Street furniture has be more than be attractive

A collage of seating types in Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne.

An article in The Age discusses how the design of street furniture distinguishes one city from another. But street furniture has to be more than attractive and different.

As the article points out, Paris has art deco metro entrances, London is known for red pillar boxes and Melbourne has curly bike racks. But Melbourne wants to be better than just bike racks. Consequently, the city’s street furniture is under review. Upgrades will not be cheap; a city bench ranges from $2000 to $5000 and lighting poles come in at $10,000.

If the images in the article are anything to go by, access and inclusion appears to have been forgotten. The placement of bike racks is problematic everywhere. On the kerbside, or against a building? Either way, they are a barrier for people with low or no vision. Seats and benches in fancy shapes are not always good places to rest either. 

Stainless steel coiled along the footpath to create a place to park bicycles.

It’s one thing to create a city ‘brand’, but it also needs to serve the whole population. Simple things like seating are also part of walkability strategies, and encouraging people to get out and about.  

The title of the article is, Melbourne looks to the world to reimagine city’s street style. Lets hope Melbourne does consult widely on reimagining the city’s street style.

Do we welcome skateboarders or do we exclude them? Do we welcome homeless people or exclude them? Do we offer people a place to sit or do we leave them in the middle of the road?

Rory Hyde, Melbourne University

Architect James Legge almost makes the accessibility point but it is in the context of designing for brand. ” … it’ll work well or it’ll work badly.”

If Melbourne takes a universal design approach to the project, the chances of everybody winning increase significantly.

Hospital design for healing

A hospital waiting area with just three people.Hospital design is incorporating features that reflect the concept of healing rather than sickness. Older people make up a significant proportion of patients, and that means we need more age-friendly approaches to care. Physical environments are getting slip resistant floors, indirect lighting and large print wall clocks and calendars. Some hospitals are replacing harsh florescent lighting with systems similar to day – night cycles. An article on the AARP website discusses this and how hospital design is about healing.

Other ideas are a piano at registration, walking paths and gardens – making the place feel more hospitable rather than hospital. It’s about customer convenience and comfort. And this must help when people are in pain and feeling stressed. Many visitors feel stressed and anxious in hospitals and they aren’t even sick.

As for coffee bars in waiting areas – the sound of grinding beans in coffee bars adds to noise levels and the smell can be nauseating. Small things can make a difference to comfort and reducing stress levels.

Other changes involve telehealth services which can be delivered to patients at home. For more on this see the AARP article.

The developing definition of universal design

A large board table and chairs in a modern looking room. The changing definition of universal design.How much do interior designers understand about universal design? In the context of designer education, this is an important question. So what do interior design educators understand universal design to be? A study from the State University of New York found there was a good general understanding. However, compliance to access standards was also thought to be universal design.

Researcher, Eric Dolph, provides an historical context to show how the definition of universal design has evolved from designer responsibility to a values-based and human centred approach to design. That is, from the design of things, to a design process. 

In his study, Dolph gave four definitions of universal design to interior design educators. The aim was to see which ones were understood as universal design. The definitions were: 

1.  Inclusive design is socially focused and grounded in democratic values of non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and personal empowerment. (Tauke 2008)

2.  The design of interior and exterior environments to meet prescribed requirements for people with disabilities. (United States Department of Justice, 2010)

3. The design of products, information, environments, and systems to be usable to the greatest extend possible by people of all ages and abilities. (Mace et al., 1991)

4. A design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, heath and wellness, and social participation. (Steinfeld & Maisel, 2012)

Definition 2 was a foil as it is a statement about minimum access rather than universal design. It generated a mixed response with educators recognising the definition as universal design. 

Definition 3 was the most recognised. Given this is the most quoted definition in the literature and in guidelines, the result is not surprising. 

The is article titled, The developing definition of universal design, and it has more detail on the survey responses. Dolph also provides context for the evolution of universal design.

