The absence of design only gets noticed when it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. A good design never lets its presence known. It somehow blends with our environment. Want to know how the lack of it makes the difference?
Consider a wayfinding design system in a mall and make all the signs go away! Get rid of all the signs, text–– everything. And see how the chaos unfolds. Even the simplest pathways will become a maze.
Then you would realize how important good design is, how forgetful people are, and they always have issues with spatial awareness. Millions of times we left our car keys somewhere and took a hell of a time finding them. Malls in India make it even harder to find elevators that make us question our sanity in that very space.
The goal of any design is to create an experience that is easy, familiar, and usable by users. They always make sure that their design is centered around their users’ needs in mind. That simply means the very first questions they would contemplate: "who I am designing it for?" and "how the users can get the most out of the design in place?"
If the design is user-centric then users are part of the process. That also means the design should be capable of fulfilling a need of its users so that they can achieve their goals. Ultimately designing in a way that ensures the people who are using the design are benefiting from it.
Similarly, just like any design, wayfinding design is constructed on the same fundamentals. Making it easy for people to get from one location to the other. While for a typical developed human being can identify, process, and retrieve relevant information. however, it poses a problem for a person with intellectual impairment. And it can particularly be difficult for them to seek locations in malls, offices, or hospitals. Even for a typical person, if the directional design is not up to par it can make them go in circles. It is hard to imagine, the impact of a such design on them. How it can trigger sensory overload.
There is a diverse set of people with a range of abilities are the users that are using that very design and some might be having a hard time understanding it. Say, you placed signs across the areas and called them accessible because they are big enough for people to see. Now consider, a person who is visually impaired enters into that very space. Would that be helpful for that person? No. They can’t see the signs. And the designs are not good enough. Because the design shows a lack of understanding of their user's needs. If the people who can’t see. How would you make them see it? The answer could be adding braille to it in addition to adding a sound system that can help the audience navigate the space.
The idea behind accessibility is to help people access things in a manner that is in tune with their ability. But it has a reputation that is something confined. Ironic.
The concept of accessibility is always presented and used as an example of people with different needs. However, it deceivingly reduces its meaning. Since accessibility is something that anyone can benefit from.
It is common practice to exclude people with wheelchairs to be excluded from the mainstream, even the architectural designs made for them reflect that. The universal design caters to the range of abilities and characteristics of people. The goal should be to facilitate access to resources rather than to stomp on them with ownership.
Does that mean universal design means build for everybody? Not really. It means designing a way that diverse people with different needs are able to use your design systems well and without difficulty. The ingredient is to understand your users and build with their needs in mind.
People with intellectual disabilities have a hard time communicating, understanding cues, unclear wayfinding designs, and inconsistent messaging. Incorporating consistent signs across the establishment can help solve the problem. Don't just give them information, rather add to picture to it as to what that means, or a whole wall painting design to ease out the sensory load. Studies have shown that pictures have helped people with intellectual disabilities interpret the meaning better.
Millions of people are excluded from spaces, and limited attention has been given to people with intellectual impairment when it comes to building a design system or a wayfinding system within a setting.
While it may not seem like much to the average person, to navigate space on their own However, for others, being able to get around without assistance could be a boost of confidence and a step toward autonomy.