10 Things to know about Universal Design

Page with 10 things to know about universal design.The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive list that covers all the myths and misinformation about the purpose of universal design. Briefly, the 10 things to know about universal design are:

      1. Universal design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive
      2. Universally designed products can have a high aesthetic value
      3. Universal design is much more than just a new design trend
      4. Universal design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets
      5. Universal design is not another name for compliance with accessible design standards
      6. Universal design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities
      7. Universal design can be undertaken by any designer, not just specialists
      8. Universal design should be integrated throughout the design process
      9. Universal design is not just about ‘one size fits all’
      10. A universally designed product is the goal: universal design is the process

Editor’s comment: the CEUD website is looking a little dated, but the content remains valid and is good for newcomers to the topic. There are several guidelines for practitioners too. 

See more detail about these 10 things and other resources on the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design website.

 There are more explanations in the What is Universal Design section of this website. 

Get started with universal design

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair user. Universal design thinking. Universal design is about accepting and celebrating diversity as the graphic indicates. So, there are many ways to explain universal designTwo short videos can get you started with universal design thinking. 

This first video about universal design is powerful in its simplicity. One of the best explanations around. Great for introducing the idea of inclusion and universal design to newcomers. A good example of a universally designed video and universally designed explanation as well.

From the pixel to the city

Whether it’s a website or app, or a building or city, inclusive design principles can be applied. Inclusive Design: from the pixel to the city is a short video of designers’ comments, using animated drawings with voice overs. This adds A grey picture of the earth with raised areas symbolising citiesan interesting perspective to the topic of why we need to make everything inclusive – whether its about pixels or cities. It also shows that creativity need not be curtailed in designing information formats. The article also shows how the graphics for the video were created. The video has closed captions. 

Check out our free online course, Introduction to Universal Design

 

The world comfortable for all

Drawings of 12 different people indicating population diversity. It is a screenshot of the video- the world comfortable for allThere are never too many ways to explain universal design. Different people understand it in different ways. So here is another to add to the collection. Made in Ukraine with English subtitles, it explains the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design in simple terms. The message is that universal design makes the world comfortable for all. 

The video covers people at home, in public transport, in the street, at an airport, at a computer, at the entrance door and in the parking space. “Universal Design is the design of anything (city, service, thing) to make the experience of using it comfortable for anyone”.

A great little video for anyone new to universal design, or for others wanting to share their understanding. It’s 2 minutes long and great for education purposes. 

The  United Nations supported the making of the video. It was created in the framework of the joint Programme “Promoting Mainstream Policies and Services for People with Disabilities in Ukraine”. 

Universal design – the design of everything

Head and shoulders of Meaghan Walls wearing a red top.
Meaghan Walls

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.”

Logo for Good Fit Poor Fit podcast by The Universal Design Project.Some nice points made in this 12 minute podcast that comes with a transcript. Walls discusses showers, invisible hinges, swing-away hinges, language, wayfinding and much more.

 

 

Inclusive design is about desirability

Graphic with four vertical bars. From left Product Design, Interface Design, Experience Service, System Design.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 conceptThe key is to design for the diversity of the population.

 

What is universal design?

Slide at a universal design conference with the words, good design enables. Bad design disables. That is what universal design is.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?

Several myths have arisen in the last 50 years since the term was coined. The term Universal Design is recognised internationally, but there are others including, Inclusive Design, Design-for-All, Human Centred Design, Accessible Design.

For easy reference here is a list of past posts and resources on universal design.

Resources for universal design

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.

Whole of Victorian Government Universal Design Policy promotes universal design in public buildings. There is also a summary version. They are both in Word. 

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. Easily 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

A chart showing the relationship between aspects of inclusive design.

 

7 Principles of UD: A builder’s view

Mike Holmes stands in work gear with his muscled arms folded, smiling at the camera. A builder's view of UD.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 article is in an online magazine, Make it Right. Thanks to Lifemark for the find. Lifemark also have a website with some useful tips for home design.     

 

UD, ID, DfA, UX: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.  UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA muddle.

Researchers find it frustrating not having one term to cover the concept of equity and inclusion. One term would ensure we are all talking about the same thing.  But how about practitioners? It’s confusing for them too. The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), and user experience (UX), have the same aim – inclusion. So why should we have a terminology muddle?

Most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, say 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?

The complaint about terminology among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. New terms are proposed as a solution but serve only to confuse more. Some even put forth arguments that they are all different things. 

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.

What’s it called?

Picture of the back of a house that is being built. The ground is just dirt. Overlaid are words in different colours: Adaptable, Universal, Visitable, Usable, Accessible, Disabled, Flexible Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries have evolved their own terms. Academics find this problematic as it makes it difficult to build an international body of research on a topic where terminology can vary so much. Regulations and codes have not helped the cause:

Editor’s note: I also wrote on this thorny topic in 2009: Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Or you can get the quick version from the PowerPoint presentation.

Abstract

Promoting the efficacies of universally designed built environments has been one of the ongoing quests of disability and ageing advocacy groups, and more recently, governments. The underpinning principle of universal design is inclusiveness – that is, to design across the population spectrum for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. This means ensuring architectural features do not inadvertently become architectural barriers to inclusion in everyday social and economic life.

The drive for social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities has recently moved up the political agenda and new policy directions at national and state levels are emerging. Political will is a necessary but insufficient condition to guarantee inclusion if industry does not understand what constitutes inclusiveness in design, and does not understand the differences in terms used in the built environment in relation to inclusion, disability and ageing.

Using the NSW Government’s call for tenders for social housing, and an academic paper as examples, this paper discusses how using various terms such as accessible and adaptable interchangeably might defeat the objective of inclusion, and how the misuse and confusion in terminology hinders not only the uptake of universal design in a practical way, but also stymies academic debate on the topic.

Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design

Stick figures represent the family members. The video is in black and white. This is one frame from Meet the Normals, Adventures in Universal Design.
Meet the Normals

Having trouble convincing others that universal design is for everyone and not ‘disabled’ design? Meet the Normals is a 6 minute video that takes you through an everyday family activity.

It shows the family 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.

The video was produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. A good example of both closed captions and audio descriptions. 

 

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