From the Abstract

A review of scholarly work indicates a shift in the definition of universal design. Originally, the focus was placed on physical access to the built environment. This has developed to a more contemporary vision that addresses issues of social justice. This has significant implications for those teaching universal design.

In 2018, educators teaching in interior design programs were surveyed about the infusion of universal design content within their curricula.

Responses revealed a generally high level of understanding regarding the definition of universal design. This article presents the survey results of interior design educators’ perceptions of the four definitions. 

Older adults lead universal design processes

Three soda cans showing the ring pull opener. Older adults lead universal design.
Ring pulls need more space for fingers

If you design for the extremes of the population, you include the middle. That’s one way, among many, of describing the universal design process. So asking people at the older end of the age spectrum to engage in design process could bring good outcomes for all. A recent study tested this idea to see if older adults could take a lead in universal design processes. They found that they could.

“Lead users” are people who have the potential to identify needs that could be present in the general population. The concept is based on the premise that what is good for lead users is good for many others. A group of researchers decided to test this idea with older adults. In the process they found additional things they weren’t expecting. 

The researchers discovered that many everyday products do not comply with universal design principles. This leads to older adults ignoring tasks due to design complexity. For example, wearing slippers to avoid shoes that demand bending for socks or laces. 

The researchers found no real difference between the needs of the older population and the general population. They also found that products redesigned for older adults were preferred by others, on average, 89% of the time. One of the redesigns was the ring pull tab on soda cans. A deeper dent under the tab makes more space for all fingers.

The title of the paper is, A Lead User Approach to Universal Design – Involving Older Adults in the Design Process. It is open access. The paper provides the method and results in detail. 

From the Abstract

Previous work has shown promising results on involving users with physical challenges as lead users – users who have the potential to identify needs that could be latent among the general population. It has also been shown that older adults can act as such lead users. They can help design universal product ideas that satisfy both older adults and the general population.

In this paper we build on this and examine if involving older adults in the design phase can result in universal products, products preferred by both older adults and the general population over a current option.

Products were redesigned and prototyped based on the needs of older adults and tested among both populations. Although the needs differed between the populations, on average 89% of the general population participants preferred products designed based on design needs expressed by older adults over the current option.

This provides further evidence supporting the use of older adults in designing products for all.

Guide for body shape and size

A page from the Guide for body shape and size.How much do our body shapes and sizes differ? A lot. But if you only know a few different shapes and sizes, how will you know if your design is inclusive? A guide for body shape and size is a useful reference.

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a set of information sheets on body shape and size. They guide designers in how to apply these factors in their work to achieve more universally designed products and services.

The overview of the guideline project explains the importance of considering body shape and size in designs. For governments and other institutions it helps with the selection and procurement of everyday products such as street furniture. Designing for the extremes of body shape and size affords extra convenience for all users. It also helps avoid user discomfort, embarrassment and even harm. There are five fact sheets

A related academic paper from 2014 takes body size and shape further and applies it to mobility devices. The guide to the circulation requirements for various wheeled mobility devices is from Denmark. It includes research on the spatial needs for parking as well as toilets and building entries as well as accessible paths of travel.

Charts with dimensions of the various mobility types is included and includes tables for children and the bariatric population. The guide also discusses the need to think to the future of mobility devices and not assume that the size and styles will remain the same. 

6 steps for effective wayfinding

A street signpost with multiples signs going in several directions. They need 6 septs to effective wayfinding.
Image by Kim Broomhall from Pixabay

Wayfinding is more than just putting up a sign, but where signs are needed it’s time to call an experiential graphic designer. They have expertise in understanding human behaviour and perception. Knowledge of access codes is also part of their skill-set. The key point is to involve them at the beginning of a project for best effect. A SEDG blog post has 6 steps for effective wayfinding. 

6 Steps for Effective Wayfinding

Think about wayfinding long before the development site and architecture have taken shape. Experiential graphic designers are the go-to people at this point. The following steps are edited from the SEDG blog post. They outline the process for working with designers to integrate wayfinding into new or existing space. 

