Why good design matters to this blind geek

Ironic as it may be now, I went to art school. I was taught to appreciate beauty in everything and particularly in every art form; for art is the expression of self. It tells the story of humanity, of our culture and our lives. But I was also taught that design was not so noble and I snobbishly believed this until I met Mark, who introduced me to the world of design and importantly good design.

Mark showed me why design is so important and why things that are useful must also be beautiful. Design, unlike art, has purpose and to achieve this purpose designers must craft a delicate balance in the pursuit of the unison of form and function. Not so ignoble to me. I realised how much I already valued good design; I love architecture, fashion, furniture, kitchen gadgets, the list goes on. I didn't really think about the process and although I know there are many in the art world who feel design is art's poor second cousin, not me.

So, when I registered blind and I was suddenly thrust into a world of bad design, of function without form, I was having none of it. I didn't want ugly products designed only for blind people when there were mainstream products that served the same purpose, looked good and actually cost less. Call me shallow, but I felt triumphant when I was in a meeting with the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and he had tech envy when I got my iPad2 out.

A few years ago when I started to become an active web accessibility advocate, my design values remained intact. We painstakingly built websites in the pursuit of the unison between form and function. Accessibility has always been an essential element of how a well crafted website functions, but it is not and should never be considered in isolation. If accessibility ignores design, the design will fail to achieve its purpose. If design ignores accessibility and more so usability, the design will fail to achieve its purpose.

I have only ever considered accessibility alongside all of the other disciplines that go into creating great websites, and as we developed our working practices the principles of inclusive web design were born. I created them as a way to articulate our design approach - to clients, designers, developers and marketers alike - and had no idea that they would end up having a life of their own. At that time, agencies who specialised in accessibility were technical shops who knew nought of design or marketing; since I'm a marketer and Mark's a designer, we figured we needed to make the distinction. What we were doing was very different and although the disciplines of user experience and content strategy are now joining the other web design disciplines that sit under the burgeoning inclusive design umbrella, there are still few who practice inclusive design as I choose to describe it.

Now it seems that the inclusive in inclusive design is stealing the limelight and my beloved design has been sidelined, but inclusive to me as far as design goes is not about social inclusion, but about including all of the elements of design, including accessibility of course insofar as the balance between form and function is maintained. Otherwise, what's the purpose?

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