7 Principles of Universal Design

Head and shoulders of Ron Mace who devised the 7 principles of universal design.
Ron Mace

A working group of architects, product designers and engineers devised the 7 Principles of Universal Design in the mid nineties. The late Ron Mace led this team and is often referred to as the “father of universal design”. The 7 principles are a good starting point for thinking about design from an inclusive perspective. They can apply to any building, open space, product, phone app, website or document.  Briefly they are:

      1. Equitable Use
      2. Flexibility in Use
      3. Simple and Intuitive to Use
      4. Perceptible Information
      5. Tolerance for Error
      6. Low Physical Effort
      7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Access to the built environment was a relatively new idea in the 1990s. It was soon realised that access for wheelchair users was good for everyone. It’s a universal good. Hence the the term “universal design”.

Although the original focus was on buildings, access and inclusion to all areas of life have evolved within the universal design movement. However, many still believe universal design is only about the built environment. 

Steinfeld and Maisel devised an update to the 7 principles of universal design in 2012. These are the 8 Goals of Universal Design. They are more action based than the principles, and include cultural inclusion. Universal design is also about diversity, so there are many ways to explain universal design

In 2006 Steinfeld and Danford also ‘crosswalked’ the principles to the ICF.  This is a handy reference for academics utilising the ICF for activities and participation. You can download a copy of their slideshow.

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a fuller explanation of the 7 principles of universal design.