The Open University
The Open University (OU) has been one of our clients since 2004, during this time we have designed, created and been involved in a wide range of digital projects for them; these projects range from web sites to research and development, focusing on the potential of new information and communications technology (ICT) to improve teacher education and the quality of pupil learning in schools serving poor communities.
One of the commissions in 2008 was to design the icon visual language for their Learning Management System (LMS). We first set about understanding the structure of the faculties within the university that is reflected in their LMS, the visual language of the physical signage that was being used throughout the campus at Milton Kynes.
The icons had to be understood by a wide demographic. People of different ages, cultures and language study with the OU so the icons had to have worldwide recognition. So that we had a greater understanding of how this could work we studied Airport signage. In our studies we found that in order to avoid offending different cultures there are certain things that should not to appear, or be used with caution: hands, eyes, faces, national flags, religious symbols, sport, cars, gender, clothing.
After this research was complete we set down to grouping the types of icon that would be needed, we split them into: Storage, Applications, Features, Documents, Navigational and Controls. We wanted to visual differentiate the navigation and control icons from the rest and set on them to a monochrome pallet, the remainder to use colour. Not only to seperate the types of icon we also wanted to use colour to help group icons to the various university faculties. For this to work we had to make sure that we wouldn't be making it difficult for colour blind users. We completed various studies with different colour clusters to see the effects on the various colour blind types: Trichomacy Anomolous (protanomaly, deuteranomaly and tritanomaly), Dichromacy (protanopia, tritanopia and deuteranopia), Monochromacy (partial and complete), and came up with a set of colour clusters that worked for all but the most extreme colour deficiency, monochromacy complete.
Style and presentation was next on our agenda and to follow the brand identity of The Open University we took lead from its logo. We took a section from the 'shield' and used it as the base that all the icons, but the navigation and controls, would sit on. After sketching out ideas for all of the fifty plus icons that were required and testing them with a user group to make sure they were able to match them there titles we began full production, each icon having a full set for each faculty colour cluster, size and colour depth.
To see examples of some of the icons we have designed please visit the Interface design showcase page on this website.