This assignment had me search the web for an example of universal design that addresses performance issues in an instructional context. According to Lohr (2008), there are two types of visuals: performance and educational. Whereas educational visuals are intended to foster learning that is applied at a later time, performance visuals provide information that is used immediately to satisfy a current need. Universal design implies that the material is understandable to a broad group of learners, and often employs common symbols and illustrations instead of written words, which would limit its effectiveness to people who can read the selected language.
The first company that came to mind when I reflected on universal design was Apple, and specifically their iPhone/iPad/iPod product line. Millions of these devices are used by people of every nationality, age, and economic profile. The device's interface is easy to learn, so I figured Apple engineers and product marketing staff would be experts at employing universal design techniques. I decided to search the Apple support website for the user's guide for the iPhone EarPods. This simple accessory to the phone is an essential tool with a minimalist design. Surely, the instructions would reflect these traits as well.
The image below is from the Apple's EarPod user's guide. I was shocked at the design and wondered why the creator chose to use words to describe such basic functionality as increase or decrease, volume when easily recognizable symbols exist for these attributes. Using English descriptions limits the usefulness of this visual aid to only people that can read English. By identifying the features with letters that refer to explanations in a key also limits the effectiveness of this aid. In addition to reading, the user must have the mental ability to match the symbol on the EarPod to the letter beside it, and then link that letter to the explanation in the key. Maybe this is an easy task for a teenager, but not a four year old. This is inline with the research of Metros (2008) where she states "One reason educators are interested in transitioning text to a visual format is to reduce the learner’s cognitive load by simplifying meaning and providing clarity to complex concepts." Again, the Apple graphic failed to employ good universal design principles by requiring both visual and verbal elements.
Apple EarPod Original Design
My expectation for this project was that I would analyze an effective example of universal design. Since my choice did not meet my expectations, I decided to try to improve the original Apple design with my own version (plus it gave me a chance to explore Fireworks, which is a goal of mine for this course). This is my attempt at improving the EarPod visual.
Apple EarPod Modified for Universal Design
The two flaws that I tried to correct are: 1. Eliminate written labels / explanations, 2. Eliminate the use of a legend (the A,B,C,D labels)
I searched the web to find symbols that represented the concepts that I needed to explain. For the increase and decrease volume labels, I chose an image of a speaker with sound waves emanating from it. More and larger sound waves represent louder volume and the single small sound wave represents a lower volume. I have seen these on a multitude of electronic devices. Apple used a symbol of a microphone for the microphone on the EarPod, so I just enlarged it so you could make it out an positioned it next to the existing illustration of the person's head. I added several sound waves to infer that the person should speak into this part of the device.
Instead of labeling the different parts of the EarPod, I chose to use arrows to connect the symbol on the product with the additional symbol I chose to explain the purpose. For the volume, I think it is easy to associate the plus sign (+) and the minus sign (-) with the effect that control has on the volume when you link it to the graphic of the speaker and the amount of sound shown.
The multi-function button was the most difficult part of the design. I chose a pointing finger to imply that the users presses this part of the control. The two images on phones, one with the receiver lifted and one with it down are meant to show that the button toggles between these two states. I included up/down arrows to imply that pressing the button causes something to change. I am concerned that younger viewers might not understand this representation of a phone, as it is possibly they might never have seen a phone of this style. The Apple artists will have to work on this challenge!
Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall
Metros, S. (2008). The educator’s role in preparing visually literate learners. Theory into practice, 47:102–109. DOI: 10.1080/00405840801992264. Retrieved from: http://facstaff.unca.edu/nruppert/2009/Visual%20Literacy/DigitalLiteracy/TheEducatorsRole.pdf
Apple EarPod User Guide: http://manuals.info.apple.com/MANUALS/1000/MA1619/en_US/earpods_user_guide.pdf
All images used are in the public domain with creative commons license