Designing parks that people use

A young woman and man are walking their dog in an urban park.Public parks can work their magic only if they give what people they need. People use green spaces in cities in different ways depending on their community’s historical experience and cultural standards. Access to parks is strongly linked with better health outcomes so it is important to design them in context. But the mere existence of a park does not ensure a community benefits from it.

In an article for The Conversation, Thaisa Way covers the history of parks, importance of easy access and cultural relevance.  Lots of links to research papers within the article titled: “Parks work for cities, but only if people use them”. And that is a question of design. 

A study from Denmark shows that children like to be surrounded by green. The study used satellite data to show a link between growing up near green space and issues with mental health in adulthood. They found that children under 10 years who had greater access to green space may grow up to be happier adults. The article goes on to say that data was correlated between the child’s proximity to green space during childhood and that same person’s mental health later in life. The more green space they had access to, the less likely they were to have mental health issues later.

The title of this interesting article is “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults“.  The study was conducted by researchers at Aarhus University. 

Accessible, universal, inclusive: which name to use?

Pictograms of people and access symbolsWhich name or label to use when talking accessible, universal and inclusive in design? Is it just semantics? Maybe. But they are intertwined and in the context of ICT and websites it might make a difference to some designers.

The question is addressed in an article on the Adobe Blog site. Matt May writes that “Accessibility is the goal to ensure that products support each individual user’s needs and preferences. Universal design is for everyone, literally, and inclusive design expands with your audience as new design ideas emerge. He cites the definition of inclusive design from the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto:, “…design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”. Isn’t this how universal design is explained? Better to accept that universal design is about diversity and therefore we can expect a diversity of explanations. As long as the aim is for social and economic inclusion for all then the meaning is in the doing and the outcomes.

It’s worth noting that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion. The Sustainable Development Goals have concepts of inclusion embedded and cite universal design.

Accessible Comics

A black graphic style demon sits on a person laying on the ground with the text of We're accessible! The person says Horray.Most people would not think about making a comic accessible for people with a vision impairment. Comics are, after all, very visual. The article from axesslab has two short videos showing the before and after treatment of a comic strip. The best that has been achieved in this area so far is basic alt-texts that are picked up by screen reader. They tend to just say things like “background”. The accessible comic reads well thought out alt-texts which explain what’s happening visually and what’s written in the text. A bit like audio description for documents. The comic is “100 Demon Diaries” and the article was found on the axesslab website, which is a good example of web design – love the large text. 

UD for a social and sustainable life

A long ladder is resting against the gutter of a two storey houseThe word “sustainability” mostly conjures up notions of clean and green, but social sustainability – an aspect just as important – has been left out of mainstream discussions. This point is made in Universal Design as a Significant Component for Sustainable Life and Social Development. The authors argue that both home and neighbourhood need to be considered for a socially sustainable environment. An evolving criteria for social sustainability is access to facilities and amenities that are vital for people to run errands and do all the everyday things. Going to the shops, a medical appointment, or the cinema should be available to all no matter their age or circumstances. There are useful explanatory graphs in this in-depth paper that emphasises well-being, safety and accessibility. The authors sum up in the conclusion, “The social aspect of sustainability should be emphasized in the mainstream discussion on sustainability because it influences human behaviour and quality of life in many ways”. They also point out that it is environmentally unsustainable to build homes that need major modifications, “which causes pollution, hazardous construction equipment and material and inappropriate methods of wastage removal”. The article can also be found in Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies.

Abstract: Universally designed environment provides comfort, adaptability and flexibility that can help to reduce human life cycle impact and encourage residents’ participation in the community. With that, the purpose of this conceptual study is to explore the concept of Universal Design (UD) as a significant aspect of social sustainability, based on professional practitioners’ and scholarly views. UD implementation in built environment may cater the needs of diverse users over the changing abilities throughout lifespan. This study concludes that UD has evolved as a significant component for sustainable life and social development within the individual’s own dwelling and the community as well.

Pinterest now more accessible

A picture of a mobile phone with a red screen showing a white Pinterest logoPinterest Lead Designer, Long Cheng, was dismayed to find that people with low vision could not get past the sign up screen. So they couldn’t create an account to access content. While iOS and Android each have an accessibility feature – Voice Over and Talk Back, which read aloud the buttons and options, Pinterest had failed to design their app with this type of feature. Similarly to Facebook and Twitter and other apps, Pinterest has a contingent of blind and low vision users. They bookmark stories and other items in the same way as others. You can read Long Cheng’s article written from a designer’s perspective and how Pinterest went about making the app more accessible and inclusive. Good to see companies confronting their shortcomings and not just changing their designs, but their culture to be more inclusive. This item was found on CoDesign website.