Tactile Test Prints

3 Pages swell paper with maths graphics and formulas on a black background.

The first few pages.

Not much to add to the previous posts, but we have a bunch of actual pages for the braille project ready, and we got some of them printed for testing.

Pages of a tactile maths book, chapter polynomial functions

Close up of the polynomials maths page.

It’s still hard to get the puffed up parts to show. I had to turn the contrast up a bit, but I hope it’s clear.

Some of the pages have been printed in all black on accident – which is the usual mode for tactile pages. While it was a bit annoying at first, it made us aware that we need to be very clear about communicating the intention of the red text, and add printing instructions accordingly.

Close up of a page of swell paper, showing graphs with several different textures

Viele Schraffuren.

Stage 2: Experiments

Now that I understand how microcapsule paper works, it’s time to get a bit nerdy with material science.

Most blind students in Austria attend regular schools, so they will have sighted people around them. This is why we decided to try and make the materials work better for this integrative approach by including the text in schwarzschrift (literally black print, I don’t think this term exists in English so I’ll stick to the German) too. Schwarzschrift here, for us, is red though. There’s technical reasons for that, but maybe I need to explain how swell paper works first.

Pages of swell paper with test lines in different line styles and red writing in different shades that has stayed flat in the swelling process

Testing different shades of red by applying different heat settings.

Close up of swell paper with black, 3D lines and flat red writing.

Now to find a colour that is the easiest to read for sighted people while not interfering with the tactile parts of the page.

The basic idea is simple: Microcapsule paper, or swell paper, reacts to heat. It is being printed on like regular paper, but after printing it is put through a machine (the fuser) that heats paper up using infrared light. When the infrared light hits the printed pigment, the paper underneath the pigment gets hot enough to swell up (It’s a bit like popcorn).

Since the swelling is caused by a combination of black pigment on the special paper and infrared light, changing parameters means it is possible to print content that won’t puff up when put through the fuser. Specifically, red ink absorbs less infrared light and heat and therefore doesn’t make the paper swell up.

So why is this a good idea? Braille has a very low density of information, so one page can fit much less text than it would with schwarzschrift. Space on a Braille page is precious, so we do not want to take up space with text that doesn’t need to be tactile. Additionally, having the schwarzschrift parts swell up would be confusing when reading the Braille and tactile graphics.

A Page of the Pythagoras chapter. It has labelled tactile triangles. The text is available both in Braille and in red for readers that cannot read braille. This is the first finished page from the short test chapter we are using to test the basic design.

If the schwarzschrift text does not swell up in the production process, it can just exist in the white space of the tactile page. Reliably being able to have content that swells and content that does not means we can make the most out of the limited space we have available while still providing all the information for different readers: It simply adds another layer of information that is imperceptible for those who don’t need it.

How to read Braille

Pages of swell paper with different surface patters consisting of dots, lines and crosses

A number of pages with different surface patterns and intersections of lines and patterns

My new design project is interesting. It mostly consists of maths and programming, combined with social research. After that, finally, some layouting and typesetting – but the final product will not necessarily look pretty. That’s alright though, since it’s not made to be looked at: We are working on teaching materials for blind and visually impaired students. More specifically, a graphics catalogue to be used in high school maths education.

A page of swell paper with different styles of dashed lines.

How do dashed lines behave and feel? How much difference is needed so we can distinguish styles by touch?

close up of swell paper with different dashed line styles

It’s hard to get a good picture of the three dimensional quality of the paper.

And this is exactly why I love being a designer: Getting to make things that work, no matter how contradictory the requirements may seem initially.

A page of swell paper with different dot pattern surfaces

Here I am trying to come up with different patterns to replace what would usually be different colours. After creating a lot of “test squares” we had teachers and students test them at the school.

Pages of swell paper with different surface patterns

Pages of swell paper with different surface patterns

I’m really looking forward to working on this project. I have never used swell paper before I was approached with this project, but it’s an exciting material. It makes it possible to create tactile graphics with a standard printer and a special device to actually make the print tactile.

The first step is testing the properties of the material we are working with so I can get a feeling for it. We are closely working with both blind students and teachers to learn the basics about tactile graphics and typesetting in Braille, but also about the Braille system itself.

Close up of swell paper with different surface patterns and line styles

Intersections and Lines that go over what would traditionally be coloured fields are much harder to distinguish in tactile graphics.

Next up: learning how to actually read Braille.

Schweigen

Nachdem der erste Sticker so gut ankommt, ist direkt ein zweiter entstanden.

Der aktuelle politische Diskurs ist unglaublich laut, und gleichzeitig werden viele immer stiller.
Im Sinne der Metakommunikativen Axiome nach Paul Watzlawick et al.: Man kann nicht nicht kommunizieren.

