Unfortunately the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture has deleted their page on quotable quotes on universal design. There areother resources on their website including case studies and tools, and definitions of universal design.
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.
Apple is well-known for making their products really easy to use. Here is a quote from Steve Jobs:
“Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” Steve Jobs, former CEO, Apple
Promoting the classic seven principles of universal design is all very well, but how do they materialise in practice? Designing on the basis of the average person can limit the quality of life for some people. So what are the key design criteria for the built environment?
Universal, inclusive, accessible, design-for-all – are they all the same? Some would argue there are some differences, but the goals are very much the same – inclusion of everyone. Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries tend to favour one over the others. 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: Web accessibility standards, Adaptable Housing standard, Access to Premises Standard, and then there is “universal access” which tends to relate to the built environment. Not having an agreed language or terms is discussed in the Journal of Universal Access in the Information Society.
The article has a long title: Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. This is a very useful paper to get a grasp of how we have come to this position and where we need to go. You will need institutional access for a free read, or you can download from ResearchGate.
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 lesser 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 different names for approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of users. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts?
This paper aims to investigate 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.
I wrote an article for Inner Sydney Voice Magazine in 2014 that gave an overview of universal design, what it means, and some of the myths that are often applied to it. The article will interest those who are not clear on the concepts underpinning universal design and inclusive practice. In a nutshell, it is about creating inclusion for everyone, everywhere. The title is, Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone.
The article discusses the differences between accessible, adaptable and universal design, housing and the public domain. Sustainability and healthy built environments are also discussed. The article remains relevant as progress towards inclusive environments is still evolving.
This short 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 features conversations with leading designers creating the next generation of products, graphics and vehicles designed to work better for everyone.
The article includes a video of designers’ comments, using animated drawings with voice overs. This adds an 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.
The name Ron Mace and universal design are usually mentioned in the same sentence. But who is he, and how did he become known as the “Father of Universal Design”? Others, such as Selwyn Goldsmith, had promoted accessible environments before Mace achieved recognition. However, it is Mace who is most often acknowledged.
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 how universal design evolved from barrier-free design, a term coined in the 1970s.
Mace contracted Polio as a child. 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. Mace helped develop the first accessible building code in the US, which was enacted 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 and polio survivor. She went on to gain her PhD in the area of disability identity and family denial of disability in the search for “normality”. Jane Bringolf.
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:
is the bridge between them as it addresses both
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: Communicated 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.
TheIDeA Center website has more information and some pictures to help explain. Ed Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel devised the Goals in 2012.
Different people come to understand universal design in different ways with different words. Working with diversity is a key element of universal design thinking. So having a diversity of explanations it seems appropriate. Wikipedia and universal design websites will have many of the standard explanations. But universal design is much more of a continuous conversation where many different words can be utilised in discussions. In common use are “inclusive design”, “design-for-all” and “design for the lifespan”. But other words and terms might 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
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:
Universal Design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive
Universally Designed products can have a high aesthetic value
Universal Design is much more than just a new design trend
Universal Design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets
Universal Design is not another name for compliance with accessible design standards
Universal Design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities
Universal Design can be undertaken by any designer, not just specialists
Universal Design should be integrated throughout the design process
Universal Design is not just about ‘one size fits all’
A Universally Designed product is the goal: Universal Design is the process
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:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive to Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
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 explanationof the 7 principles of universal design.