RGD Accessible Design http://rgd-accessibledesign.com Graphic Design for a More Accessible World Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:19:28 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.11 Accessible design from Reich+Petch for Deloitte’s Montreal office http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2016/05/accessible-design-from-reichpetch-helps-create-unique-work-environment-for-deloittes-montreal-office/ Tue, 24 May 2016 15:42:33 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=330 Continue reading]]> RGD_RP_Deloitte_1(2)Case Study by Edmund Li RGD, Reich+Petch Design International

In 2015, Deloitte consolidated their existing offices in Montreal to the newly constructed La Tour Deloitte. La Tour Deloitte is the first privately-owned office tower to be built in Montreal in 20 years. Deloitte’s Montreal staff occupies 153,000 sq. ft. spanning seven floors of the 26-storey tower, in a completely agile work environment that required a new, agile approach to wayfinding.

There was no existing relationship between Deloitte and Reich+Petch Design International prior to the Deloitte Wayfinding Project. Prior to being chosen, we were invited to participate in a selection process which included interviews and a written proposal.

This was a completely new design program, started from scratch. Within the seven floors occupied by Deloitte, none of the staff have permanent workstations, desks or offices. Personal belongings are stored in storage cabinets and work-related essentials, including computers, desks, workstations and meeting rooms are available for booking. At the beginning of each workday, each staff member reserves what is needed and finds the current location of their colleagues using software and apps, which are available at designated “check-in kiosks” and on their mobile devices. This unique work environment has created unique challenges for wayfinding and accessibility.



Wayfinding strategy in an agile work environment that also responds to the bilingual requirements described in the Québec language laws has not been done in the past. There were no precedents to follow.

Project overview

The goal of the project was to develop a comprehensive and accessible wayfinding strategy for all seven floors occupied by Deloitte. The solution needed to bring in a layer of personality, build a sense of community and complete Deloitte’s vision of an engaging and welcoming work environment while also remaining flexible in order to be adopted by future Deloitte offices in Canada. The target audience for the design included Deloitte’s local Montreal staff, Deloitte’s national and international staff who travel to Montreal and visiting clients.

As a wayfinding strategy, the main element is the three-tier (non-overlapping, unique) numbering system which provides “addresses” for office essentials. Workstations, rooms and offices are not assigned within Deloitte’s new agile office environment, which creates a challenge for directional signage. There are no fixed department locations or permanent destinations, making it tricky to navigate the space and find what you’re looking for. As a solution to this, all of the clues to help connect users from A to B are not permanent.
The first tier of the numbering system allows users to identify the workstations, rooms and offices they reserved. These sets of numbers are coordinated with the electronic booking system. We made sure to keep these numbers short to avoid creating confusion. We also provided uniquely different numbers for the three different types of destinations, to make the system more intuitive. By coordinating extensively with Deloitte’s IT department, this system ensures that the numbering integrates with room-booking functions both physically and operationally.

For design, the super-scaled floor numbers are highly visible both at the atrium and at the elevator bay and act as floor-level landmarks. The sculptural design elements push the boundaries between art and design, integrating with the interior architectural elements. The numerals are made from brake-formed aluminum “folded” to reveal the texture behind the physical cutouts. The dimensional treatment combines with negative space to complete the letterform. These oversized numbers are beacons across the workspace. Bright green sculptural arrows incorporated into directional signage echo the approach of the super-scaled floor numbers. The underlying concept of the wayfinding system is to expose the cultural, textural and unique quality of Deloitte. The sculptural numbers and arrows speak to that concept.


At the very beginning of the project, accessibility was already part of the discussion; an accessible work environment for Deloitte’s new offices was a project requirement. As part of Deloitte’s corporate office development process for their new consolidated offices, an “Inclusive Design Strategy” identified benchmarks for usability and accessibility. This report was provided to the Reich+Petch team by DesignABLE Environments Inc as the guiding document on inclusive design and universal design for our wayfinding strategy. This has become Deloitte’s national strategy and is planned to be implemented for all of its future Canadian offices.

The benchmarks described in this document are based on current inclusive design and universal design standards and guidelines, the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act (AODA), and the Ontario Building Code. Contents of this document include:

  • Overall Inclusive Design Strategy for Deloitte
  • Specific accessibility requirements for: circulation, doors, windows, finishes, lighting, acoustics, air quality, controls, signage, electronic information and visual display systems, wayfinding, public address systems, hazards, emergency planning, stairs, ramps, parking, passenger loading zones, curb ramps, furniture and equipment, etc.

The document also addressed increased space requirements for larger wheelchairs and scooters.

We also went beyond the baseline accessibility requirements and identified not just all rooms, but all workstations and personal storage with tactile lettering and Braille. This allows users of all visual abilities to identify the destinations they reserved to conduct work. As well, the typical wheelchair icon was rendered to create a more independent, “active” visualization of wheelchair users. A forward-thinking client is a distinct advantage when we propose unconventional ideas like this.

Our contract was awarded in December 2014 and the Montreal Deloitte floors were completed in July 2015.




Research and analysis included:
• Review of Deloitte’s Inclusive Design Strategy
• Review of AODA, ADA and RGD accessibility guidelines
• Review of applicable Québec language laws
• Review of applicable building code

All of our environmental graphic design (EGD) projects, including wayfinding, follow standard architectural stages. The end of each stage is a milestone. Standard stages includes “Schematic Design”, “Design Development” and “Construction Documentation”. This process and related stages were discussed and agreed as part of our written proposal before we were awarded with the contract.

