Adopting universal design: the view of architects

A floor plan drawing with a black penWe rely on designers to make the things we use, and to make them easy and convenient to use. But are users the main consideration or is it a case of impressing fellow designers? Design competitions rarely mention useability, if at all. When it comes to architects, adopting universal design seems to be a big problem according to recent research.

The research paper from Europe takes the case of Flanders to examine the barriers and drivers in architectural practice. While legislation and regulations aim to push for more inclusive designs, reluctance is still apparent. Data were collected from Flemish architects using a survey and seminars. Sceptical attitudes was a common barrier with both architects and their clients. One of the conclusions is that access regulations create tunnel vision regarding UD. Participant responses were generally dominated by the language of accessibility and not inclusion.

This research project has produced a lot of useful content in terms of real and perceived barriers to implementing UD. The title of the paper is, Barriers To And Drivers Of Adopting UD In Current Architectural Practice: The Case Of Flanders.  It is published in the Journal or Architectural and Planning Research

Purpose of the study:

“The current study, which investigated architects’ perceptions of UD barriers and drivers in current architectural practice in Flanders, Belgium, aims to add to the existing body of knowledge of the three main categories of UD barriers and drivers in two distinct ways. First, in contrast to previous research, this study specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement UD at the beginning of the design process. The main reason for this focus is that the initial motivation or commitment to adopt UD as a design strategy at the very start of the process appears to be important in order to accomplish the goal of inclusion (Bringolf, 2011; Ringaert, 2001).”

 

Autonomous vehicles, independence and universal design

Three children stand in front of a small driverless bus.New cars have automated features, but they are not yet driverless, that is, driven by computers. The mining and agriculture industries already use fully autonomous vehicles. So we have the technology. Driverless cars will be about passengers – all passengers. However, we need to solve roadway issues before this technology can be rolled out for everyday use. As we glimpse a future where anyone can utilise a car, we need to make sure the designs work for everyone. Autonomous vehicles (AV) can bring independence with universal design. 

The Australian and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has produced a short paper explaining the key issues and recommendations. It covers:

      • Existing Barriers to Transportation
      • Benefits of AV Transportation
      • Increased Economic Opportunities
      • Limitations and Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
      • Gap Analysis for People with A Disability Table
      • Pilots of Autonomous Vehicles with Aging Communities

The title of the paper is, The road to independence: Inclusive design of autonomous vehicles. The scope of transport solutions includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Recommendations

Roadmap
1. As part of a Roadmap for autonomous vehicles, Australian governments and other stakeholders should ensure that the development of autonomous vehicle technologies consider the needs of the disabled.
Program Pilots
2. Governments at all levels should prioritise facilitating autonomous vehicle pilots for the disabled, including those integrating other allied and emerging technologies.
Testing
3. Australian testing facilities / proving grounds for autonomous vehicles should include testing of technologies to assist the disabled with regards to autonomous vehicles.
Co-Design
4. By successfully adopting the concept of universal design through co-design, it is forecast that there could be a growth in the vehicle market of up to 17% if all people living with a disability could access private transportation.

Summary

In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled may require the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey.

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Local Government Universal Design Network

Header for the sign up form for joining the netowork.Virginia Richardson is setting up a new universal design interest group for local government staff. This new network will enable like-minded people to share experiences and skills in universal design and inclusive practice.

Local government staff and others with an interest in local government are invited to join this new network. If you are interested in joining, Virginia asks that you complete the online form

The objectives of the Network are:

      • Greater understanding of how UD is being applied in a Local Government setting
      • Support for UD policies to be adopted by more Councils
      • Opportunities for shared professional development and capacity building
      • Potential for joint advocacy to improve State and Federal legislation

This is a great initiative by Virginia Richardson who works for the Mornington Peninsular Shire Council in Victoria. The acronym works too – LGUDN (elgood’n).

Editor’s note: It would be good to see more special interest groups and networks set up to help with the implementation of universal design across different fields of work. 

 

Universal Design and the Circular Economy

A yellow skip bin is overflowing with rubbish.Concerns for climate change and waste production are driving the concept of a “circular economy“. This requires designers to think and create in different ways. But will these new ways also be inclusive, accessible and universally designed? Chances are the answer is “yes”. That’s because a circular economy requires designers to engage with stakeholders in the design process.