1. Kick off. A good designer will listen to the problems and challenges that a wayfinding systems needs to solve.

2. Strategize and plan. Designers think about how people move around and interact, anticipate needs and identify obstacles. They should also consider any regulations and restrictions to ensure designs are approved. 

3. Concept and design. A good designer will have skills in type, colour, form, materials, lighting and more and present a variety of designs. They consider sightlines, obstructions, language and culture, physical disabilities and visual impairments.  

4. Review and approve. This is the most important part of the process. A good designer packages the designs for approval and negotiates where necessary. 

5. Bid for pricing. Allow up to three weeks for this step so mistakes aren’t made leading to bigger issues. Proposals should include samples, colours, materials, shop drawings and permits.

6. Fabricate and install. Fabrication and installation takes eight to twelve weeks. A good designer will work with fabricators and installers to ensure design intent is followed, down to the last sign type and location. 

Final thoughts. 

According to the blog post, experiential graphic designers have sound design principles. They understand building materials and manufacturing techniques. These designers understand human behaviour and perception—the way people make decisions and move through a space. In the long run they can save you time and money. 


Inclusive design: more than a checklist

A desk with a large sheet of paper and pink post it notes. A person stands with their hand resting on the table. Inclusive design is more than a checklist.Design is powerful. It connects us to the world around us and shapes our lives. Inclusive design shapes products and services in ways that are useable by everyone. It requires a shared understanding of population diversity. Whether it’s a building a webpage, a policy framework or a town park, it ensures we “leave no-one behind“. Inclusive design is more than a checklist.

A blog page from Automattic says, “Truly inclusive designs are never really finished, and becoming fluent in inclusive design takes more than a checklist. We all need a map when we start exploring any new world”. This is the introduction to a “guidance map” aimed at leading individuals and teams through the processes of creating inclusive thinking and practice.

Although focused on technology, some of the principles and processes can be applied in other design situations. For example, “Learn about your audiences; their motivations, needs, behaviors, challenges, pain points and goals”. The key headings in this article on are: 

      • Broadening perspectives and building empathy; 
      • Bringing diversity into teams and processes; and 
      • Building inclusion into designs.  

The article explains each of the three steps in more detail. Some concepts such as colour contrast are well-known to designers. Less considered factors are providing cost-accessible options of designs, and designing for low bandwidth. Designs should be adaptable for longer life and empower clients to continue without more designer input. These ideas really show that client needs are at the centre of the design. Designing out “pain points” is essential for all users. 

Design is a powerful tool and inclusive design has the “potential to unite heterogeneous cultures in shared understanding. To make products and experiences globally accessible.” Good design is inclusive design. 


Occupational Therapy meets Industrial Design

Four people are standing leaning over a large table with pens and paper and looking at a laptop. They appear to be discussing something.Co-design has gained attention as a good way to increase accessibility and useability.  However, there is another way to tackle the issues – interprofessional learning and teaching. When occupational therapy meets industrial design in the classroom the end result is a great learning experience for all.

Bringing designers to a better understanding of disability and accessibility remains a vexed issue. Many and varied attempts at teaching and learning have made some improvements. Some interdisciplinary work has also shown promise and perhaps it is worth building on this model. So this is what they tried at Thomas Jefferson University.

A group of occupational therapy doctoral students were embedded in a masters industrial design course. The doctoral students delivered lectures and learning activities for the masters students. Over the eight months there was time for students to share knowledge more informally. Occupational therapy students were also able to provide insights for student design projects.

The knowledge and insights gained by the masters students was nuanced and best measured qualitatively using mixed methods. They had originally hoped to quantify the knowledge gained. But perhaps this kind of learning is best measured by the accessibility of future designs. 

The purpose, methods and outcomes are reported in an article published in the ‘Journal of Accessibility and Design for All’. The article is titled, Insights from an inaugural eight-month interprofessional collaborative co-design educational experience between occupational therapy and industrial design. The discussion and conclusion section is worth a read.