As a key part of the strategy, accessibility was reviewed by the client and their consultants at the end of each milestone stage. Client comments were incorporated into the design, including adjustment of mounting height, colour use, positioning of tactile and Braille elements, message used, etc.




















Fine-tuning the Room ID

Perfecting the edge detail of the acrylic tactile letters during the prototyping stage was a discovery experience. Both the client and the designers physically traced their fingers along the letterform repeatedly to make sure the lettering was not too sharp. It took a number of rounds for us to get the details right.

Creating Brake-formed, Sculptural Level ID

The sculptural numerals were brake-formed, paint-finished aluminum letterforms, “folded” to complete the oversized numerals to identify the floors. The design concept was to “reveal Deloitte culture” through the laser-cut opening or negative space. The positive, sculptural letterform was paint-finished to match the colour of the specific level (each floor was assigned a different colour to help identify the floor) and the texture was painted in Deloitte’s corporate green, representing Deloitte’s unique culture. The original design was more colourful, but the accessibility review showed that multiple colours, when applied on the same letterform, would create difficulty for users in recognizing the letterform, despite the 70% contrast between the numeral and the background provided. The solution was to paint the entire letterform in white and apply a CNC text behind the sign face. As a result, the Deloitte culture is represented in physical texture instead of colour and the oversized sign is accessible to all.

Testing with the Model Office

Deloitte set up a model office environment in its Toronto office, using the new furniture specified for the Montreal office. The model office became our lab to test the models, mock-ups and prototypes before the Montreal office was ready.


The client team was involved throughout the design process. They provided input on what messages should be tactile and in Braille, how messages should be delivered, mounting height in relation to other elements in the built environments (i.e. the electronic booking system and iPad at the door for conference rooms), and coordination with Deloitte’s IT department to ensure consistencies between the technology and physical signs.

DesignABLE Environments developed the Deloitte Inclusive Design Strategy. The strategy was used as a guiding document throughout the project. Deloitte’s in-house design team also contributed to refine and improve the accessibility of the design.





















We believe features such as type size (corresponding to viewing distance), visual contrast, tactile elements and Braille are baseline requirements that must be utilized on every project. For Deloitte, some of the most important accessibility features go beyond the baseline requirements and are invisible:

  • Consistency helps to make navigation intuitive and understandable. All rooms and workstations were chronologically numbered clockwise on every floor, which allows users to easily learn the logic behind the wayfinding system, and to identify their destinations naturally. Zones (A, B, and C) which identify the location of the workstation clusters are applied consistently from floor to floor. Once the user has been on one floor, they can easily adapt to other floors. Sign placements and the location of tactile and Braille elements are also consistent throughout the site. This approach allows users to easily find information, regardless of the type sign and the destination they are looking for.
  • Simple, concise messaging, and the use of pictograms helps to break the barriers of language, age, and cognitive abilities. Both French and English are spoken in Montréal, and with the diversity in Canada, potential clients of Deloitte may speak any language. A full range of custom pictograms were developed to minimize the use of written messages.
  • Tactile lettering and Braille – not just all rooms, but all workstations and personal storage have tactile lettering and Braille. This approach, which goes beyond requirements, allows users to identify key destinations in this agile work environment, regardless of their visual abilities.



In an agile work environment, the key to a smooth workday is to be able to find the office, meeting room, or workstation one has booked and to put away personal belongings at the assigned personal storage units before starting the day. Simply following code requirements for accessibility does not ensure universal access in the innovative agile workplace. We recommended that Deloitte go beyond the code requirements and they supported the suggestion.

Developing an intuitive set of pictograms to minimize the use of written language can be more difficult than it first seems. The back and forth between design, review and redesigning generated some very interesting results. One of the favourites is the “Walking station” – communicating the idea that one is working on a laptop while using a treadmill was harder than expected. “The Quiet Zone” and “Fragrance Free” are other tricky messages to convey with iconography. The fact that where pictograms are used messages are entirely eliminated added to the challenge.

As previously mentioned, the accessibility review showed that multiple colours, when applied on the same letterform would add difficulties for users in recognizing the letterform, despite the fact that contrast between the numeral and the background was provided. Resulting colour and application changes now highlight Deloitte’s culture as physical texture on oversized signs, making them accessible to all.

We originally developed tactile and Braille level identifiers to be incorporated on the handrails along the featured stairwell at the atrium. The design was approved by Deloitte but was not implemented due to time. Although not a requirement, it would have been a great accessibility addition to the wayfinding program.

Deloitte reviewed and modified its accessibility guidelines during the design phase of our project as new information on the design, site conditions, and other elements within the built environment became available. The client will continue to update its accessibility strategy as the wayfinding system is deployed in future sites.


The sophisticated, integrated, accessible and intuitive wayfinding system has been so well received by the client that the program has now become the standard for all Deloitte offices in Canada and will be rolled out to other facilities in the future, including the Canadian Headquarters in Toronto.

Deloitte’s Business Operations team will continue to monitor the accessible features and work with the fabricator on upkeep and maintenance to ensure these features will continue to function for those who need them.
“It is beautiful and the signage program continues to be a statement piece with compliments continuing well after launch.” Peter Stefanovski, Senior Manager, Brand, Marketing & Communications | Corporate Real Estate

Designer Takeaways

  • Form an intuitive wayfinding strategy before jumping to the specifics of design. With a clear and logical framework that everyone can follow, accessibility features can be incorporated easily and naturally, as the system is logical to begin with.
  • Speak to your client early to define the accessibility goals together. The best solution is to develop the most appropriate solutions that reflect the needs of the client. This can only be achieved with an open dialogue.
  • Appreciate the accessibility consultants’ perspective and comments. They help to improve the design and make it more users friendly to a wider range of users.


