In case you didn’t know, I had a whole graphic design career for the decade-plus before I made the transition over to art. I actually taught graphic design theory and career-prep at the college level for 5 semesters. You could say design is kinda my thing, even though I spend many days now working on art…and, of course, the social media graphics I need to market my art.
People live more of their social lives online now than pretty much ever before. (Those of us who have disabilities that limit our ability to Get Out and Do Things were here before the pandemic, y’all.) Social media graphics have a much wider reach than they once did! And that means design decisions — in memes or educational graphics — are affecting more and more people.
A friend sent me a link to a series of graphics explaining aspects of Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, lamenting the various inaccessibilities of the images. So I thought I’d take the time to do a quick walk-through of how to design successful information graphics for online distribution, using this existing set as an example.
I’ll start with an overview of what’s wrong, then follow up with how I addressed those problems. For those of you who are nerds like me and want to know the “why” behind my critiques, I’ll publish an in-depth critique over on my graphic design site, going over each slide and each decision.
What’s wrong with these social media graphics?
The design template.
The first two things I think when I glance at these images is, “Wow, that rainbow is HUGE” and “Hmm, it’s kind of hard to read.”
First things first, though. That rainbow takes up a lot of space. It draws so much attention to itself that it fights with the text for which is more important.
In fact, it’s hard to standardize much of anything when that graphic element uses so much space. Text size, margins, text and image placement — everything suffers from this one design template decision.
The logo is strangely prominent in every slide, as well. Branding is important, but this feels a little bit too much.
There are a few reasons the text itself is hard to read. It’s difficult to look at stark white text against a black background for extended periods of time. And with all of the text being white? It’s genuinely painful to read.
Plus the thin strokes in the letters in the headlines almost disappear into the darkness, making the letters harder to decipher. Between that and the headlines being all-caps, I have to spend more time looking at the headlines than I want to. It’s hard to skim.
The main text being all italics is a distracting decision. Italics are usually saved for emphasis or short sections of text. Like Syndrome (almost) said: “When everything is emphasized, nothing is.”
Since the headlines and the main text are both bold and not terribly different in size, they sort of blend together on slides with a lot of content. There’s not much of a hierarchy going on.
I already touched on why using white for the text isn’t great. But in general, I really like the color scheme. It’s vibrant and reflects the brand colors really well.
But the colors use is kind of…willy-nilly. (That’s the technical term, you know.) I mean, the colors indicate emphasis on specific words. But there’s no rhyme or reason to why certain colors are used for certain words. It’s trying to add emphasis to emphasis, but ends up feeling chaotic instead.
A suggested redesign.
The original design clearly had some sort of template in mind, but it didn’t seem to account for the information it needed to display.
In my template, I made the rainbow graphic much smaller and more dynamic. I wanted it to still have an impact without taking up a full third of the graphic. So I made the logo smaller, as well, and tucked it up in the corner out of the way of the content.
Finally, I standardized the text margins. Now, the text on each slide begins where viewers expect it to begin.
I wanted to honor the spirit of the original typography. So I chose a different font for headlines that still has that thick/thin dynamic but with slightly thicker lines. I also decided to set all the headlines (excepts for the title image) in lower-case letters. It’s more readable and provides a nice contract to the elegance of the typeface by making it seem more approachable.
The body copy (main text) is now a sans-serif typeface. There is debate on whether sans-serifs are easier to read, but I chose this typeface to contrast with the headlines and be easy to read.
The only text that is italicized now is text that has a specific emphasis.
Finally, the size difference between the headline text and the main text is increased to help with skimming.
None of the text is white now. It is very light gray instead.
Instead of having multiple colors used to highlight various bits of text, I chose one of the purples from the logo and paired it with italics to emphasize text.
I split 2 of the original slides, making for a total of 10 slides instead of 8. This allowed me to draw attention to specific information and to give information room to breathe and not be crowded. I kept the number to 10, however, since that’s the maximum number Instagram can display. This content is repeatable there.
All in all, I spent about 2 hours on this redesign. I made small changes, but they drastically affect the ease with which these images can be skimmed, read thoroughly, and understood. They also remain faithful to the brand presentation from the original designs.
Little changes can affect big change. Small designs decisions can make your content look better and be more accessible. And when you’re designing educational graphics on a type of disability, accessibility is particularly important.
Speaking of disability and accessibility…
Disability awareness and justice is an important topic to me. Accessibility is important to me. It ought to be an important topic to us all. But it affects me specifically, because of my multiple disabilities.
Every single one of us will become disabled. It’s a fact of life, of entropy, of growing old. But disability can also come at any time with no warning. It can be temporary. Or it can last the rest of your life.
And if you live in the United States, where marriage equality isn’t guaranteed for disabled folks, it is absolutely in your best interest to pressure your state representatives to support the SSI Restoration Act.
The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2021 would, among other things:
- key SSI benefits to at least 100% of the federal poverty level and index it to inflation
- raise the savings and asset limits from $2,000 to $10,000, indexed to inflation
- raise income limits from both work and other sources
- eliminate the 1/3 benefit reduction most recipients endure for the “in-kind help” of housing or food
- eliminate the marriage penalty
These changes — the first update to the program since 1989! — would seriously increase the quality of life of every SSI recipient.
Get involved (and get a free print!)
I’ve not seen this bill get a lot of mainstream attention. It’s possible (probable, even) that this is the first time you’re hearing of it.
As such, please — please take the time to contact your representatives about this bill. If you use Resistbot, you can text “sign PSLOAE“ to send an already drafted letter of support. Make sure you inform the folks in your life about the bill and the life-changing implications it has. Refer them here. Help them contact their representatives, as well.
For incentive and as thanks, I’d like to offer you something.
If you post publicly that you’ve contacted your representatives, include screenshots or other evidence and tag @FatGirlMedia. When you do that, I’ll send you a free 5x7in print of the Nothing About Us Without Us design. Just DM me on social media with the link to your post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Specify whether you’d like Braille imprinting, as well.
This offer will last until the bill has been voted on.
We can make a difference, together. Disability isn’t a nebulous topic somewhere out there. Everyone is going to be disabled at some point in their lives. Let’s do our part to take care of ourselves and each other.