8 Goals of Universal Design

The 7 Principles of Universal Design are well known in the universal design world. They’ve been used as a guide for many years by design professionals and academics. The IDEA Center at the University at Buffalo took these principles and made them more practical. The 8 Goals of Universal Design are the result.

The 8 Goals help practitioners apply universal design and measure outcomes. They cover functional, social and emotional dimensions. 

To find out more about universal design see our free short online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Slide from the video 8 Goals of Universal Design.
Screenshot from the video below

Briefly, the 8 Goals are:

  1. Body Fit
  2. Comfort
  3. Awareness
  4. Understanding
  5. Wellness
  6. Social integration
  7. Personalization
  8. Cultural appropriateness

The IDEA Center was concerned that the principles were based on Western norms. So they added cultural appropriateness to the list. The 8 Goals can be grouped into three categories: 

Human performance
Body fit

is the bridge between
them as it addresses both
Social participation
Social integration
Cultural appropriateness

Sarah Davidson gives an introduction to the 8 Goals of Universal Design in the 3 minute video below. 

Adapt the words to suit

The wording of these goals can be adapted to suit different design contexts. For example, the Everyone Can Play guide adapted the goals to suit the play context:

  • Find: Communicate the purpose and location of play elements and facilities
  • Fit: Provide a range of play opportunities for people of all abilities and sizes.
  • Choose: Enable exciting individual experiences and social interaction.
  • Join In: Create opportunities for everyone to connect.
  • Thrive: Challenge and involve people of all capabilities.
  • Belong; Create a place that’s welcoming and comfortable.

The 8 Goals offer a framework for practical application, research, and for communicating universal design. They complement the 7 Principles of Universal Design, which still stand as general principles. 

The IDeA Center website has more information and some pictures to help explain. Ed Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel devised the Goals in 2012.

The 2020’s have seen a significant shift to the inclusion of users in the design process and co-design methods.

Try out our free online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Universal design is evolving

The 7 Principles of Universal Design were devised in the 1990s. Steinfeld and Maisel moved us on with the 8 Goals in 2012. In the 2020s co-design is now considered the way to implement universal design. It moves designers on from the checklist approach they use with the 7 Principles.

The term co-design is being used more frequently, but what does co-design mean and how does it work? Well, that depends on the context. It could mean a design group working together. Nothing difficult about that concept. Or it could mean involving end users in the design process. This is where it gets more tricky and more questions arise.

At what point do you involve users? Which users do you involve? Will the users have the required knowledge and experience to contribute constructively? Will designers have the skills to be inclusive and listen to users? Participatory action research incorporates both designer and user learning. But these projects are necessarily long and usually have research funding attached. However, they usually produce knowledge and results useful in other settings. 

Some history

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tie

The name Ron Mace is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Universal Design”?

Mace’s last presentation just before his death in 1998 was at the first International Conference on Universal Design. It gives some insights into his thinking and the evolution from barrier-free to universal design.

Mace contracted Polio as a child, and as a wheelchair user he encountered many barriers to studying at university. Nevertheless, he achieved his aim and became an architect. After practising conventionally for a short time, he became a leader in accessible architecture.

In the US, Mace contributed to the first accessible building code which was adopted by North Carolina. This led to other policy and legislative changes, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1989 he set up the Center for Accessible Housing, which became the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Editor’s note: I was fortunate to meet Ron Mace’s partner, Joy Weeber, on my Churchill Fellowship study tour in 2004. She showed me the video of an interview he gave two days before he died. It helped me understand the history and the passion behind the cause for universal design. Joy, a passionate disability activist gained her PhD in the area of disability identity and family denial of disability in the search for “normality”. Jane Bringolf.

Accessibility Toolbar