Client Takeaways

  • Initiating an inclusive design discussion and forming a corporate strategy before a major project takes place will help to bring a focus on accessibility to the larger project team. Consult a professional accessibility consultant if there isn’t an expert in-house.
  • Modify the details of the accessibility strategy as the design project evolves. New ideas and new challenges will help to refine the details of the strategy. Treat the guidelines as a living document and continue that dialogue with the staff, design consultants and the accessibility consultants.
  • Enhancement can be developed in the long term, if the current budget or project schedule will not allow for an immediate solution.
New insight into typeface legibility and symbol misrecognition http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2016/04/new-insight-into-typeface-legibility-and-symbol-misrecognition/ Fri, 08 Apr 2016 17:45:36 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=327 Continue reading]]> Thomas Bohm, a graphic design director based in the UK, recently published a paper ‘Letter and symbol misrecognition in highly legible typefaces for general, children, dyslexic, visually impaired and ageing readers’ which designers may find useful and informative.

Typeface legibility and symbol misrecognition

Mr. Bohm has also kindly offered to provide more information and the rights to use images for those interested in reaching out to him via email at info@userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Thank you Thomas!

Intent helps Wilfrid Laurier University promote accessibility with new handbook http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/10/intent-helps-wilfrid-laurier-university-promote-accessibility-with-new-handbook/ Tue, 27 Oct 2015 13:51:07 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=317 Continue reading]]>

Case Study by Ben Hagon RGD, Founder and President, Intent

Wilfrid Laurier University is committed to creating a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, as well as promoting accessibility and equitable access to services and facilities. In partnership with the Government of Ontario, Laurier wanted to produce a handbook for  public-sector organizations with 50 employees or more to help them take the necessary steps to make their websites accessible.

Open handbook. The book is open to a page with the headline "Universal design".


Laurier traces its roots to the opening of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Waterloo more than 100 years ago in 1911. The University has undergone several changes since then, and in 1973 changed the name from Waterloo Lutheran University to Wilfrid Laurier University. Now home to more than 19,000 students, Laurier challenges them to become engaged citizens of an increasingly complex world.

Intent is a design agency focused on working with organizations in the non-profit, charitable and public sectors. We have created award-winning design and achieved positive results for hospitals, libraries, universities, public health groups, international development agencies and cancer care groups. It is our collective mission to help improve the lives of people through accessible, creative and informative branding, communications and design. After reviewing Intent’s proposal (submitted for an invitation-only RFP), Wilfrid Laurier University decided our values and experience were a perfect fit for an initiative such as this.

Front of handbook. Cover reads "Enabling Access Through Web Renewal handbook".

This was a new relationship for us. Along with the handbook, Intent produced a series of supportive videos on accessibility showcasing Laurier students and faculty.


The handbook was developed over one year, with the following objectives:

  1. To use clear and simple language to tell the story of accessibility and today’s web in a way that will be understood by a wide range of people.
  2. To utilize the Principles of Universal Design to create a handbook that would be visually dynamic and engaging for the user.
  3. To establish a unique look and feel that would complement Laurier’s  brand standards.


The first task was to come up with a Table of Contents (TOC) to be approved by the client. This was done prior to any in-depth research so that the writer, Nancy Kay Clark, could begin with a strong understanding of what resources and websites to consult and who to interview. The “Why, What, Who, How” structure was set from the very first meeting with the client and subsections were refined later in the process, recognizing that the specifics would inevitably change as sections were researched and written.

The following content decisions were made through conversations with the client:

  1. The audience was large public-sector organizations.
  2. The handbook would include one-on-one interviews with students and faculty who have disabilities. These interviews should represent a variety of different experiences. We also decided that the tone of these interviews would be more casual than the rest of the handbook, which is written with a business tone.
  3. The handbook would offer as much practical advice as possible and  include many sidebars and reader entry points throughout.
  4. The book would include reasons why an organization should make its website accessible beyond the legal requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
  5. The emphasis would be on the “how-to” rather than be a case study of Wilfrid Laurier’s website renewal. Most of the case study material would be placed in sidebars called: “The Laurier Experience.”

Open handbook. The book is open to a page with the headline "Voices from the Laurier community".

Nancy interviewed many people for the handbook, including Wilfrid Laurier faculty and students with disabilities, staffers at Wilfrid Laurier’s Accessible Learning Centre as well as the university’s IT and Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing departments. Interviews were conducted by email and telephone. She gathered information from many sources including the ADO and its publications; the AODA; Centre for Universal Design at North Carolina State University; World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG); and assistive technology manufacturers.

Sections were researched, written and delivered to the client in chunks and out of order. When the first draft was complete, the copy was vetted by the client and the ADO. Numerous changes later, the copy was given to a third-party proofreader for clean-up.

We presented two comprehensive and distinct design approaches:

Concept A: 

A handy reference guide including highlighted terms throughout the text with footnotes directing readers to the glossary, as well as a generous inner margin for supplemental text and information. These techniques would enable readers to follow the core text and jump over to  supplemental information expanding on a particular topic. For quick reference, stepped tabs would visually separate chapters and sections. Visual aids, icons, colour and imagery would be used sparingly in support of a more text-driven approach.

