Inclusive Tactile Graphic Design

In 2017 I was invited to speak at the international conference ‘Tactile Reading’ in Stockholm, April 5th—7th. More than 50 experts from all over the world presented their work and study in the field of braille and tactile graphics.


Printed proofs for tactile graphic design, using a wide range of materials and graphic techniques.

In 2014 I set up Braille Dots, a platform aimed at researching and initiating design projects to promote the use of braille and tactile designs. Braille facilitates the development of essential literacy skills and as such should be considered as normal and important as printed text. Moreover tactile graphics can be used to enrich and support written information in braille. As a designer and a mother to my blind daughter I am very critical about the somewhat clinical way in which braille and tactile graphics are often ‘produced’ rather than being actively incorporated into a design process.

We live in a world of words and sounds, smells, colours, lines, patterns and textures. By researching, experimenting and testing a wide range of graphic techniques and materials it’s possible to develop new and exciting multisensory 2D and 3D forms which are accessible, appealing and stimulating for all. In short, create designs which are educational, fun to use and which encourage tactile exploration, language skills and social interaction.

The following is an outline of my presentation on Inclusive Tactile Design which I gave at the conference. It’s based on the original formatting of the slides, showing examples of my own work and using bullets for each new point.

What is the value of design?

The only important thing about design is how it relates to people.

– Victor Papenek (1927–1998) designer and educator.

Victor Papenek was an advocate of socially, morally, ecologically responsible design, who challenged our throwaway society. He believed that design is an innovative and creative process with the potential to transform societies and enhance human well-being. He has been a great inspiration to me.

User testing: magazine designed for readers with a visual disability.
Prototype: communication system for children with a visual disability (and ASD).
Testing: pop-up illustration of stairs for a children’s tactile book.

Design to fulfill a real need

This is a ‘function complex’ showing the six evaluative criteria for design, based on the one in Victor Papenek’s book, ‘Design for the Real World’.

A bespoke cart made by a carpenter with a visual disability. It’s used in a children’s tactile story book.

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design takes into account diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender and age.

Inclusive design means making something valuable, not just accessible, to as many people as we can. If you like, inclusive design is the means and accessibility is the end – it’s just that you get a lot more than just accessibility along the way.

– Heydon Pickering, accessibilty consultant, interface designer and writer. Book ‘Inclusive Design Patterns: Coding Accessibility Into Web Design’.
©ToyLikeMe from Rebecca Atkinson and Karen Newell who campaign for a positive representation of disabilities in toys.

Why use inclusive design?

The design process

There is a unique relationship between content and form. Concepts of functionalism and aesthetics, ethics are combined in an effort to find the right balance.

The potters clay forms the vessel. It is the space within that serves.

– Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher and writer.

User testing during the design process

Testing materials for a tactile book; using a strip above the braille to encourage correct use of the fingers.
Tactile illustrations being tested by school children with a visual disability.

Designing with braille and tactile graphics

Braille in particular is often ‘produced’ in a rather clinical, sterile way (as if some kind of penance) instead of being actively incorporated into the design process.

High quality integrated design

Designing with braille

Tactile sticker design for Netflix Accessibility, incorporating braille in the logo.
Promotional card, ‘Braille is essential’.

Unique characteristics of braille and tactile graphics


Comparing tactile drawings of a spider; this provides valuable feedback.
Braille reader during a paper testing session.
Using a magnifier to inspect different papers after being embossed with braille.

Multisensory approach to design

Designs will be more accessible, appealing and stimulating when combining more ‘channels’ to convey information: touch, sight, hearing, taste and olfactory.

Actively engaging young pupils

Two young school children having fun testing a prototype for a children’s tactile book.
The book comes with 3D items: a magic wand and a beachball which can be blown up then deflated.

Inclusive design for children’s stickers

Children’s tactile stickers

Beyond the dots and lines …

Typography as a tool of communication is still evolving. Designers are always looking for new and interesting ways to convey information or express an idea or an emotion through typography.

How can we add more dimensions to designing with braille and tactile graphic elements?

Braille en typografische experimenten
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