Open Exhibits Blog



Universal Design Guidelines for Computer Interactives

At the Museum of Science, Boston, we have been reviewing our software development and design process and we have compiled our findings from the last decade into a list of guidelines to consider. This list is an updated version of the table found in Universal Design of Computer Interactives for Museum Exhibitions (Reich, 2006). Although these are not strict rules, we are hoping they help provide a foundation on which to build during development of a universally designed computer interactive.

This list is organized by development area and each guideline is followed by a code, indicating which audiences benefit the most from these considerations. The key for these codes can be found at the bottom of this post.

Overall exhibition

  • Minimize background noise (D, HH, DYS)
  • Minimize visual noise (DYS, ADD, LV)
  • Stools for seating (LV, YC, OA, LM)
  • Consistency in interaction design throughout exhibition (B, LV, ID, LD, NCU)

Content development

  • Multisensory activities for framing (ALL)
  • Use of the clearest, simplest text that is free of jargon (ER, ID, LD, ESL)
  • Screen text that makes sense when heard and not viewed (B, LV, ID, ER, ESL)
  • A short description of the activity’s goals presented through images, audio, and text (ADD, NCU)
  • Clear, simple directions that provide a literal and precise indication of what to do and the exact order for doing it (B, LV, ID, LD, NCU)
  • Make as many options as possible visible to maximize discoverability (ALL)
  • Minimize number of actions required to accomplish a given task (ADD, ASD, ID, NCU)


  • A tactile or gestural interface, such as buttons, for navigating choices and making selections (B, LV, LM)
  • Care should be taken when combining multiple modes of interaction (B, LV, D, CD)
  • Tactile elements that do not require a lot of strength or dexterity (LM, YC)
  • Input mechanisms are within reach for all visitors (ideally limited to a 10” depth at a 33” height) (WC, EXH, YC, LM)
  • Monitors, overlays, and lighting are designed to reduce screen glare (SV, LV, EXH)
  • Usable controls within reach of the edge of the table (LM, WC, LV, YC)
  • 27-29 inches of clearance beneath the kiosk, with a depth of at least 19 inches (WC)

Software development

  • Connect to existing standards or everyday uses of technology (FCU)
  • Minimized use of flickering and quick-moving images or lights (SZ, ASD)
  • User control over pace of feedback (HH, ASD, ID, B, LV)
  • Control over the pace of interaction, including when a computer “times-out” (D, B, LV, LM, DYS, LD)
  • A limited number of choices presented at one time (5-7) (B, LV, ID, ADD)
  • Minimized screen scrolling (LV, ID, NCU)
  • Limit unintentional input by providing tolerance for error (B, LV, LM, NCU)
  • Provide easy methods to recover in the event errors are made (B, NCU, LD)
  • Adjustments of a control should produce noticeable feedback (ALL)
  • Ensure feedback is as close to real-time as possible (B, LV, CD, D, NCU)
  • Ensure dynamic elements indicate current status (e.g., active vs. inactive, selected vs. unselected) (ALL)


  • Auditory feedback for what is happening on the screen (ALL)
  • Audio descriptions for videos, images, and other visual-based information (B, LV, ID)
  • Screen text that is read aloud (B, LV, ID, LD, ESL, ER)
  • Open captions for videos and non-text based audio (D, HH, OA)
  • User control over volume (HH, ASD)


  • Clearly labeled audio/video components that are also presented visually, through open captions or images (D, HH, OA)
  • Text with a large font, clear typeface, capital and lower case letters and ample space between lettering and text lines (test on final screen or device to ensure legibility) (LV, OA, DYS, EXH)
  • High contrast (at least 70%) images and text (LV, OA, CB)
  • Alternatives to color-coded cues (LV, OA, CB)
  • A non-text visual indication of what to do and the activity’s content (ER, LD, DYS, ESL)
  • A clear, consistent and repetitive layout for presenting information (B, LV, LD, NCU)
  • Clear mapping between the buttons and screen images (SV)
  • Screen design should be intuitive and not to draw attention away from the learning goals (ALL)


Key for audience members who benefit:

ADD – visitors who have Attention Deficit Disorder

ALL – all visitors

ASD – visitors affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

B – visitors who are blind

CB – visitors who are color blind

D – visitors who are d/Deaf

DYS – visitors with dyslexia

ER – visitors who are early readers or are learning to read

ESL – visitors whose first language is not English (including American Sign language users)

EXH – visitors at extreme heights (low and high)

FCU – visitors who are frequent computer users

HH – visitors who are hard of hearing

ID – visitors with intellectual disabilities

LD – visitors with learning disabilities

LM – visitors with limited mobility

LV – visitors with low vision

NCU – visitors who are new or infrequent computer users

OA – visitors who are older adults

SV – visitors who are sighted

SZ – visitors who are subject to seizures

WC – visitors who use wheelchairs

YC – visitors who are young children

by View all posts by Emily O'Hara on June 16, 2015