Sunday, August 7, 2016

Inclusivity, Gestalt principles, and plain language in document design

Next discussion: Thursday 25 August, 15:00 BST

Article: Turner, J. and Schomberg, J. (2016) ‘Inclusivity, Gestalt principles, and plain language in document design’, In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Thank you to Helen Farrell for suggesting our next discussion article and for writing this blog post.

How does this discussion work? 
Anyone can join this discussion!  Participants aim to read at least some of the article in advance, then come along at 3pm BST and join in the discussion by adding comments to this blog post. You can see how this works by looking at previous discussions (just scroll down the blog for previous posts).

I’m a big fan of Plain Language. Sometimes people express concern that it simplifies language too much, but it’s often the most popular format for the majority of users, when they are given a choice. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) goes beyond language and looks at connecting with people’s different learning styles; some learn best by visual methods; others prefer text or hands-on experimentation. There are so many ways that we can make teaching materials and our written communications more accessible and easily understood, by all.

I was really intrigued by the scope of the title “Inclusivity, Gestalt Principles and Plain Language in Document Design” (http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/accessibility/), recently published in the always-interesting, open access peer reviewed international library journal “In the Library with the Lead Pipe”. I’d read about Gestalt Principles in a very basic psychology-context, so I didn’t know much about them. Turner and Schomberg use these Gestalt components to illustrate the process of writing and designing material for users and librarians so that they are usable and understandable for all. I’m not sure this is the simplest method for explaining accessibility to the novice reader, but it was an interesting new approach to the topic of the design process using UDL and accessibility.

The section dealing with Plain Language was especially useful with clear directions and relevant examples, and I know I’ll refer to it when writing documentation in the future.
I was amused by the reworking of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Sciences (do you remember him from Library & Information Studies?) into “Turner’s Five Laws of Document Design”. These five new laws give a nifty 5-point checklist for Librarians to refer to, when creating documentation that’s accessible and usable by all.

I particularly enjoyed the link to the examples of pre-redesign library handouts, compared with the new handouts that used the Gestalt and Plain Language principles described in this article.
This document design process covers writing, design and usability. Putting accessibility to the forefront of the creation process means that you aren’t working backwards to retrospectively make documents accessible, but considering the variety of user-needs and learning styles from the very beginning. Although it’s written from an American context referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the principles and processes described are all transferable to any local context.


This work, “Visual Gestalt,” is a derivative of “7 Laws of Gestalt” by Valessio used under CC 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. “Visual Gestalt” is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by Jennifer Turner.

No matter where I go when I’m writing, I always bring the same banker’s box with my favourite resources to keep beside me. One of these documents is a short booklet containing useful Writing and design tips by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) in Ireland that encourages the reader to use Plain English. The other booklet is “Written communication: Universal Design toolkit for customer engagement” from the National Disability Authority (NDA) in Ireland. Both are full of usable, practical and transferable guidelines that help me try to write clearly and simply, and avoid jargon. I will certainly be adding this new article to my banker’s box.

Our live discussion on 25 August 2016 15:00 GMT will no doubt be very diverse, but perhaps to begin the discussion, I’d be interested to hear how others are implementing (or considering implementing) Accessibility, Plain Language and UDL in Libraries around the world?

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Helen Farrell is a job-sharing Faculty Librarian for Social Sciences in Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland, having joined in March, 2016. Previously she has worked in e-publishing, web-design and mark-up languages (including XML), and as a Librarian/Webmaster for NGO’s and State Agencies. She was Librarian for the NDA up to 2008 and after 2012 she provided a Library service to the National Disability Authority (NDA), Ireland as well as the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) - co-located in the NDA. She has interests in accessibility issues, universal design (UD), user experience (UX), mark-up languages, and information literacy.
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77 comments:

  1. Welcome to today's discussion, which will be kicking off in 25 minutes! As you arrive, please introduce yourselves by replying directly to this comment.

    My intro: I'm Niamh, I manage the Engineering Library at the University of Cambridge and am one of the organisers of this discussion group.

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    1. Hello again Niamh!

      I'm Helen Farrell, Faculty Librarian for Social Sciences, Maynooth University (job sharing).

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    2. Hi Helen, thanks again for suggesting this topic and writing the kick-off post. I know at least one colleague in Cambridge has already used the article to redesign her library postcard as a result.

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    3. That's really positive Niamh.

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    4. Niamh, would you know if there was a big change when she redesigned it, and whether that was mainly visual or textual?

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    5. Hi, I'm Brian Whalley, 'retired' geoscience academic with a contionued interst in education and ICT.

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    6. Hi Brian, welcome to the discussion!

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    7. Hi, I'm Chris, working in a Cambridge College library

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    8. Hi Chris, thanks for coming along.