Including universal design frameworks in the concept of a circular economy is one way to draw together the many disciplines. A circular economy shares at least one thing in common with universal design – the need to consult with stakeholders. This is one aspect discussed in an article from Sweden that discusses the issues in terms of challenges and practical implications.

The concept of a circular economy is new and mostly discussed in theoretical terms. So it is good to see the concept of universal design being brought into the conversation before implementation strategies are formed. The title of the open access article is, How circular is current design practice? Investigating perspectives across industrial design and architecture in the transition towards a circular economy.

Abstract  

The transition to a circular economy (CE) produces a range of new challenges for designers and requires specific knowledge, strategies, and methods. To date, most studies regarding design for a CE have been theoretical and conceptual, hence, limited research has been conducted on the practical implications of designing for a CE. Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide a better understanding of how design practitioners interpret and implement the CE concept in practice. To capture the complexity of real-world cases, semi-structured interviews were carried out with design practitioners (N = 12) within the disciplines of architecture and industrial design who have actively worked with circularity in a design agency setting. The results show that the practitioners have diverse perspectives on designing for a CE, relating to (1) the circular design process, (2) the effects of the CE on design agencies, (3) the changing role of the designer, and (4) the external factors affecting circular design in practice. Some differences were identified between the architects and industrial designers, with the industrial designers more strongly focused on circular business models and the architects on the reuse of materials on a building level. In addition, circular strategies and associated (similar) terminologies were understood and applied in fundamentally different ways. As the CE blurs boundaries of scale and disciplines, there is a need for universal design frameworks and language. The CE concept is expanding the scope of the design process and driving the integration of new knowledge fields and skills in the design process. The successful implementation of the CE in practice is based on extensive collaboration with stakeholders and experts throughout all stages of the design process. Design agencies have addressed the CE by establishing dedicated CE research and design teams, facilitating knowledge exchange, developing their own circular strategies and methods, and striving for long-term client relationships that foster the engagement of designers with the lifecycles of designed artefacts rather than perceiving design projects as temporary endeavors. Ultimately, a holistic and integral approach towards design in a CE is needed to ensure that the underlying CE goals of contributing to sustainable development and establishing a systemic shift are ongoingly considered.

The Conversation has an article explaining the circular economy.

Make flying less miserable

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seatsWhat brings repeat business to an airline? Improving snack selection, smiling staff, warm welcome messages on video screens? None of these. Anyone who has travelled by air, even those who do it regularly, will know that the aircraft itself is rarely the issue. The issue is anxiety. And you can double that for anyone with a cognitive or physical condition which makes it more difficult. So what can be done to make flying less miserable?

An interesting article in FastCompany explains how the anxiety begins before leaving home. Will I miss my flight? Is my baggage under the weight limit and will it arrive safely? Will there be room for my carry-on? And in the current situation, will I catch COVID? The anxiety continues with queues for passport control, waiting for baggage and finally getting to the destination. No wonder travel is tiring.

So the answer to improving customer satisfaction and repeat business is finding ways to reduce anxiety and smooth the the travel experience. The article makes no mention of travellers who need additional supports, but the content of the article has some good points. It is basically about designing the travel experience to be more convenient and easy to use – aligning with universal design concepts. 

There are lessons here for any business selling an experience. The title of the FastCompany article is, Three shockingly obvious ways to make flying less miserable

There is a related article about the future of air travel and how problems might be solved with AI. The article covers  boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour.

 

Designers need help to prioritise

A table with white notes with the word "ideas" written in different ways on each one.Designing inclusively means to do the best you can to include everyone. But conflicts arise when a design feature suits one group and not another. So how do designers decide what is best? This is where designers need help to prioritise features that provide the most social good. And where else to look but to user groups, older people and people with disability.

A thoughtful conference paper discusses some of the underlying philosophy of inclusive/universal design and takes the road of pluralism. The authors argue that inclusive design, if taken literally, is unattainable. Justice and fairness are discussed and the authors frame this as ‘design as a deliberative enterprise’. Two case studies where people with disability were included in the design process provide a practical basis for their arguments.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Design as a Deliberative Enterprise: The multifold value of involving disabled people in design.