Es ist Zeit darüber nachzudenken, was wir mit unserer Stimme eigentlich bewirken – oder eben nicht. Und ob was wir tun auch wirklich in unserem Sinne ist.

Sticker #2

Sticker mit Orange und Violettem Hintergrund und weißem Text

Macht was Schönes damit falls ihr mögt, und wenn ihr euch wegen der Lizenz unsicher seid könnt ihr mich auch gerne kontaktieren.

Heute so unpolitisch.

Heute ist so ein Tag.

Passend zum Tage, Monat und Jahr hab’ ich heute was für euch zum Ausdrucken, Sticker machen oder für T-Shirts:

Eine kleine Erinnerung

Sicker, weiße Pixelschrift auf schwarzem Grund mit den Worten

Macht was Schönes damit falls ihr mögt, und wenn ihr euch wegen der Lizenz unsicher seid könnt ihr mich auch gerne kontaktieren.

Und ein paar Worte

Ursprünglich eigentlich als Kommentar auf die Techbubble, deren Innovationen und Neutralitätsansprüche gedacht, passt das Zitat auch hier. Wie praktisch! Mir liegt viel Text ja nicht so, das können und machen andere besser. Daher hier nur eine Zusammenfassung in aller Kürze:

Alles ist politisch. Es ist schlicht eine Frage der Machtverhältnisse wer (oder was) durch Übereinkunft mit einer kulturell dominanten Meinung „neutral“ oder „unpolitisch“ durchgeht, sich nicht reflektieren und rechtfertigen muss.

In den (Geistes-)Wissenschaften herrscht schon länger Einigkeit darüber, dass es Neutralität in dem Sinne nicht gibt. Jede*r von uns hat eine Weltsicht die von dem was wir erfahren, gelernt, gedacht, gebraucht, gewollt und (nicht) bekommen haben geformt ist. Und das fließt in alles ein was wir tun. Wir alle sind politisch. Alles was wir tun ist politisch. Und wenn es gerade auf den ersten Blick nicht so aussieht, dann heißt das nur dass wir in der Privilegienlotterie zufällig das richtige Los gezogen haben.

Und nicht mehr als das.

Das heißt in weiterer Folge, dass nur Vielfalt vielfältiges schaffen kann. Und dazu müssen alle die eine Stimme bekommen, die nicht sowieso schon tausendfach gehört werden. Dazu müssen diejenigen, die von der Norm abweichen, sichtbar sein – sein dürfen. An sehr vielen Ecken und Enden überall werden aber gerade die laut, die sich von Vielfalt bedroht fühlen. Und sie kämpfen mit allem was sie haben dagegen.

In dem Sinne: Wenn ihr seht es läuft was schief und ihr irgendwie könnt, steht auf und tut was. Helft. Streitet. Seid ungemütlich. Seid sichtbar. Weil schweigen ist immer Zustimmung.

After the conference

A few programmes and nametags (with pre-printed pronoun options) arranged on a desk with some pencils

And the conference is over. I wish I had found the time to take pictures of all the signs and other print products and decorations we made for the conference, but I was too busy.

People, organizing a conference is a lot of work. Turns out organizing a conference with loads of experimental features and events (such as a sound performance installation and an art exhibition) is even more work. But it was definitely worth the extra effort.

New Poster!

Tables in a lecture room with posters for the Changing Worlds Conference

Look what just came from the printers!

New conference year, new poster! It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but somehow printed artifacts make a project or event feel “more real”.

We went with a similar style as for the last conference, but this time I chose to do a digital illustration since that makes the individual elements reusable.

The main idea is the same as for the first conference poster in 2014, but our choice of artifacts reflects that this instalment of the conference focuses more on art and activism. While both the artwork and topic of the first conference were leaning more towards historical reflections, this year’s vibe is both a bit dystopian and very playful.

I kept yellow as the highlight colour, but replaced the main colours from 2014 (Blues and Greens) with Pinks and Purples.

Poster for the Changing Worlds Conference 2015. The poster is an illustrated planet earth with lots of artefacts such as a flamingo, a spray can, a swing, a tree, a robot hand, a street lamp and lab bottles growing out of it. In this forest of artefacts, signs are places that contain the conference Logo and website link.

And this is the full artwork. What I like most about this design is the potential to use all the little illustrations for the small print products that often feel a bit boring. It feels very fitting for this event to be able to play with the details that way.

Currently, I’m trying to make a plan to enlarge some of the motifs as a decoration for the conference venue.

I think this design is going to be a lot of fun.