Concept B: 

An easy-to-read book with appealing, supportive visuals. This approach opted for a more straightforward read with visual aids and graphics propelling the content where appropriate with a warm and welcoming tone. Custom icons are used to delineate certain callout section themes within the margins (i.e., “Resources”, “Best Practices” and “The Laurier Experience’). A vibrant colour palette creates impact, but is not the only method of classifying / differentiating content, in sensitivity to those with  colour blindness. Chapters and sections are separated by prominent title pages.

With its simplified, accessible format and visual appeal, Concept B was ultimately chosen because of its potential to deliver the content with the highest level of inclusivity.

Intent wrote, designed and produced the printed 76-page handbook, and managed the development of an accessible PDF for online distribution.

Accessibility was integral to every design decision along the way, with the obvious cornerstone being typography and the utilization of generous size and contrast throughout. The production of the book was also held to the same scrutiny, with the selection of a moderately bright, uncoated sheet to reduce glare. A stitched bind was also favoured over perfect binding to help the book lay flat when opened. For the PDF, Intent worked with Accessibl-IT to create a fully accessible document.

The Laurier team worked closely with Intent during the writing process, helping to establish the direction for the overall content structure and providing feedback. The client team also helped ensure the availability of students and faculty for interviews.


Having invested considerable time in researching the topic of accessibility and web design, as well as the Principles of Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and the CNIB’s Clear Print Guidelines, Intent became increasingly aware of the challenges associated with developing a handbook that would satisfy these requirements while maintaining a design standard that Laurier and Intent could present proudly. To produce a handbook trumpeting the virtues of designing for accessibility, it was important that we did not fall short ourselves.

As it turns out, accessible design is actually just plain old good design, just slightly more attuned. A handy pocket book seemed like a nice idea, but there was no way we would be able to set type large enough and still have room for visuals. From there it was a matter of presenting the content and graphics in as clear a manner as possible. Are we applying ample contrast here? Is this colour being used too strategically? Should a mini glossary follow each section or become part of the appendix at the end of the book? Is this infographic presenting the data in a manner that is both clear and compelling?

Developing a publication that would be the first of its kind was another challenge. The topic of accessibility has not been covered in this type of publication before, which meant we had limited content from which to draw inspiration. Utilizing the ‘what, where, why, when and how’ structure helped maintain relevance throughout and provide an easy-to-follow roadmap for the audience: organizations facing their own accessible website challenges.

Given the size of the organization, risk mitigation tactics were used to reign in the approvals process. Allowing ample time in the schedule was key to obtaining the ‘go ahead’ from the various stakeholders.

Environmental responsibility is one of Laurier’s guiding principles so the handbook was printed with FSC certified papers. The handbook was printed with ink made from vegetable sources and alcohol-free press dampening systems were used. The printer also used a chemistry-free computer to plate system, eliminating the use of developer and fixer that results in zero toxic waste from the plate-making process.

Open handbook. The book is open to a page featuring a large infographic.


“Because the project was all about accessibility, the design had to put into practice what the contents were preaching so the handbook is clear and easy to navigate. The project also had to be about Laurier without being for a Laurier audience so the designers used elements of our institution’s branding—our colours and fonts—without making it look like an internal document: I was really impressed with the way that balance was achieved.

“This project has allowed Laurier to promote accessibility while showcasing its renewed website to a wide audience: the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario has referred this resource to other organizations in the province, it is available through the Council of Ontario Universities’ website accessiblecampus.ca, and it was shared at a national conference on IT in higher education.” – Lynn Kane, Coordinator, Laurier’s Diversity and Equity Office

Designer Takeaways

  1. People with disabilities and their friends and family represent too large a group to ignore. The success of your marketing or design initiative could be riding on how accessible it is.
  2. Ditch any negative preconceptions about the aesthetics of accessibility – it can still look great!
  3. Designing for accessibility means applying a great deal of audience empathy – approaching other projects that may have less of an accessibility focus with this same sensitivity can only serve to improve that work as well.

Client Takeaways

  1. There is no way to successfully complete a project like this without the involvement of people from your community with disabilities. If you’re going to do good work, you’ve got to make sure you’re involving your community in the project.
  2. Hire designers with shared values: knowing that Intent ‘got it’ with respect to accessibility, the client for this project didn’t have to worry that they’d propose designs that would be contrary to these values.
  3. Make open communication a priority. Communicating delays with the design team up front can open the door for them to provide helpful workarounds and solutions. Designers are problem solvers.

Interested in submitting a case study? Download ‘Guidelines for Contributing Content’ and email news@rgd.ca.

Accessibility Section replaces Design History in Online Test component of the RGD Certification Exam http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/10/rgd-exam-test-transitions-away-from-history-and-towards-accessibility/ Mon, 26 Oct 2015 21:01:23 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=320 Continue reading]]>
Image showing a practical handbook on accessible web design

The RGD Exam Board announces a transition away from a required design history section of the RGD Online Test, and towards a required accessibility section.

“Accessibility can no longer be considered an optional competency for a professional graphic designer,” writes Adam Antoszek-Rallo, President of the RGD Examination Board. “Governments around the world are identifying web accessibility as a human rights issue, and are legislating standards accordingly. It is our responsibility to ensure that Registered Graphic Designers are equipped to advise and inform their clients on the legal requirements and best practices for accessible design. I am confident that our incorporation of accessibility into the RGD Exam is both realistic to the standards of today, and aspirational for the designer of tomorrow.”

The aim of the new accessibility section is to ensure RGDs understand the principles of accessibility as applied to printed messages, websites and physical environments. The suggested texts for the new Test section are RGD’s accessibility publications, AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Graphic Design (2010) and AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook on Accessible Web Design (2015).

