“Inaccessible graphic design is commonplace”

17th September 2017 | by Ted Page

Summary

“Inaccessible graphic design is commonplace.” So opens the  report by Cornish et al. entitled Visual accessibility in graphic design: A client—designer communication failure. (2015). University of Cambridge, Elsevier.

We briefly outline here the report’s key findings, as well as our solutions designed specifically to enable those commissioning accessible documentation, and the graphic designers they commission, to address the problems identified in this research.

Lack of communication between clients and designers

The report’s findings are based on two surveys: one targeting graphic design agencies and freelance graphic designers, and a second aimed at commissioners of graphic design in large companies, charities, local government, museums, etc.

As its title implies, the study’s main finding is that, despite a high level of understanding of the importance of accessible graphic design on both sides (see below), the principal cause of the problem is a lack of communication between clients and designers.

Designers on the importance of accessible graphic design

Bar chart showing designers' recognition of the importance of visual accessibility. See table below for data values
Percentage of designers agreeing with the statement: “Visual accessibility is very important in my day-to-day graphic design work” (Mean of 4.4)

Clients on the importance of accessible graphic design

Bar chart showing clients' recognition of the importance of visual accessibility. See table below for data values
Percentage of clients agreeing with the statement: “Visual accessibility is very important in all graphic design work that I commission” (Mean of 4.1)

The data

Table 1: the importance of visual accessibility
Response Designers Clients
Strongly disagree 0% 1.8%
Disagree 1.5% 7.3%
Neither agree nor disagree 1.5% 7.3%
Agree 47.8% 47.3%
Strongly agree 49.3% 36.4%

Three key themes

Overall, the report identifies three key themes: “a significant lack of communication regarding visual accessibility between clients and designers”, “a lack of awareness of visual accessibility tools in industry” and “clients’ importance of visual accessibility decreases with increased experience of commissioning graphic design projects”.

The causes

Regarding the causes of this lack of communication, the report states: 

The body of work by Zitkus et al. (2013a) and Zitkus, Langdon, and Clarkson (2013b) (scopus.com login required) highlights the need to develop inclusive design tools that aid client-designer communication to improve conversation between designers and clients (p. 187).

and… 

the results presented in this paper, and in previous literature (Goodman-Deane, Langdon, & Clarkson, 2010), highlight a lack of awareness of inclusive design tools in industry. Therefore we must increase the designers’ awareness of these tools, as well as developing them for use in discussions with clients” (p. 188).

Download the report

A retagged version of the full report can be downloaded here: Visual accessibility in graphic design: A client—designer communication failure (PDF, 752KB).

Solutions

For clients

Our Commissioning accessible PDFs course is designed to enable those commissioning accessible documentation both to brief graphic designers and to test and evaluate the completed work. It details the objectives, target audiences, relevant standards and legal requirements that graphic designers need to consider, and what these mean in practical terms. It also includes techniques for evaluating any commissioned work using various tools such as colour contrast analysers, colour blindness simulators, screen readers and other assistive technologies.

For designers

Our Accessible PDFs from InDesign course covers everything graphic designers need to know to make fully accessible PDFs from InDesign. This includes not only the technical aspects of creating accessible PDFs from InDesign, but also a wide range of content-related techniques, from optimising bar charts for dyslexic readers, to measuring colour contrast, to designing accessible data tables.