Tandem Design Co Braille Sticky Notes

Case Study with LightHouse SF

Colors surround us. They are a large part of our human experience. From traffic signals to fashion choices, our society derives meaning from colors, regardless of our visual abilities. Tandem Design Co. embarked on a journey fueled by a simple question: What if the visually impaired could interact with color? Collaborating with the non-profit LightHouse SF and guided by our shared values of promoting belonging and community, we redesigned and adapted a ubiquitous product into an inclusive one. Enter our Braille sticky notes, working to solve a fundamental issue: making color accessible.

The Challenge

“Why does color matter if your customers are visually impaired?”

This question highlights the importance of reshaping perceptions around who can interact with color. It's just as important to understand that our perception of the world is not the only one. We hold ourselves back when we do not allow changes to our perception of the world. As others often expressed skepticism about the relevance of color for the visually impaired, we found that our biggest challenge was altering the perception of accessibility. No matter how well-intentioned, we all hold preconceived ideas, and the assumption that the visually impaired can’t interact with color is a prevalent one. We wanted to challenge this assumption head on by creating new possibilities and space for everyone to interact with color.

We realized that the best way to shift others’ perceptions would be to first shift our own. Tandem Design Co isn’t designing for the community, but with it. We were able to collaborate on the design and user experience with LightHouse SF, a non-profit supporting blind and low vision people. We wanted to connect with the community, and who better than a pillar of that community? As some of the leading representatives for the blind and low vision community, LightHouse SF became essential to honing our design and putting off any assumptions we might have had before beginning this journey. Their work with us allowed our thoughts about accessibility to become actions, small steps that can lead to big change. Initially focusing on redesigning sticky notes for accessibility, we underestimated the systemic changes needed. We realized that this was about more than just a product: our aim was to cultivate understanding among sighted individuals through Braille interaction, fostering a collective effort to bring about accessibility and add to our community.

Image of the back of the Tandem Design Co Sticky Note packaging.
The back of our Original Sticky Note packaging

The Design and Build

Unlike traditional approaches, we flipped the design process. Our product prioritized accessibility for non-sighted individuals, incorporating features appealing to sighted users later. Braille labeling became a fundamental aspect of our packaging and design, ensuring every word was accessible. This commitment to accessibility not only aligned with LightHouse SF's mission but also compelled sighted individuals to encounter Braille regularly, creating awareness and challenging their preconceived ideas. Placing Braille on the side where the sticky note is peeled off meant every user, sighted or not, engaged with Braille each time they used our product.

Drawing inspiration from sunlight and warmth, our color palette mirrored the beauty and harmony of a rainbow. Trying to determine which colors and hues would be the best representation of our mission, we ended up with a Western-style rainbow palette. We wanted colors that would be easily recognizable, and no debates about whether a sticky note was black and blue or white and gold. Now, even low vision or colorblind people would be able to differentiate between the colors of each sticky note.

We also aimed to connect visually impaired individuals to colors through senses beyond sight. We did this by anchoring color to other sensory experiences. A visually impaired person may not understand the color orange visually, but they know that zest of citrus that comes from peeling a tangerine. Our goal was to anchor color in sensory experiences. To authentically provide an experience with color, we added different sensory input that relates to each color.  This allows a visually impaired person to connect to colors in a meaningful way.


Image of a Technology Accessibility Specialist from LightHouse SF testing the Braille on our sticky notes
An Access Technology Specialist at the LightHouse SF tests out the Braille sticky note prototype.

The Outcome

To better understand how our sticky notes provide inclusive color experiences and challenge assumptions, we sought feedback from users at LightHouse SF. We wanted to connect with a genuine part of the community and their collaboration was vital in that process. LightHouse SF participants worked with us on product design and user testing. Ranging from low vision to total blindness, participants shared insights that resonated with the community on the accessibility and usefulness of our sticky notes. Each participant took a survey on how they interact with and think about color. Then, they were given a sample of our color palette and descriptions, written in both English words and Braille. 

While the participants had unique experiences and relationships with our product, a few common themes emerged. Thinking about color when dressing was important to our participants because they care about how they present themselves to others. Having a way to relate to color more positively would be helpful for one participant so he could connect to the world around him. Also, having the vivid descriptions painted a portrait in another participant’s mind and sparked his curiosity.

Picture of Tandem Design Co's Braille sticky notes

“When I think of spring, green is a big portion of it. And you do associate those colors with smells, or sense, of sounds even. You put into words what we all feel. Green evokes the spring smells and sounds of the forest. Blue evokes the ocean, wonder, and curiosity,” One user, who identifies as blind but can see some color, spoke of how he felt after reading the Braille descriptions. He really felt the emotions tied to each color, even as he struggled to distinguish the different colors.

“Color isn’t something that’s inclusive by nature, so if you can make it more accessible to people, in whatever way that is, it gives people something to identify with.” Another LightHouse SF participant felt that having the colored sticky note correspond with the description made a difference to her.

We also asked some sighted users for their feedback. One sighted user, who is colorblind, appreciated the true colors of each sticky note. “I can actually see that one is purple and one is blue. It’s usually just a guess for me.”

This colorblind user's kids also enjoyed the sensory feeling of the Braille, and it opened up a conversation with them about visual disability. His ten-year-old son even expressed an interest in learning Braille because he wanted to understand this language that was new to him. This was the exact reason we wanted sighted users to interact with our sticky notes. That spark of curiosity leads to learning and new perspectives.

Key Realizations

From this undertaking, we have come to realize that each sticky note is more than a colorful square; it's the first step taken to an inclusive society. We learned that every individual, irrespective of their sight, possesses a unique, personal relationship with color. Our individual relationships meld together in interesting ways to form how society finds meaning from color  and connects through colorful experiences. Our Braille sticky notes offer a canvas for a connection to color on a deeply emotional level. It's not just about the visually impaired, or just about sighted people, it becomes a shared human experience.

Through each interaction with our colorful sticky notes, we're sowing seeds of awareness, gently nudging the world towards a more inclusive mindset. The inclusivity cultivated through this simple yet profound redesign doesn't just stop at the sticky note—it extends into the fabric of societal consciousness.

Creating a universal design product in tandem with the community we serve has always been the goal. Our partnership with LightHouse SF has been a cornerstone of success, and this model has shown that something as small as a colorful note is capable of fostering belonging and connection. In essence, our colorful sticky notes have opened doors, not just for users but for Tandem Design Co to become part of a more inclusive community. The future beckons with possibilities to innovate and collaborate, all grounded in the ethos of creating a world where everyone, regardless of their level of vision, finds beauty, connection, and understanding through design.

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