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    9. Hi, Pauline Murray, Maynooth University, Helen's colleague

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  2. Hi!

    I'm Áine Carey, Assistant Librarian in Maynooth University (along with Helen!), currently working on a contract to develop online tutorials to enhance the teaching and learning activities we undertake.

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  3. It's just gone 3pm, so let's get started. Helen, have you had a chance to apply any of the principles yet?

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    1. Oops posts crossed there Niamh!

      I am definitely spelling out acronyms more in minutes.

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    2. No problem! That's an excellent point, I think it's very frustrating to feel like you're the only person in the room who doesn't understand an acronym that's being bandied about.

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    3. My solution to that Niamh is to have my trusty iPad at the ready for a quick, o-line search!

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    4. Whatever did people do before mobile devices...

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  4. I'm going to start it off here if that's ok?

    For me, it often feels easier to rewrite a document to make it accessible, rather than start using UD from scratch. Do you think this article would change your mind about that?

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    1. Good question, I hadn't thought about it before. I think with text I usually start with the original version and chop/rephrase until I get something more accessible, but would find it easier to start over if I'm trying to improve the visual elements.

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    2. Yes, agreed. Rewriting text comes more naturally, but designing visual components from the outset makes sense.

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  5. From a somewhat different perspective I reflected on language choice recently when I was designing an etutorial, meant to be a very simple guide to structuring your research question, and got some feedback that certainly some students just wouldn't grasp the terminology being used ... and I had thought I was perhaps being over-simplistic!

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    1. Interesting - we really need to think like the students do, and find out what level that is.

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    2. Yes, and that's even more complicated by the fact that students come to us with such a wide variety of experiences, so what's over-simplistic for one student may be incomprehensible to another.

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    3. Niamh that's so true. I've grappled with that a lot during this project; I think the best you can do is be clear as to the purpose of the material and hopefully provide a pathway to more in-depth (or more simple, as the case may be) sources of information

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    4. It will be extremely interesting to see the usage and get the feedback on your eTutorials Áine.

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    5. I agree. I've also wondered about developing a short self-assessment tool to help students identify which level of information/research skills sessions they should sign up for. For this year we're taking a different tack with our first year PhDs, developing an online version of the courses that they should be able to whizz through if they know what they're doing, but supplementing it with workshops for people who feel they need a full in-person session and drop-in sessions for trouble-shooting. It'll be interesting to see how that balance works out.

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    6. interesting / nerve-wracking!

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    7. That sounds excellent Niamh.

      Is the self-assessment tool in Moodle, or something similar?

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    8. The self-assessment tool is entirely in my head at the moment, but we're using Moodle to develop the online versions of our PhD workshops.

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    9. It is an excellent idea to let students identify their level of need Niamh.

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  6. I thought you comments Helen about having a 'toolkit' of resources that you refer to when you start to write was very helpful. I think I'm going to adopt the same approach - I think it's easier to have your writing style and approach in mind from the outset; trying to adapt afterwards I find harder to do ...

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    1. The "toolkit" of resources is very handy alright.

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  7. Thought was good clear article, though it amused me that as someone who hadn't come across the term Gestalt theory, not knowing the term initially made me loathe to look at the article - even librarians are not immune from backing away from the unknown ;)

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    1. True LibChris! I was a bit intimidated by the inclusion of Gestalt theory until I realised it was used as a structure to hang UD/Inclusivity principles on, rather than a focus of the article.

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    2. Me too! I doubt I'd have read it either only that it was recommended in this forum and synopsised by Helen!

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  8. this is an aside perhaps ... but I have found being a Twitter user has helped me communicate more clearly - the rigour of 140 characters!

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    1. True! The absolute importance of using good, relevant images hits home on social media too.

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  9. Think we can do a lot to make documentation, notices etc clearer. Liked all the concrete suggestions. Also think a good idea to make changes to improve clarity as a matter of course. Think however there can be a danger in thinking we can help all of the people all of the time - as some adaptions for one person, might actually make it harder for someone else (e.g. mentioning high contrast print, black on white, good for visual clarity, but less good for some with dyslexia)

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    1. Yes, I noticed that point about black on cream could work better for some people with dyslexia.

      With so many apps available some overlays and screen readers will adapt material automatically for users, if needed.

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    2. I agree. And though all the recommendations were very useful, I think a starting point, especially in libraries, is whether the documentation is needed at all. I think we can be guilty of producing documents for the sake of it, including presentations, emails, newsletters ...the element of personal contact is so important to retain.

      With the etutorials I am working on, I'd love to see them as much as possible embedded in course material and introduced by academics at point of need. People, as a whole, are not great at looking at anything just off their own bat, whether useful or not ...

