The Challenge

Designers cannot view their communications from the perspective of those for whom they design, but they can make informed decisions when approaching a design problem based on shared experiences or values with the people for whom they are designing. When designers are less familiar with the values and beliefs of the group or individual, the task becomes more difficult.

A prototype for a digital learning resource was developed for a Master of Communication Design thesis. The learning resource was created to accompany a course on Aboriginal literature offered to first year Aboriginal students at the University of Alberta. The purpose of this project was to raise important considerations for non-Aboriginal designers working in similar contexts and to develop a prototype that explores how linked digital media can enrich students’ appreciation of Aboriginal Canadian Literature.

One of the more challenging aspects of creating the prototype was establishing a visual look and feel that would appeal and communicate to students. In order to limit the discussion to visual appeal and to avoid discussions about website functionality and content, students were asked to give feedback on materials in a different medium. Students were invited to participate in a session to review various book covers from Aboriginal authors of both fiction and non-fiction and to share their thoughts on what was an appealing and appropriate visual solution. To select images that displayed a sufficient range of visual characteristics a visual taxonomy of the book covers was created.

The Solution

Earlier research in the study determined that the resource needed to visually represent traditional and contemporary Aboriginal culture without using imagery that was specific to one culture or geographic region. Many of the students gravitated to abstract images of landscape that employed natural colour palettes. An interesting finding of this discussion was that some students selected these images because they felt they represented both contemporary and traditional cultures. Few if any students selected imagery that had specific symbolism. Most gravitated to those images that suggested the land in an abstract way.

Trying to determine imagery had been a real challenge up to this point in the process. Finding an appropriate visual design for the students that would speak to them about their culture without excluding any Aboriginal cultures was a daunting task. This session with students revealed a solution that would not have been apparent without their point of view. Of all the research conducted for this project, this exercise demonstrated the critical importance of a collaborative and user centred approach.