Editor’s note: Taking the dictionary definition of “inclusion” for the purposes of research can be helpful if it aids implementation. Perhaps “universal” becomes a better term because it is not about perfection. Rather it is about the iterative process of continuous improvement to include as many people as possible in designs.

Abstract

Designers are challenged to consider human differences in order to meet the needs of the widest possible audience – the purpose of inclusive design. Yet, paradoxically, taking differences seriously may severely restrict ‘the widest possible audience’. How can design be fair if it is impossible to meet the needs of all? Earlier work on inclusivity and quality in design argued for conceiving inclusive design as a deliberative enterprise that involves both designers and the users they design for. A critical reason to involve the latter is that those affected by design decisions are likely to be best positioned to collect contextual information about the needs and demands to be
addressed.

In this paper, we build on this earlier work to take a more detailed look at the deliberative feature of inclusive design. To this end, we analyze two cases in which disabled people, not educated as designers, are involved in design: the first case concerns disabled students and staff of KU Leuven, who give students in engineering-architecture advice on their design projects; the second case concerns the Accessibility Advisory Council in Leuven, Belgium, which is chaired and composed by disabled people, and gives advice on design projects the city is involved in. The analysis is based on written reports and conversations about the project discussions with disabled students/staff and the Advisory Council.

Through this analysis we show that the value of deliberation in this context is multifold: letting contextual information filter in the design process; allowing users to advance reasons for and against possible design alternatives, and draw attention to implications, inconsistencies, ambiguities affecting the relevant beliefs and preferences; enabling both designers and users to reflect on reasons that can be shared, and putting them in a situation of interaction where they can recognize their interrelation with a group.

Nike meets Universal Design

The Nike shoe is fashioned with pastel coloured sections. The picture shows a person taking their foot out of the shoe.Nike meets universal design again. They’ve improved their original Flyease design with a new shoe concept. They’ve found a totally different way of making the shoe easy to get on and off. So anyone experiencing trouble bending over, difficulty with fastenings, or just needing a speedy on and off will find this design excellent. When they are past their best they would make a great gardening shoe too – slip on and slip off at the door. Like all good designers who take a universal design approach, they’ve improved on their original design.

The secret of the new design is the way the shoe opens up to put on. The weight of the foot closes the shoe. Taking off is easy too. By stepping on the heel of the shoe (don’t we all do that anyway?) the shoe pops open. The Flyease Go shoes are an excellent example of universal design. They are easy, convenient and intuitive to use – for everyone. Well almost. Much will depend on the range of sizing. 

There is more information and two short videos on the FastCompany website that show how they work. Or you can visit the Nike website

There is also a YouTube video where the designer explains how they work and what the design concerns were. A great piece of engineering. 

 

 

Access doesn’t guarantee social participation

Library building with wide level paved pathway to the entrance. Picture taken in Berrigan NSW.It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. So, it’s all very well being able to physically access the built environment, but access doesn’t guarantee social participation. Just considering how the shapes, sizes and ages of different bodies physically interact with the built environment is not enough. If universal design is about increasing access as well as physical and mental wellbeing then there is more work to do. This is the summation of a recent literature review that found social participation aspects of universal design is under researched. 

Similarly to other research on inclusive practice, the need to include non-professionals and users of the built environment is key to creating an accessible and inclusive built environment. The final sentence in the literature review sums up a good call to action. Universal design straddles multiple boundaries. So the amount of collective universal design knowledge should be available and accessible to everyone. Indeed, that is just what CUDA is trying to achieve along with many practitioners

The literature review’s key question was “How is social participation represented in recent discourse around universal design in the built environment”. Studies from around the world were examined from 52 databases. The article includes the methodology and results. 

It is easier to measure whether a person can use a building (accessibility) than it is to measure what they are using it for (participation). The Australian Standards cover accessibility and this is why the story often ends here. 

The title of the article is, An integrated literature review of the current discourse around universal design in the built environment – is occupation the missing link?  The term “occupation” is from the occupational therapy field and means “doing things”. You will need institutional access for a free read. However, you can ask the lead author, Danielle Hitch at Deakin University, for a copy. Or Valerie Watchorn via ResearchGate.  

Abstract

Purpose: To synthesise current literature regarding applications of universal design (UD) to built environments that promote social participation, identify areas of agreement and areas requiring further attention and development. Occupations refer to personally meaningful activities, which people need, want or must do as part of their daily life.

