by Hypatia Francis
Most of us think of design as aesthetic, not practical,
such as high-end fashion or architecture, but as Fine Arts student Jeannine
Carter will tell you, design can have a real effect on daily life.
Carter and fellow students Jocelyne Bédard, Pascale Vonier, Stephanie
Miller and Wetzeny Torres are working on a design project which they hope
will make a real difference for Concordias visually impaired students.
They have designed a set of tactile maps of the Hall Building and plan
to present their project to Concordias administration.
The project began as a class assignment in Collaborative Design Art 390,
taught by Howard Davies. According to Davies, designers and architects
are too often seen as aestheticians. One of the objectives of this
course is to put design students in touch with real situations.
Each year, Davies puts forward a different design challenge to his students,
having them work with a local non-profit group. Last year, they worked
with the Fauna Foundation, which provides a home to former research lab
chimpanzees, and students designed a chimpanzee play area.
This year, they worked with the Montreal Association for the Blind (MAB).
Carter and her group say they learned a lot by working on the project.
We realized that the way we think isnt the way blind people
As an example of this, Carter points to the original project her group
had in mind, a map of the underground city. When her group proposed their
plan to the MAB, they were told that such a map would not be practical,
as most blind people dont go into the underground city unaccompanied.
When the group decided to design a set of tactile maps of the Hall Building,
they grew aware of how much work would be involved in such a project.
They worked with the architectural plans of the building and had to do
a complete walk-through of each floor. The result is a set of maps that
reflect the permanent structure of the Hall Building and can still be
The maps are designed as teaching tools, to be used in conjunction with
a sighted guide who will walk a visually-impaired student through the
building. The student would follow the guide and take note of her route
on the map. The maps are printed in black and white on swell paper, on
which the ink creates a raised impression. They include a simple legend,
using both braille and raised lettering.
In coming up with the design, the group spent a great deal of time researching
the subject of tactile maps and how they are used. They also had to learn
to think of design in a new way. Learning to think with our hands
and not with our eyes was a big challenge, Bédard said.
Teammate Vonier said another challenge was to keep the design simple and
clear. People are limited in what the can feel. It cant be
Although the class project has been handed in, the team plans to continue
their work. Having designed maps for the ground floor and the mezzanine
of the Hall Building, the group plans to design maps for the remaining
floors. They hope that tactile maps will be made available to Concordias
visually impaired students.