FAYETTEVILLE, AK. – If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a “Flash site” can be a manifesto. That’s certainly the case with a dynamic new teaching tool developed by the University of Arkansas Studio for Adaptable and Inclusive Design.
Known by the shorter name, Studio AID, the site uses Flash computer software to animate universal design, a movement dedicated to developing inclusive products, housing and communities.
The first animation says it all: the “I” in “aid” morphs from a non-gendered figure into several mobility challenges including pregnancy, stroller and wheelchair. Though just a few seconds long, the Flash animation encapsulates universal design’s commitment to good design that anticipates and meets a variety of needs throughout one’s lifetime. To access the site, visit www.uark.edu/ua/studio/aid/splash.swf.
The Studio AID Web site was developed as part of the University of Arkansas Universal Design Project to educate visitors on the history – and future – of universal design.
“Universal design is a new concept for many,” said Korydon Smith, an assistant professor of architecture who directs the Universal Design Project. “We hope the site will be an educational resource for everyone, from policymakers and contractors to people interested in building their own universal design home.”
There is a wealth of statistics, case studies and links on the site, but the standout is the section on housing. Here, more than 400 Flash animations demonstrate the flexible, functional ethos that drives universal design: cabinets and appliances shift to create a variety of height options in the prototype kitchen; a special substructure in the bathroom allows for easy installation of grab bars; a covered entry provides shelter from the weather.
“The site is very effective in educating visitors who may never have heard of universal design, or who may have trouble distinguishing between accessibility and universal design,” said Alex Bitterman, an assistant professor in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Design who is an expert on inclusive Web design. “The Flash animation does a fantastic job right from the onset in showing that universal design includes everyone, not just folks with special needs. The site is visually clean and very easy to use.”
The site not only teaches the principles of universal design – it embodies them. Large, high-contrast type renders text easy to read, and navigation elements change color and beep when used. The site also uses a color hierarchy, moving from graphic black and white to vivid color as one moves deeper within the site.
“The Web site always responds to what you are doing, and is designed to help you locate where you are within it,” said Smith. “Wayfinding and usability are important in the design of public buildings and community planning, and should be used in quality Web design as well.”
Smith worked with Paul Lehnen to develop the basic organization of the site and consulted with Bitterman to develop a fully inclusive site. For the animation work, he turned to architecture students Zack Cooley and Cari Paulus.
“It was half working and half learning – it was a great opportunity for us to learn an important skill,” Cooley said.
“We didn’t know Flash when we started,” Paulus added. “We spent the entire summer working on it every day. We learned as we went along, and ended up using several programs to develop the site.”
The site is a work in progress. Next summer, Smith plans to add vocal cues to the navigation system and a feature to “build your own” universal design house. Darell Fields, an associate professor of architecture with expertise in modular design, will add a section on inclusive multi-family housing.
The Studio Aid Web site is intended to educate Arkansas residents, designers, builders and policy makers about adaptable and inclusive design. It is one of the initiatives of the UA Universal Design Project, which was established in 2004 to promote affordable, inclusive design in Arkansas. The UA Universal Design Project is sponsored by Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services; and the UA Medical School, Partners for Inclusive Communities.