—which by the way is required to only have my “self portrait” on it—is sightedness: A self portrait on a piece of paper is completely inaccessible to an unsighted person.

Perhaps we can describe the picture, either in the form of text (which can then be fed either to a screen reader or a Braille display) or in the form of audio. So this brings us back to our focus on digital technology. But how do we link the two pieces together? How do we link the piece of cardboard to a website, without the use of any visual element (such as a QR code or a printed URL)? Perhaps we can add the URL in Braille? But can this even be done? (Yes, with Computer Braille Code and a stylus—but will people be able to actually read the Braille I write?…)

Actually this reveals a bigger problem: Assuming that Braille is indeed practical and if Braille is the “passively safe” missing link between the primary 2D artefact and the alternative representation, how much Braille should we use? Are there other non-digital options? How much inclusion should we aim for?

What, really, is the role of print in the context of inclusivity?

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