The entirely virtual RGD Certification Exam is comprised of a 75 minute Online Test and a 30 minute virtual Portfolio Interview. The Online Test includes five sections: Business, Accessibility, Design Research, Design Principles and RGD’s Rules of Professional Conduct. (In the transition from a Design History section to Accessibility, Exam candidates may still choose to write the Design History section until February 1, 2016, if they prefer.)

Seniority applicants (15+ years of relevant professional practice) are currently required to complete the Rules of Professional Conduct section of the Online Test (in addition to the virtual Portfolio Interview). As of February 1, 2016, they will also be required to do the new Accessibility section.

For more information on the RGD Certification Exam and becoming a certified RGD, click here.

Designing For (and With) Color Blindness http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/09/designing-for-and-with-color-blindness/ Mon, 21 Sep 2015 15:05:17 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=305 Continue reading]]> Author: Aaron Tenbuuren

Every time someone finds out I’m color blind, I’m always hit with the same question: “So, what color is this?” 95% of the time I’ll answer correctly, which is always followed by, “Wait, so if you can tell this is {insert color}, then how are you color blind? What do you see?”. This is where the joy of explaining how colorblindness works, and how it affects me comes into play.

As designers, we constantly worry about legibility, how engaging content is, whether hit targets are big enough, or if a user can navigate through a workflow. But we often forget about the one in ten people that are colorblind. Too many times have I downloaded an app or game only to realize that using it was a huge pain. I’m often unable to distinguish one object from another or determine how something is labeled.

If 1 out of every 10 users finds your app to be difficult or even impossible to use, your ratings and reviews will drop drastically. So, how do we test for this? How do we fix any issues? And how can we prevent issues from popping up to begin with?

Where We ‘See’ Problems

Being color blind does not mean I cannot see any colors. My life does not lack hues; looking through my eyes is not like watching a Hitchcock film.

I don’t miss out on any colors — I see them all. I just have trouble being able to label them or tell them apart. When the leaves change color in the fall, I don’t always get to see the reds and oranges, and yellows. I may just see orange, or sometimes, I hardly notice the change and leaves go straight from green to brown. That being said, when designing apps, we should not look at individual colors and ask if they are ‘visible’, but rather look at groupings of colors, and see if they are distinguishable. Even then, we may require more visual aids to make sure that users will not mistake one color for another.

Successful Apps

Some apps and programs have done a great job of catering towards those who suffer from color blindness. Trello, a web-based application that allows users to organize tasks, does a great job of allowing a user to activate a color-blind mode. This small function allows a user, like myself, to be able to quickly distinguish between labels.

Trello's labels with color differentiation as well as patterns for colorblind users.
Trello’s solution for allowing colorblind users to distinguish labels

Another app, Two Dots, a game focused around making connections of dots of the same color also has a color-blind mode. When I first started playing the game, Iwas extremely slow and had a hard time beating any level in the allotted amount of moves. Because I couldn’t distinguish the different colored dots easily, I had trouble creating combos. However, after discovering their color-blind mode, which adds an extra layer of classification on the dots by using symbols, the game became a lot more usable. Instead of having to rely on strictly color, I could play the game trying to connect symbols.

Two Dots' colorblind mode uses color in combination with patterns.
Two Dots’ colorblind mode

Preventing the Mistakes

So, you’ve made your designs, chosen layouts, icons, typefaces, everything. You just need to make sure your color choices work for those who are color blind. But, how do you do this other than the obvious ‘ask your color blind friend, co-worker, fiance, nephew, etc’? Well, there’s a couple options. There’s Sim Daltonism, an app that allows users to preview their screens like a color blind person would see them. If you’re having even a little bit of trouble distinguishing designs when previewing through this, most likely, I would too. There are plenty of color blindness simulation apps, this is just the one that seems to replicate what I see the best.

Another very important test is to see how your designs work in monochrome. This should be a regular test you’re performing on your designs, but it is extremely helpful when trying to avoid the likes of myself having trouble using your apps. Bringing a design into monochrome will allow you to see what hues are too close. If two colors of the same temperature (blue and purple, red and green, orange and red, etc.) have too similar of a hue, they will be extremely hard to tell apart. Google maps, despite using red and green for busy and no traffic, use colors of pretty different hues, allowing me to see the differences pretty well.

A really easy way to test your designs in monochrome (when on iPhone), is to go into your settings, and turn on the accessibility for Grayscale. After doing this, triple-pressing your home button will trigger the accessibility function on and off.

Color Google Map on left and grayscale option on right showing amount of traffic.
Google Maps’ way of showing amount of traffic.

“But how are you a designer if you can’t see colors?”

Good question, I don’t know. I just fake that I know what I’m doing, and hope that my boss wont notice.

But actually, it makes my life a little bit easier (at least in terms of design, not so much with picking outfits). I spend less time in the initial parts of design worrying about ‘what shade of blue should I use?’ or ‘will this orange go well this color?’. Instead, I get to focus on does this layout work well, and does it work well in black and white. I don’t typically need to find another color blind person to validate my color choices. When I explain color choices to a client, I’m less focused on the names of the colors and more on the temperature or value of them, whether they promote the feeling or description I want them to. Red does not necessarily mean ‘no’ or ‘error’, but that particular temperature and vibrance may. Nothing about a cool, relaxed color screams error to me.

Even picking colors to use has become somewhat easier. Am I sitting here mixing paints until I find a perfect shade of blue? No. Do I expect those who aren’t color blind to do that? No. In fact, I tend to steal or borrow pre-made color palettes. Now, I’m not finding apps and copying their colors Hex for Hex, instead I’m finding compositions that I think have a really nice palette, and sampling from them. For example, Miley Cyrus’ music video for ‘We Can’t Stop’, in my opinion, has some awesome imagery and colors. I’ll steal from that. Same with ‘Stylo’ by the Gorillaz.

