Thesis Assignment #1: Research and Writing Your Dream Review

Idea Verification:

There has been research done on tactile graphics in general, especially in science, biology, and math. But little for electronics and certainly not for microcontrollers. This was confirmed in a November meeting with Chancey Fleet and Josh Miele.

Questions to Consider:

What else is out there like it? No tactile graphics or standards/best practices for electronics and microcontrollers. Amy Hurst, the director of the NYU Ability Lab, initially became interested in the project for its novelty.

How is yours different? My research will provide guidance for how best to make electronics tactile graphics and, at the same time, assist any designers interested in picking up the research where I left off.

How does it improve what exists? It extends the Maker Movement to a larger base, encouraging creative technology from makers we who deserve the same access to educational materials.

What audience is it for? I will have two target audiences: creatives/makers with low vision and designers interested in accessibility.

What is the world/context/market that your project lives in? A bound book, online style guide, online how-to, a formal abstract to be submitted to ASSETS ‘19.

In your initial research, have you found something you didn’t expect? Is it an interesting path to follow? That the fingers feel items differently than we perceive things with our eyes. Design needs to be completely reconsidered for a reader with low vision.

What do you need to know about the content/story? How to communicate clearly to a designer how to continue the existing research.

What do you need from a tech standpoint? A basic understanding of microcontrollers and electronics.

Questions Chart:

How can I present a style guide in a more exciting way?
Should I make an online hub where the standards and best practices live?
How can I showcase finished tactile graphics?
If you’re a designer, how could I pass info on about how to make the electronics tactile graphics in a straightforward way (in case you wanted to continue the research)?
How do I make a very practical thesis project into an entertaining story for our final presentation?
Is presenting accessibility as a design challenge enough of a reason to want to act as an ally?
How can I clearly communicate that my focus is UX but with specifically unique user populations? Is that unclear at the moment?
Is this research interesting to you as a sighted person?
Do you know any makers/Arduino people who have low vision outside of ITP?

Dream Review:

Microcontrollers and electronics are a Maker’s bread and butter, but this is assuming that we can actually see them. Sighted makers take for granted the sheer amount of information and resources available to them at all times, and an entire populations of creatives and technologists are restricted or even worse, silenced, by inaccessible electronics schematics.

Think about it: the schematics we use, whether it’s a Fritzing sketch on a friend’s blog or an electronics manual, are predominantly visual. In order to make images accessible we use alt text, or image descriptions, that allow a screen reader to voice information and context about the image in an auditory manner. But how could a voice reading a description of a schematic realistically communicate enough information to start playing with electricity.

Enter the work of design researchers Lauren Race and Amy Hurst. Lauren is a recent graduate of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, whose thesis sought to explore options for extending, what we refer to as, the Maker Movement to more artists, designers, and creatives. The work in her previous career as an Art Director mainly targeted viewers like herself. With her newly discovered interest in Experience Design for unique user populations, he saw this new venture as the perfect design challenge. It required her to listen to and work with her user since.

While helping make her department’s course material more accessible, she realized how inaccessible the material was, not just in the program, but out in the world as well. She worked with a creative technology student with low vision, who expressed his desire to just make cool stuff. A goal that all students at ITP were united in. With a newfound interest in Human-Centered Design, she translated, redesigned, and developed a series of tactile graphics that depicted electronic schematics to assist him with his homework. The details he provided, such as the optimal amount of space between the zig zags in resistor, only fueled her to further her research, dawning on her how untouched this area of accessibility seemed to be.

Over the course of nine months, she developed a set of design standards and best practices, a how-to guide, and a bound book showcasing the finalized tactile graphics. You can check out her work here, which she has left as an open invitation to other designers coming on board and continuing her research.

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