Universal Design and Visual Literacy

circum-radius-diameterIn my Boise State Graphic Design for Learning course we were assigned to find or produce a graphic that demonstrated universal design that relates to visual literacy.  I looked around, Googleing this and that, but nothing really hit me as something worthy as my example. So I decided it might be more meaningful to me to take a look at my iBooks and see if I have something in them that fit the assignment. My initial thoughts were that many of my graphics were created and used as eye candy in the books. There’s nothing wrong with this, what I call eye candy is classified as a “decorative visual” by Levin (1981).  A decorative visual can be related in some way to the topic, but doesn’t teach anything about it. I do use many decorative visuals but I also found some examples of graphics in some of Levin’s other categories.

I enjoy creating 3D images, so I often open a 3D modeling program to create my graphics. The graphic shown above as well as how it sits in the page of my iBook Gravitation shows the relationship between circumference, diameter, and radius in a visual way. The graphic also shows the definition of the terms in the graphic by putting the terms and the arrows in proximity to each other in space as well as in color. The equations are included to show how the terms are related to each other mathematically. I also curved the word circumference to emphasize that it is a measure of the curve around the circle.

Here is how the graphic was placed on the page:

An image of Page 73 from Gravitation by Tony Farley

Page 73 from Gravitation by Tony Farley

As I looked at the graphic as it is in the book image, I thought that the equations were too small and needed color. I thought I could strengthen the graphic if I gave the letters in the equations the same color as the words they represent. I think the graphic is now much stronger. I would like to make the text on the page wrap around the circle created by the image, but I just don’t have the time right now to do it. Sometimes you have to say “good enough.”

Universal design is a set of principals where designers create things that can be used and understood by a wide range of people. For example, the caution graphic shown below is understandable by anyone who has the ability to see it. No words are required, so language is not an issue.

Image of caution sign

Caution sign from pixabay.com

The graphic I created is not understandable by all, but it does have some aspects of universal design that make it understandable to a wider range of learners than if I just explained the math with text and equations. The words in proximity to the shapes make the confusing terms easier to understand to a wider range of people.


Levin. J. R. (1981). On the functions of pictures in prose. In F.J. Pirozzolo, & M.C. Wittrock (Eds.), Neuropsychological and cognitive processes in reading (pp 203-228). New York: Academic Press.

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