Frames from 'We Can't Stop' by Miley Cyrus.
Frames from ‘We Can’t Stop’ by Miley Cyrus
Circled colors for color palette, featured at bottom of image, from 'We Can't Stop'.
Color selection
Frames from 'Stylo' by the Gorillaz
Frames from ‘Stylo’ by the Gorillaz
Circled colors for color palette, featured at bottom of image, from 'Stylo'.
Color selection

I’ll find nice photographs that have great color palettes, pieces of furniture, paintings, anything. These already established and proven pieces are a great source of color influence. Apps like Sip allow you to grab pixel sized color samples from your screen and use them in your designs. Qolor allows you to do this in the real world using your iPhone’s camera.

So, why did I read this?

You’ve got nothing else to do? You’re putting off your homework assignments? I don’t know. But hopefully, it’s because you want to make sure your apps are at an optimal level for everyone to use. Even though only a relatively small portion of the population is color blind, there is still a need to design with them in mind. And, if we are keeping that demographic in mind when making our color choices, we know that the final designs will work for everyone, resulting in a much, much better app and user experience.

Have questions? Want to get in contact? Feel free to shoot me a tweet and/or check out the work that myself and my co-workers are producing over at Intrepid Pursuits.

Ontario Government Seeks Accessibility Champions http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/08/ontario-government-seeks-accessibility-champions-2/ Thu, 13 Aug 2015 18:40:16 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=296 Continue reading]]> Do you know someone in your community who deserves to be recognized as an accessibility champion?

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), you have the opportunity to celebrate an individual who is promoting awareness of accessibility and inclusiveness in your community.

The Government of Ontario is supporting the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks, and Treasurers of Ontario in launching the one-time AODA 10th Anniversary Champion Award to celebrate these outstanding individuals.

It could be someone in your workplace, or working at your local school or library. It could be someone serving on a local accessibility advisory committee, or the board of a local organization. You can even nominate your neighbour, a local business owner, or someone at your place of worship.

To learn more about the AODA 10th Anniversary Award, visit the AMCTO website.

Nominations are due by August 28, 2015 at 4pm and can be completed in a few easy steps.

Reich+Petch develops accessible exhibit for the Smithsonian http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/07/reichpetch-develops-accessible-exhibit-for-the-smithsonian-so-all-visitors-can-have-an-enjoyable-and-equal-experience-of-the-exhibit-content-and-key-messages/ Mon, 20 Jul 2015 20:45:53 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=287 Continue reading]]> Case Study by Edmund Li RGD, Associate at RPDI

David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, an exhibit for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), designed by Reich+Petch Design International (RPDI) of Toronto.


Mounting evidence and extensive research at the Smithsonian linked human adaptation to the earth’s environmental changes. In 2007, National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) decided that it was time to share this knowledge and engaged our team to design a new exhibit. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins is a 15,000 sq ft (1,400 m2) permanent exhibit about Human Evolution and was completed in 2010.

Accessibility is particularly important to the Smithsonian because their target audiences are families, school groups and tourists from all over the world. Visitors of the Smithsonian are extremely varied in their physical, visual and cognitive abilities. The exhibit design therefore needed to be rigorous in meeting different people’s needs, so each visitor can have an enjoyable and equal experience of the exhibit, content and key messages.

The Smithsonian is keenly aware of the importance of universal accessibility and has developed its own accessibility standards for their galleries. The Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibit Design is a comprehensive design guideline which covers everything from exhibit content to label design and text, audio visuals and interactives, circulation, exhibit furniture, colour, lighting, public programming spaces, emergency egress, children’s environments, and much more. The guidelines are available online for public access at http://www.si.edu/Accessibility/SGAED.

RPDI has been designing, guided by that standard, since our first project with the Smithsonian in 2000 when we designed the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals.

Accessibility Features

When people think about accessibility they tend to only think about type sizes, visual contrast and wheelchair access. We believe those features are a baseline requirement that must be followed on every project. In this project, we adhered to all the dimensional requirements noted in the Smithsonian’s own accessibility guidelines.

The more complicated aspects of accessibility are the ones that people don’t usually think about but which are also critical to the philosophy of Universal Accessibility.

These include:

  • the specific details of how physical components are created
  • delivering content in a variety of methods so that it is accessible and understandable to a wide range of visitor’s abilities
  • organizing how the messages and content are organized within the exhibit hall to make navigation intuitive and understandable regardless of the direction they are being accessed from

Some of the specific ways the physical components of the exhibit were made accessible include the use of non-glare information carriers, placing information in accordance with viewing angles and eye levels and in providing content in a variety of methods including print, physical interactives, touchable artifacts, visual icons, images, video, subtitles and descriptive audio.

Some of the less tangible techniques used to deliver the content include: the distillation of the storyline, the placement of artifacts in a contextual setting and simplified graphics to help communicate the most complex aspects of the exhibit.

Woman and child using a touchscreen at the exhibit

The distillation in the storyline involved working closely with the interpretive planner and curator to carefully craft the messages, to ensure that key ideas are just as clear to a child as to an adult and for people with a range of cognitive abilities.

