Improving designers’ understanding of UD – a research article

A universal design charrette conducted in an educational setting to increase professional sensitivity

This article from Brazil reports on  project to overcome the difficulties of educating designers to include the broader population in all their designs every time, not just in ‘special’ designs or projects.  Go to: Journal of Accessibility and Design for All (CC) JACCES, 2015 – 5(1): 47-76. 

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Abstract: This paper describes a design Charrette conducted in a graduate course on Universal Design (UD), in which students, here professional architects, developed a design project for a public-service centre. The goal of the Charrette was to understand the effectiveness of this type of teaching method to increase the designers’ sensitivity toward UD issues and gain knowledge on participatory processes. 

The Charrette involved potential users with various disabilities who evaluated the design proposal using tactile maps and other communication media. The Charrette exercise included Wayfinding as an important topic in the design of buildings and urban spaces. Issues related to this aspect were translated into flowcharts as diagrams and tactile representations. The participation of users with disabilities was evaluated. The results showed that the Charrette, as a teaching method, was successful in making the student group examine questions regarding UD. However, the student group continued to be primarily concerned with the design’s formal aesthetic issues, and the process differed little from the traditional “designerly” ways of doing things. An analysis of the participatory phase showed that potential users with visual disabilities had difficulties understanding the design and the wheelchair users criticized various questions of access and barrier-free Wayfinding. Recommendations to improve “design for all” education are presented. To increase the sensitivity of professional designers to issues concerning UD, potential users with A universal design Charrette conducted in an educational setting to increase professional sensitivity of professional designers to issues concerning UD, potential users with disabilities should participate early in the design process, to provide input as the proposal is developed. Introducing a multidisciplinary design team should also be tested to include a larger variety of viewpoints in design decisions. This approach may strengthen the concern for elements of an architectural and urban design that directly affect person-environment relationships.