Being Square With All Audiences

Warning: This post contains no baseball references, while Paul and I take a break to recover from our teams’ sudden departure from the postseason. (At least the Yankees didn’t get beat by a wildcard team empowered by a squirrel.)

For some time I have wanted to write something about designing for those with disabilities. As with most things I write, I have the concept but no specific direction. If you regularly read IBD, you know this already. During this pensive time of reflection (or procrastination as my wife calls it) I received an email link related to a different twist on the classic Rubik’s Cube toy for blind persons. While trying to learn more about the thought processes behind this modern twist, I came across someone else’s idea of designing for those with visual impairments (or other disabilities), that I had to share. I think you will be happy, for once, since I didn’t write it.

It seems as most of the buzz online began with German designer Konstantin Datz’s version at the Museum of Modern Art. According to the MOMA website:

 Datz has reimagined the popular Rubik’s Cube for people who cannot see the toy’s original colors. Datz stuck white panels embossed with the Braille words for each color over the squares, transforming the game from a visual puzzle into a tactile one.

For those with normal sight, the design is simple and striking. This is an excellent reminder that keeping a design simple and clean is always a great approach.

As I mentioned above, I came across a perspective that was so well written I had to use it here. The website is Drawar, The Imagination Community, a unique approach to a design blog (very different from IBD that could be categorized as unique for very different reasons).

In the post about Datz’s cube the following statements were made on Drawar:

When you are designing something there is a chance you have the luxury of being able to see it, hear it, feel it, or taste it. I know I often times forget that having all of these senses is a luxury and that there are millions upon millions of folks who aren’t afforded such things. How will they interact with the stuff that I design? When you start to consider this for even a second you see that your perspective on a design changes just a little bit.

It can be almost impossible to provide the exact experience for everyone in the world, but that doesn’t mean the experience for people with disabilities shouldn’t be as fulfilling to them as it is to someone else. Whenever I write I want everyone to be able to access and read my words. People without sight won’t be able to see my plain sense of design, but at least they will get to the real experience which is the words.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, maybe I could have but it would have involved at totally unrelated story in a weak attempt to create an analogy and would have involved many more parentheses.


Structure in Exhibits

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of what my status update was a year ago. Being the sentimental and nostalgic guy that I am, I was reminded of a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, that I took with my family at the same time last year. I decided to go back and look at the pictures to relive the good times and to see how much my hair line had changed in twelve months.

As with most of my family vacation photo files, I have more pictures of signs and exhibits than I do of my children. I get to see my children every day. I may not ever have a chance to see a great use of a complementary color palette at a museum in Missouri ever again. It also keeps your kids’ egos in check by letting them know that it is not all about them.

While browsing through the images I came across a few images that I haven’t shared before of a really cool exhibit featuring the architecture of the Gateway Arch. The exhibit is not at the arch itself but at the St. Louis Science Center.

Here are some images and thoughts.

The design of this structures exhibit was clean and architectural in nature. I love how the materials echo raw materials of a construction site. Even the justified text could represent building blocks. Of course it could have been designed by someone who likes squares, but I think it was purposeful.

These panels continue the consistent message presented on the orientation sign. The concept is expanded with the blueprint-type symbols and open-ended question approach. Of course this is enough to bore my children to death (though death by type is underrated). This was the option that really inspired them…

These pillow building blocks allow children to practice what it takes to build an arch. You will notice that Anna (in the middle) is restraining her younger brother William (the destroyer) so we could get the picture of the complete arch.

This is not related to the structure exhibit, but I just had to share it. I’m not sure what incident led up to the creation of this sign but it was warranted, trust me. Do you have any ideas?

QR Codes: Know Them, Use Them

Shea and I are not exactly cutting edge when it comes to, well, anything, really. For instance, I still own a VCR, Zip disks, and tapered jeans. Shea still has that haircut.

Bearing that in mind, this post is about technology that is not widely used just yet, but it’s coming. It’s completely free, extremely useful, easy to use, and—get ready for a cutting-edge technical term—kinda neat.

You may have noticed that QR Codes, the bar code-looking squares like the one here, are popping up in print and online more and more. QR (“Quick Response”) Codes direct people with smart phones to whatever kind of information you choose to provide—contact information, narrative text, or a URL, to name a few examples. The code here directs you to the Interpretation By Design website that you are currently reading. It’s not the most creative thing I could have posted here, but I figured some of you would want to use this image as your Facebook profile picture.

Like tapered jeans, QR codes have been around for a long time—in this case since 1994—but with the increasing popularity of smart phones, they are just now poised to really take off. QR Codes were developed in Japan by the company Denso-Wave primarily for industrial use. But pop culture has gotten hold of them, and now you can see them in Pet Shop Boys videos or even create your own QR Code T-shirts on sites like The codes are starting to pop up more in the visual environment at varying scales, as with this photo by Nicolas Raoul taken in Japan in 2009:

From this we can learn two important things: 1. Technology can be used in fun and creative ways, and 2. The Pet Shop Boys are still making videos.

It’s easy to create a QR Code. Just visit one of the many website that generate the codes, such as or (just to name two of the many that come up when you search “QR Code Generator” on the internet), plug in your information, and tell the site to generate the code. What you get is an image file that can be downloaded for use in print or online.

To read a QR Code, all you need is a smart phone and an app called a QR Code Reader. I have an iPhone and use a free app called QR Reader. There are plenty of similar apps for other smart phones. When you open the app, it will activate your phone’s camera. Just point the camera at the code and your phone will do the rest.

Beginning with the November/December issue, Legacy magazine will include a QR Code directing readers to the National Association for Interpretation’s website, You could use a QR code on an trailside panel to provide visitors more information on a topic. You could place one on your business card or nametag at a conference to easily share contact information, in a newsletter to direct potential donors to a website, or in a blog to direct readers to a photo of an adorable puppy, which I have done here.

When you use QR Codes, not everyone will know what they are, but for the ever-increasing number of people who do know what they’re looking at, you’ll have created the opportunity to engage with your media at a deeper level.