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    3. Yes - documents for the sake of it, and ten paragraphs when one sentence would have done the job...

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  10. I thought the article had some very good points and I like the T's FLoDD (ahem); very good. I'll use them with respect to poster design as well as for theses.

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    1. Turner's Five Laws of Document Design was a quirky take on Ranganathan's 5 laws of Library Science alright!

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  11. T's FLoDD ... that took me a few seconds:-)

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  12. I think number 4 ... Save the time of the user... is the one that resonates most.
    I feel we often feel wedded to excessive introduction, wordy text-based pages as we feel the student / researcher / staff NEEDS to know all this info ... often, they don't ... it can be hard for us to let go of that 'desire to instruct'

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    1. Yes .. and also .. what do they need to know NOW? as opposed to overwhelming with a lot of information. Going off-topic a bit but the beginning of semester sessions where students mutely hear a lot of information topics they can't fully appreciate is real bug bear for me ...my personal peeve tho'

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    2. I agree Aine. I think assistance from the academic staff is helpful *if* they design tasks which start to lead students into an issue. But this requires the lecturers to be really involved and not just 'lecture' about their topic.

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    3. It's definitely not just you. I'm really excited to be working with one of our Masters course coordinators to develop bite-size and longer sessions targeted exactly at the point of need for each skill.

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    4. that sounds excellent Niamh. Will look forward to hearing more!

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  13. One thing I am interested in is User Testing or User Experience (UX) in Libraries.

    I notice in the article Turner suggests it to get feedback on the documents you create.

    Have any of you carried out UX research, even informally, in your library?

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    1. Yes, we do a fair bit in Cambridge, you might be interested in the blog for the Future Libraries Project: https://futurelib.wordpress.com/

      We've also done some just here in the Engineering library, and the write-up from our recent study on use of the refurbished library space is available here: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/256152

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    2. Looking forward to reading those Niamh, thanks.

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    3. I know Andy has been over to Maynooth to run his UX course, have any projects resulted from that yet?

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    4. Yes, he was over in January this year. Excellent course, thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave us so many ideas.

      Some projects in the pipeline at the moment.

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    5. I'll watch out for any write-ups...

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    6. And Lorna & Laura (from Maynooth) hugely enjoyed UXII so there are some projects arising now ...

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    7. I find the #litaUX tag on Twitter handy to follow...I think the chats are Storified too ... (did I read that via Ned Potter perhaps?)

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  14. Some of the UX initiatives are really inspiring, really seeing how users interact with the library and not how we perceive them to...but I spotted that too about user testing and am curious ... how is it managed effectively? What way do you assess if the document 'works'? As I guess you have to link it to the outcome, which could be hard to do?? interested to hear others' views?

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  15. the Four Laws bring to mind the 'Ten Rules' published by the Institution of Electrical Engineers;

    1. The Reader is the most important person.
    2. Keep the Report as short as possible.
    3. Organise for the convenience of the Report user.
    4. All references should be correct in all details.
    5. The writing should be accurate, concise and unobtrusive.
    6. The right diagrams with the right labels should be in the right place for the reader.
    7. Summaries give the whole picture in miniature.
    8. Reports should be checked for technical errors, typing errors and inconsistency.
    9. The report should look as good as it is.
    10.The Reader really is the most important person.

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    1. I like that! Not quite as snappy as Ranganathan's five rules, but I can see myself flagging those up in our report-writing sessions for undergrads.

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    2. Agreed, but I think it is actually more instructive as it doesn't need interpreting as Ranganathan's do.

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    3. Brian I find your 'Ten Rules' checklist useful too.

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  16. Anybody with input on the document testing element?

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    1. I haven't done it with documents but have with websites at various points. I guess the closest we've come to that is in our poster design sessions, where we get students to look at a variety of posters and identify what works well and what doesn't.

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    2. Were there any surprises in that process for you Niamh?

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    3. To be honest, not really because I'd read a fair bit about website design, but it's always helpful to identify the little things that could improve what you've put together.

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  17. Well, it's nearing 4pm now - please do keep adding comments and discussing this topic for as long as you like. Thanks again Helen for highlighting this article and thank you all for getting the conversation going around it.

    I'd also like to flag up our next discussion, which will take place on Thursday 29th September. Stacey will discuss her article on using the I-LEARN model for information literacy instruction: http://infolitjournalclub.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/using-i-learn-model-for-information.html

    We don't have anything lined up yet for the months after that, so if you have any suggestions just let me know.

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    1. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

      I have to sign off now but I look forward to the next Journal Club.

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  18. Thanks Niamh for organising the conversation and Helen for the article recommendation and suggestions of other resources; it was great to be part of this, see you next time!

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