The term ‘universal design’ has its early roots in the built environment, but it is so much more now. Meaghan Walls talks about how she came to the universal design concept in a podcast. She explains how universal design is now the design of everything.
The podcast is one of series by The Universal Design Project. Meaghan Walls explains how she was first introduced to the concept during her master’s degree. She came to realize that it covered more than objects;
“universal design could be applied to all aspects of our community from services to programs, to processes and businesses. And that kind of blew my mind. And I realised you could take that common thread through all aspects of our engagement with the community.”
Some nice points made in this 12 minute podcastthat comes with a transcript. Walls discusses showers, invisible hinges, swing-away hinges, language, wayfinding and much more.
Inclusive design is about desirability. Accessibility is part of it – useability for everyone.The concept of inclusive design in UK had a focus on product design, but it has moved on – evolved. A short film, Evolving Inclusive Design explains how the concept has evolved from product design to web design, to service design and then to system design.
In the video Hua Dong emphasizes that inclusive design is important for everyone. She says: “As designers, we can design with people for people, design with disability for ability, design with old people for young people and design with diversity for unity.”
Hua Dong explains the concepts in a straightforward way in the film. In the earlier years the focus was on user capabilities. It then moved to an interactive focus and design became about the process of using things. User diversity introduces concepts of user experience. The video is 14 minutes but worth the watch. It’s captioned which means you can watch it at an increased speed and still read the captions.
Although there is a particular focus on product and service design, many points can be transferred to the work with architecture.
The video is a great resource for design students and people new to the concepts.
Inclusive design and universal design the same goals. However, there are some who would argue nuanced differences because they come from different histories. Regardless, we need to get on with the job rather than debating terminology. Besides, if universal/inclusive/design-for-all is also about diversity, we can have diverse ways of expressing the concept. The key is to design for the diversity of the population.
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:
“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.)
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.
Universal design vs inclusive design
Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was previously 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.
“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.
Academia continues to discuss nuances when there is so much real 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.
Followers of universal design are familiar with the 7 principles of universal design. They were formulated in the 1990s and are still referenced today. It’s interesting to see how different people interpret these principles. So it was good to see how a builder does it.
Mike Holmes’ article begins with issues of everyday home maintenance and then applies it to the maintenance of our lives within the home. That is, the home should be design so that it adapts as our lives change. Holmes takes each of the 7 principles and gives practical examples of what it means to him.
The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we have a terminology muddle? For most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, it’s not a big deal. But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?
Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not to have one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.
A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments are still current. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF(International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful.
The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.
Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts?
This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.
Working with diversity is a key element of universal design thinking. So having diverse ways of explaining universal design seems appropriate. Wikipedia and universal design websites will have many of the standard explanations. But understanding universal design is more of a continuous conversation. Different words can be utilised in different discussions.
In common use are “inclusive design”, “design-for-all” and “design for the lifespan”. Other words and terms could be:
Provocative design: doing things differently, challenging the status quo.
Fragile design: designs that require community agreement to hold them together.
Careful or caring design: taking care to be inclusive in design thinking and processes.
Everyday design: designing more things to be ubiquitous, accepted and normal.
Thoughtful design: the opposite of thoughtless design where some people feel left out.
Empathetic design: similar to careful/caring design and thoughtful design, by putting yourself in the situation of others.
Looking to the future design: looking at how trends are developing and factoring this into designs.
7 senses design: factoring all our senses into designs.
Collaborative design: in some cultures this is a significant part of the design process – without it the product, service or building won’t be used.
Acceptable design: similar to collaborative design, but perhaps some compromises have to be made.
Disruptive design: changing the way things are done, challenging the status quo of designs, using environments or products in new ways.
Intergenerational design: family structures are diverse – recognising that not every family is a nuclear family whether at home or in the community.
Liveable design: being functional for everyone as well as looking good
Universal usability: focusing on how people use things – used mostly in relation to mobile technology, particularly to include older people
Interaction experience: trying to pull together usability, user experience and accessibility under one umbrella – relates mostly to ergonomics
Having trouble convincing others that universal design is for everyone and not ‘disabled’ design? A 6 minute videoshown below takes you through an everyday family activity of leaving the house and catching a bus. It goes through the process of how to design for everyone. “For many of us we don’t think twice about how we use technology, travel, move in and out of buildings or use the web…” The video explains how universal design is good design for everyone.
Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. Those who prefer “inclusive” design will also have their take on this. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) describes inclusive design as:
“Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. Inclusive design is everyone’s responsibility. That means everyone in the design and construction process”. CABE has a booklet explaining each of the principlesof inclusive design in more detail and with photos:
1. Inclusive design places people at the heart of the design process. 2. Inclusive design acknowledges diversity and difference. 3. Inclusive design offers choice where a single design solution cannot accommodate all users 4. Inclusive design provides for flexibility in use. 5. Inclusive design provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone
CABE says, if the principles are applied, developments will be:
Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity. Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want. Flexible so different people can use them in different ways. Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation. Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility, ethnicity or circumstances. Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people. Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs and recognising that one solution may not work for all.
At the heart of all explanations is the quest for inclusion – to include as many people as possible in every design. The list above has similarities with the classic 7 principles of universal design and the 8 goals. Barclays Bank also has a set of principles for inclusive design for the digital world.
The text reads, “The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences, and things”. It is attributed to Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick, Designers.
The universal design conference held in Dublin 2018 began with the words, “Good Design Enables. Bad Design Disables. The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design has a good, but wordy description of universal design.