Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. In the UK, the term “inclusive design” is used more often that universal design.
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 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 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.
From the Editor: This week I came across an article by John Harding who writes about rivalry between universal design and inclusive design. While I have encountered people who believe there are nuanced differences, I cannot agree that the concepts are rivals, academically or otherwise. A rivalry point of view is contrary to the work of advocacy groups striving for more inclusive societies. Indeed, “universal design” is cited in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as the means by which to create inclusion. It is also cited by WHO guidelines for age-friendly cities.
Harding, in his dense academic paper, appears to base his argument on universal design being about the “widest range of users”, whereas inclusive design is about “offering everyone access”. He then goes on to claim that universal design is “first generation” and inclusive design is “next generation”.
Using a study of transportation in UK, Harding proposes that the “rivalry” between UD and ID hasn’t helped the cause for inclusion. I believe the barriers to inclusion are far more complex than terminology. However, terminology is very important to academics if they want to compare their work.
The paper is open access on ResearchGate. Have a look and see what you think. The title of the paper is “Agent based modelling to probe inclusive transport building design in practice”.
It should be noted that John Harding is based in the UK where they have stuck by the “inclusive design” term throughout, whereas Europe has favoured Design for All, and most other countries have followed the UN Convention and use universal design. Most academics recognise the convergence of concepts rather than rivalry.
There are many definitions and explanations of universal/inclusive design. But sometimes the concept is expressed better by the way people talk about it.Here are some quotable quotes on universal design.
“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.
“In simple terms, design thinking is about recognizing the designer’s methods for connecting the user’s needs with what is technologically possible and which provides a real market value.
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
The text in the sign by Arthur Chan says:
Diversity is a fact.
Equity is a choice.
Inclusion is an action.
Belonging is an outcome.
All are part of a universal design approach.
From the Editor: I met Judith Heumann on a study tour when she was disability advisor to The World Bank in 2004. She said to me,
“There are only two kinds of people in the world: people with disability and people yet to have a disability.”
She also said that it is easier to change the design of the environment than it is to change attitudes and that’s why universal design is important.
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.
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 Comfort Awareness Understanding
is the bridge between them as it addresses both
Social participation Social integration Personalisation 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.
TheIDeA Center websitehas more information and some pictures to help explain. Ed Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel devised the Goals in 2012.
The2020’s have seen a significant shift to the inclusion of users in the design process and co-design methods.
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.
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.
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?
I wrote an article for Inner Sydney Voice Magazine that gives 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.
A 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, service, 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”.
It is more than buildings
Although the original focus was on buildings, access and inclusion in all areas of life have evolved within the universal design movement. However, many still believe universal design is only about the built environment. Others believe universal design is a one-size-fits-all approach which means designers cannot be creative. Indeed, it requires a good deal of thought and creativity.
There is one other important misconception and that is, universal design is about access standards. Building, product and web standards are about compliance. Universal design is about creative designs that include compliance to relative standards.
The concept of universal design is applicable to anything that is designed. That includes basic things such as the layout and readability of a Word document.
Some disability advocates argue that to make everything inclusive for everyone will make people with disability invisible. This is not the case because it does not make other groups invisible on the basis of gender, background or age.
Steinfeld and Maisel devised an update to the 7 principles of universal design in 2012. The 8 Goals of Universal Design are more action based than the principles, and include cultural inclusion.
In 2006 Steinfeld and Danford also ‘cross-walked’ 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 7 Principles of Universal Design emerged from the built environment, but things have moved on since the 1990s. The 8 Goals of Universal Design were devised to be more practical. They emerged out of work carried out to link the concepts with the World Health Organisation’s, International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).
For anyone interested in ICF related research, Universal Design Guidance and the ICF demonstrates how universal design can be applied to develop design guidance standards. It uses a set of linking rules together with related classifications to represent the interaction of human functions, activities, and environmental factors.
The article was published by Multi:The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design. It is also available on ResearchGate.
The article was written in 2008 before the 8 Goals of Universal Design were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel in 2012. These goals have a more practical focus. More recently, the concept of universal design has evolved to embrace diversity and inclusion in their broadest sense.
The beginnings of the universal design movement are attributed to Ron Mace, a polio survivor who went on to be an architect.
Designing products and environments to be usable by the majority of people is the underpinning concept of universal design. In some aspects, however, universal design fails to meet some of its own principles. This has resulted in a lack of understanding of the concept, which in turn, has allowed the terms “accessibility” and “disability” to inhabit the language of universal design. Consequently, universal design is bounded by concepts of accessibility, regulations and disability rights, rather than the intellectual challenges inherent in designing for the whole of the population bell curve.
The universal design movement recognizes that making headway is proving difficult and is seeking ways to improve its position. Market research, however, indicates universal design is branded as a disability product and this has implications for consumers, practitioners, and for the universal design movement in general. Discussed are the influence of terminology on the direction and perceptions of universal design, and the dilemmas of applying a regulatory framework as an implementation strategy.