Who are academics writing for?

Many book with fine text lay open on a table top. Who are academics writing for?A lot of money goes into research, but much of it is inaccessible even to the average reader. This is made worse by payment firewalls. If research is government funded it should be free to read. However, that is not how academic publications work. The question is, who are academics writing for and what do they hope to achieve? Here are my editorial thoughts on the topic published in the October 2021 Design for All India Newsletter

If we take Design for All seriously as a research topic, we should also have regard for what we do with that information. We should also have regard for how we communicate that information.

I therefore challenge the current ways in which some academics use the topic to forge a niche in an academically competitive world without due regard to the people they are reflecting in their research. For example, discussing the so-called differences between universal design and inclusive design is more about a discussion between academics than doing something tangible to benefit marginalised groups.

There is so much more work to be done in overcoming structural barriers to inclusion. So why are we not doing it?

It is true that some co-design and participant action research in the universal design space is being carried out. But these examples are usually one-off projects to solve a particular social problem. Research that turns into guidelines or recommendations is useful but often ends up on a shelf. Why is that?

If we are encouraging designers to include more customers and users in their products and places, why aren’t we encouraging academics to include more readers? Plain language summaries of research articles are still rare. Academics write in ways that make their work inaccessible to the majority. Why would they do that?

The visual presentation matters too

Apart from the academic content of articles, there is the visual presentation to consider. Tightly written text in Times New Roman in small font is not conducive to a long reading session. Likewise, large bolded, Italicised font is overpowering and also difficult to read for people with good eyesight. Digital publications can take advantage of web software that adjusts to the type of device the reader is using. More readable layouts with easy navigation are used in blog pages. So why publishers are still using book layout?

Design for All India Newsletter

With that said, the articles in this edition of the Newsletter deviate from the style of previous contributors and have more of a journalistic flavour. By doing so, they ask the readers to reflect on the purpose of the publication and the way in which it is presented both content-wise and in visual format. For a topic that is based on human rights and inclusion, it is essential that academics consider who they are writing about and who they are really writing for.

You can access this editorial and other articles by CUDA directors on the Design for All Newsletter website. Select October 2021 for the full publication. 

Jane Bringolf, Editor.