Small artifacts like bone fragments are hard for people to understand on their own. Our exhibit worked to place them in the context of a body form as most of the evolutionary evidence lie right inside the human body. A multi-layered graphic approach was created so that fossilized bone fragments were placed on body form within an outline of the bone structure so that just the placement of the fragment would clearly define what is a jaw bone versus a knee bone without the need for additional descriptive text. Simplified illustrated timelines were developed to visually describe the critical evolutionary milestones of humans, spanning a period of over six million years. The visual nature of the timeline allows people to translate the numeric years into a physical span of time. Graphic visualizations also help visitors that do not speak or read English, which is the main language of the exhibit, to understand some of the key messages.

Photo from Exhibit


Similar to other environmental graphics disciplines, our exhibit design process follows the architectural design model which divides a project into concept design, design development, documentation, pre-production and fabrication. Accessibility needs to be addressed at all stages, both in the design of the physical components and in the development of the interpretive plan and content layout.

Before the design began, we worked closely with the client and curators to organize the content and craft the key messages that the design would be built upon.

During each phase, we reviewed both the design of the physical and graphic elements of the exhibit with the client to confirm assumptions, review options and gain their in-depth understanding of their own facility, visitors and operations. Both formative and summative evaluations were conducted by a third-party consultant to evaluate the design success of the project. Formative evaluations were conducted during the design phase, and summative evaluations were conducted after the project was completed. In earlier stages, our design sketches were used for testing. Later on, full-size mock-ups of displays, interactives, graphics, and scaled models of the exhibit were developed for evaluation. The results of these tests aided our designers in identifying problems. Although the score of our design was high, there was, of course, some room for improvement. Based on visitor feedback, delivery and exhibit techniques were refined or adjusted to improve the design of the exhibit to ensure the goals and objectives of the exhibits were met.

Photo of people walking around in exhibit space


For a gallery as large as this one we did not have any large iconic artifacts to build the exhibit around. A dinosaur gallery, for example, is impactful even without exhibit elements just because of the sheer size of the skeletons. Human fossils however are much less dramatic. The challenge was to give the small specimens context and make them understandable and relatable.

Further, the layout of the exhibit hall provided multiple access points. Another challenge was to organize the narrative so that is was understandable regardless if a visitor entered from one end of the Gallery or the other. From our observation of visitors, we find that they tend to take unpredictable paths within exhibits and often ‘ping pong’ between areas.

The introduction was therefore provided at both ends of the gallery with the different zones clearly defined in both. We then used large sculptural iconic graphics to draw people instinctively to the different areas of the exhibit. These areas were created to illustrate the key qualities that are shared amongst the human species. The narrative of the areas does not depend on visitors accessing the gallery in any specific order but are understandable alone or in context.

For most designers, accessibility falls under signage, print or web. Exhibition design is different because it combines all of the above together with artifact, objects and multimedia presentations. Many of the current accessibility standards are focused solely on environmental graphics and signage and therefore cannot be the sole resource when thinking about wholistic accessibility. As an analogy, exhibits are like a book where signage is like the catalogue system. The book or exhibit should be expressive, content-driven and subject-specific with the goal of being different and to create a sense of surprise. Where the catalogue or signage is a system which needs to be regimented to be understandable.

Girl putting on headphones to view a video


The result has been a successful, popular and award-winning exhibition which is always packed with visitors of all ages and abilities.

“RPDI’s creative design vision was fundamental to the success of the Human Origins Hall at NMNH. The exhibit’s subject matter is highly scientific and often times intangible, and most of the displayed objects such as stone tools and fossil bones do not offer much color choice or visual diversity. RPDI overcame these challenges by introducing dramatic yet elegant design along with using different textures and lighting effects to create visually interesting and soothing space. Moreover, in order to introduce many theoretical subject matters which cannot be conveyed through objects, RPDI used sophisticated but friendly graphic design to make two-dimensional presentations most engaging. Their thorough attentions to the design details succeeded in capturing visitors instantly the moment they stepped in to the space. The most important testimony to their good design can be seen in the positive reaction from the visitors in response to every design intention RPDI created in the space. I believe the Human Origins Hall at NMNH shows that RPDI are not only a group of exhibit design experts but also a team of creative individuals who care and understand the impact of good design.” Junko Chinen, Project Manager, Smithsonian Institution

Designer Takeaways

The most important factor to consider is relevancy. The specific requirements of accessibility for exhibits should be discussed with the client and stakeholders, the client’s accessibility consultant, as well as local accessibility committees or authorities. The need and degree of accessibility enhancements varies from project to project – designers should avoid designing in a vacuum.

Beyond the delivery of key messages, designers should also consider:

  1. Displaying key content in a variety of modes, using print, media, touchable models, audio, tactile letters, braille, alternative languages, and large print
  2. Ensuring that text size and contrast adhere to governing accessibility requirements
  3. Consulting local accessibility authorities to test designs and obtain feedback

Client Takeaways

  1. Start the accessibility discussion early in the project to clearly define the goals. Accessibility design elements are less expensive and more effective if integrated early.
  2. If budget does not allow for extensive accessibility initiatives in all the content messaging, at least apply them to the expression of main ideas.
  3. Enhanced programming can also be developed, if the budget will not allow for permanent built-in enhanced content.
Accessibility-themed Session Planned for DesignThinkers 2015 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/07/accessibility-themed-session-planned-for-designthinkers-2015/ Mon, 20 Jul 2015 18:54:09 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=284 Continue reading]]> Each November the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) hosts the DesignThinkers Conference in Toronto, Canada. Now in its 16th year, the conference is the largest event for visual communicators in Canada, with 1,800+ attendees.

DesignThinkers delves into industry trends and sessions teach delegates how to create effective communications by exploring cutting-edge innovation, user experience, the latest technology, demographic and ethnographic trends, strategic management techniques, cognitive theory and much more.