Materials and methods: Recently published literature (January 2011–December 2017) relevant to UD and built environments, and pertaining to any discipline or professional area, were identified via a systematic search of databases in the EbscoHOST platform. The person–environment–occupation (PEO) model was chosen as a theoretical framework for the review, which included a sample of 33 peer reviewed journal articles.

Results: The current discourse is driven more by description, discussion, and commentary than empirical approaches; although, a combination of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches was employed. Much of the current discourse on UD and the built environment focuses on the person and the environment, with the occupations carried out in built environments and the interaction between these domains not referred to in much detail.

Conclusions: Including occupations, social participation, multi- and trans-disciplinary collaboration, and multicultural perspectives in the ongoing discourse around UD would enable the concept to reach its full potential as a medium for social justice.

Implications for Rehabilitation: The universal design (UD) process must account for the occupations that people perform in the built environment. 
Multi-disciplinary research and development, using multiple methods, is the most appropriate approach to investigate the application of UD to the built environment. Key areas of contention within the current discourse include meaningful inclusion of non-professional stakeholders, tensions between embracing and eliminating diversity and how professional education should be delivered.

What is universal design?

Slide at a universal design conference with the words, good design enables. Bad design disables.Universal design is understood internationally as a means of achieving an inclusive society. It is a simple idea. Why not design for the most number of people who can use a product, place, building, service or website? But is it actually that simple? Given the number of myths that have arisen in the last 50 years since the term was coined, probably not. The term Universal Design is recognised internationally, but there are others including, Inclusive Design, Design-for-All, Human Centred Design, Accessible Design.

Here are some links to the posts on universal design, each with their own way of presenting the concept:

10 Things to know about Universal Design lists key benefits and dispels myths

Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone is a magazine article

Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design, and Universally Designed Digital Life are two videos explaining the concepts well.

Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority promotes universal design in public buildings. 

Diversity of Explanations of UD lists some of the everyday words that can be used to help explain. UD is about diversity so why not have a diversity of explanations.

8 Goals of Universal Design express the principles in a practical way. They can be adapted to any context by using terms and language that suit.

7 Principles of Universal Design are often quoted, but not always the best explanation for people new to the topic. 

Principles of Inclusive Design by the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) in UK. 

Hobsons Bay Universal Design Policy is a very useful example of how to devise a policy for an inclusive community. 

Digital and web accessibility have their own section on this website. 

Library building with wide level paved pathway to the entrance. Picture taken in Berrigan NSW.“UD is an increasingly important feature of nation states seeking to develop a fairer society for people unable to access and use, with ease, the designed environment. It is based on the premise that the design of products and environments ought to ‘be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design’ (Mace, 1988: 1).” (From Universalising Design website which also has more information on universal design in homes.) 

Inclusive – Universal Debate

A man in a checked shirt and wearing a beard looks as if he is talking while pointing his finger at someone.The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? However, it is useful to know where this began and why it continues. The Inclusive Design Research Centre in Canada explains:

“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Is this not the same as universal design? It all depends on your perspective and whether you care about semantics or just getting the job done.

Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was formerly known as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. The Center for Universal Design was also established in North Carolina around this time. Due to its origins in adaptive technology, the emphasis began with information and communication technology. 

The Inclusive Design Research Centre website has a page spelling out their position. In a nutshell they explain why they use the term “inclusive”:

“While Universal Design is about creating a common design that works for everyone, we have the freedom to create a design system that can adapt, morph, or stretch to address each design need presented by each individual.”

They agree that the goals are the same – inclusion. However, they say the context is different because they come from different origins. Universal design from the built environment, and inclusive design from digital technology. They also claim that universal design is about people with disabilities and that the design methods are different.

Followers of universal design would no doubt take issue with phrases such as “one size fits all” and that it seeks only one solution to creating inclusion. The Center for Universal Design chose the term “universal” because they could see that all people could benefit from designs that included people with disability.

Sadly, we still have academia wanting to discuss nuances when there is so much work to be done. We need more research on finding out why we still don’t have more inclusive/universal design in practice. The chart below provides an overview of the relationship between inclusive design elements. However, the 8 Goals of Universal Design are probably more practical and instructive. 

A chart showing the relationship between aspects of inclusive design.