The design of the built environment greatly impacts how all types of individuals and populations actively participate in their daily lives. Lack of access in the built environment for disabled populations remains a daily reality, negatively impacting engagement and life satisfaction, leading to isolation, loneliness, and depression. A university in the Northeastern United States sought to expand current constructs of the end-user and environment within a universal design (UD) perspective. On an eight-month inaugural interprofessional collaborative co-design experience, third-year occupational therapy doctoral (OTD) students were embedded in a first-year masters of industrial design (MSID) curriculum, which ran the course of the academic calendar (two consecutive semesters: Fall and Spring).

Primary aims wanted to determine, via an interrupted timeseries quantitative design, if embedding OTD students within the industrial design curriculum influenced the MSID students’ prior assumptions, understanding of disability and enhanced their willingness to create more inclusive final products. Quantitative findings indicated that it was difficult to capture the meaningful change that occurred in the doctoral capstone program experience with the existing psychometric tools available.

Anecdotal mixed-method findings indicated that informal interprofessional learning experiences in the classroom, such as lectures and learning activities created and facilitated by the OTD students and delivered in real-time, broadened and enhanced the MSID students’ knowledge surrounding disability and accessibility in a more nuanced way than the chosen quantitative survey tools were constructed to capture. A detailed literature review and description of the program have been provided, along with suggestions to capture meaningful outcomes for longer-term interdisciplinary collaborations.


European universal design standard

Front cover of the Design for All standard.Universal design is a design thinking process so a universal design standard is a contradiction in terms. Standards are fixed where universal design is a continuous improvement process. However, where designers cannot grasp the concept of an inclusive thinking process, a set of design directions is needed. Hence a new European universal design standard for products, goods and services.

The standard sets out requirements and recommendations for extending the customer base for products and services. It’s for organisations that design and manufacture products and/or provide services. The aim is to ensure products and services are available to the widest range of users possible.

Diverse user needs, characteristics, capabilities and preferences area all covered. It is based on processes of user involvement and building on accessibility knowledge. The standard can also be used for complying with legislation and to advance corporate social responsibility. 

The standard was developed by Ireland’s National Disability Authority that houses the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. The document has the title “design for all” which is a recognised European term, but notes that universal design, barrier-free-design and transgenerational design are the same thing. 

Design for All – Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products, goods and services – Extending the range of users can be purchased from the standards authority

There is a media release explaining a little more. 

Maps in shades of grey: Is that what you want?

A wheel of all the colours of the rainbowMap design usually relies on colour to convey information. But what if you can’t see all the colours?  You get maps in shades of grey. Colour Vison Deficiency (CVD) is more common than most people think, and it’s not just red and green.  Directional maps, such as street maps for example, use colour to indicate train stations and heritage sites. Geographical maps use colour to show height of land, temperature, and to separate land from water. And it’s not just maps – websites suffer the same issues.

Many of these are age-old conventions that designers follow. So how do you know what colours are best to use? The Colblinder website give examples of what geographic maps look like to people with CVD. It also has links to other references and a colour blindness simulation tool. Although this is about maps, it can also apply to websites and printed documents, such as guidelines, and manuals where pictures and graphics are used to inform and instruct.

For research on this topic Anne Kristin Kvitle’s article is worth a read. The article is titled, “Accessible maps for the color vision deficient observers: past and present knowledge and future possibilities”. 


Color is part of the visual variables in map, serving an aesthetic part and as a guide of attention. Impaired color vision affects the ability to distinguish colors, which makes the task of decoding the map colors difficult. Map reading is reported as a challenging task for these observers, especially when the size of stimuli is small. The aim of this study is to review existing methods for map design for color vision deficient users. A systematic review of research literature and case studies of map design for CVD observers has been conducted in order to give an overview of current knowledge and future research challenges. In addition, relevant research on simulations of CVD and color image enhancement for these observers from other fields of industry is included. The study identified two main approaches: pre-processing by using accessible colors and post-processing by using enhancement methods. Some of the methods may be applied for maps, but requires tailoring of test images according to map types.