This year’s conference will be taking place on November 12 & 13 at The Sony Centre. You can see the line-up of confirmed speakers here and check out some of the presentation topics here.

The Association is pleased to have Adam Antoszek-Rallo RGD, principal and founder of design & development firm Catalyst Workshop, host a session on accessibility in design. Here is his presentation topic:

Beyond the Handbook:
Practical Strategies for Making Accessibility a Core Part of the Web Design Process

This session will be targeted at designers with a concern for making sure their web design work is accessible, but are not confident in how to ensure their work is compliant. Adam will put forth strategies for accessibility which start with initial sketches, and follow all the way through to product launch. He will dispel rumours and correct our common mistakes. Ultimately, Adam will teach attendees how to make accessibility a disciplined mode of thought that is at the core of the web design & development processes, rather than an after-thought.

More about Adam…
His diverse body of work has included an invaluable 3-month stint in Ghana West Africa, and designing one of the top-ranked downloads at apple.com. His work has been awarded and presented in various publications, exhibitions and institutions across North America including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. He also teaches at Sheridan College & Humber College, while serving on the curriculum committee for the Bachelor of Design program at York University / Sheridan College. A vocal proponent of accessible user-centric design, Adam is passionate about creating positive social impacts through the interaction of design, pedagogy & technology. He believes that accessibility is not a feature, but an ongoing commitment to universal human rights.

Early Bird rates for DesignThinkers 2015 are available until October 2. Learn more at www.designthinkers.com.

Ontario Launches Accessibility Action Plan http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/06/ontario-launches-accessibility-action-plan/ Thu, 04 Jun 2015 20:26:01 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=280 Continue reading]]> Graph showing goals between now and the year 2025Ontario has released a new action plan to build on the progress made since the introduction of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005 and to achieve the goal of becoming accessible by 2025.

The AODA has transformed the lives of people with disabilities by establishing standards in key areas of daily life, including customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation and the design of public spaces.

“Ontario’s leadership in accessibility is something we can all take great pride in, but we know there is more work to do. The action plan gives us a map to continue working together to build a fairer and more diverse province where everyone can live, work and actively participate in their communities,” explains Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan focuses on three key priorities:

Engaging employers to understand the value of hiring people with disabilities, through initiatives like:

  • Community Loans – a $4 million program to provide low-interest commercial loans to businesses that show a commitment to hiring persons with disabilities
  • Partnership for Accessible Employment – a $5 million program that helps small and medium-sized businesses hire and employ persons with disabilities
  • Abilities Connect – a $1.8 million partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to help employers build more inclusive workplaces and create a network of businesses that promote best practices.

Strengthening the foundation of accessibility in Ontario, by building on the province’s accessibility laws and standards by:

  • Introducing legislation to address barriers to accessibility identified through a government-wide review of high impact legislation
  • Working with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to review gaps and in the health care sector, as a first step toward illuminating barriers that will be overcome through education, outreach and new standards.

Promoting Ontario’s cultural shift to build awareness of accessibility in innovative ways, so that Ontarians of all abilities can reach their full potential by:

  • Consulting with industry disability advocates, certification experts, municipalities and not-for-profits to develop a voluntary, third party certification program, similar to the “LEED” designation in green buildings
  • Collaborating with professional audit services to enhance our compliance and audit activities
  • Exploring opportunities through social media or online platforms to expand and strengthen the conversation on accessibility between businesses and persons with disabilities.

Supporting an accessible province is part of the government’s plan to build Ontario up. The four-part plan includes investing in people’s talents and skills, making the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario’s history, creating a dynamic, innovative environment where business thrives and building a secure retirement savings plan.

“Our province inspires the world because our communities are becoming more accessible every day. With the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games nearly here, these are exciting times for Ontario. We will continue to tear down barriers and ensure people with disabilities have the opportunity to work and contribute to our society. This is a vision for Ontario we all share,” says David C. Onley, Special Advisor, Accessibility; Honorary Chair, 10th Anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontario with Disability Act.

Background Information
Ontario Responds to Recommendations from Mayo Moran’s Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Additional Resources
• Read The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan
• Find out more about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Ontario Government Releases New Video in Honour of AODA’s 10th Anniversary http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/2015/06/ontario-government-releases-new-video-in-honour-of-aodas-10th-anniversary/ Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:17:54 +0000 http://rgd-accessibledesign.com/?p=278 Continue reading]]> AODA 10 Year Anniversary Celebration

On June 13, 2015, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) celebrated 10 years as legislation.

The Act was enacted in continuance of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), 2001, with the purpose to improve opportunities for persons with disabilities and to provide for their involvement in the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to their full participation in the life of the province.

The occasion was marked with an anniversary celebration at the Royal Ontario Museum, and RGD representatives were honoured to be in attendance. Former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Charles Onley and Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure were present to share words, and Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne shared a congratulatory message via webcast.

Attendants at the event saw the first screening of a new video produced by the Government of Ontario, entitled “Who do we benefit when we make Ontario accessible?” View the moving video here:

AMCTO, with the support of the Government of Ontario, is recognizing individuals who demonstrate leadership in accessibility and disability issues through the new AODA 10th Anniversary Champion Award. This is a one-time award that recognizes outstanding individuals who demonstrate passion and commitment in the promotion of awareness of accessibility and inclusiveness in their community. Nomination deadline is August 28. See full details at http://www.amcto.com/imis15/content/ACCESSIBILITY/Home/AODA_Anniversary_Award.aspx.