An inviting office environment

Office design is at least one factor that will entice people back to the workplace. Legal practice offices have to consider the comfort and accessibility of both staff and visiting clients. An article in the Law Society Journal has design tips for an accessible and inviting office environment. It is based on a conversation with an interior decorator and an architect.

“There is the unquestionable need to provide a habitat for workers that feels inviting, appealing to work within, accessible and safe.”

A modern office meeting room with good lighting and plants. It looks inviting.

Architect Fiona Dunin says that areas to support staff, not just clients is important because it builds culture within the office. It’s important to focus on acoustic and visual separation, and in open plan offices, distinct meeting places and separation between public and private space is required.

Accessible for all

When it comes to accessibility, the architect and the decorator discuss vision impairment. Consequently they advise contrasting colours and textures to delinate doors, stairways and meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

For people with hearing impairment, good acoustics to avoid reverberation are a must. Sufficient circulation space, or space that can be quickly adjusted to create more space when need is an obvious requirement. Assistance animals also need to be accommodated particularly as there is a trend for anyone to bring their trusted friend to work.

The title of the article is, Throwing light on law office design, but the ideas are good for any office. Legal offices, similarly to others, no longer need to be cluttered with boxes and papers and fax machines. This leaves room for a greater focus on inviting and accessible design features.

The article was written by Cat Woods.

Usability of small kitchen appliances

A busy array of small kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.Mealtimes are made easier with a range of small kitchen appliances. But can everyone use them? Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well. The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.

The title of the article is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT).  

From the abstract  

Over a quarter of Americans have a disability. These affect mobility, self-care, and household activities including meal preparation and housework. Preparing meals at home is a powerful way to reduce the risk of depression, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Small kitchen appliances play a significant role in meal preparation and have the potential to help increase the independence. Currently, very few guidelines exist to ensure that small kitchen appliances are accessible and usable.

This paper discusses the development of the Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). The tool allows practitioners to score the accessibility and usability of common small kitchen appliance features based on their client’s impairments. It also helps with choosing more usable small kitchen appliances.

The Pain of Design

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Council ran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.

“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”

Most importantly, people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. We all want usable products and appliances. 

The article is titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the website where there is more information.


The developing definition of universal design

What does universal design mean in the 21st century? Universal design concepts have evolved from barrier-free design for wheelchair users to inclusion for all people. Diversity, equity and inclusion are the key words now. But how many designers have moved with the times and how many think they are access standards?

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. 

Designers’ thoughts on universal design

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.

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. 

Historical context of universal design

Every type and size of gloves and mittens displayed in rows. Historical context of inclusive design.

The concepts of inclusive design and universal design are often presented from a disability perspective. However, the concepts have evolved in the last 50 years to embrace the breadth of human diversity. For those new to the concepts, an historical context is helpful in understanding inclusive design in the 2020s.

A recent paper takes a “design for disability” approach to the history of inclusive design. It also claims there is little written on this topic. This might be the case in academia, but much has been written elsewhere. The authors present a timeline for the evolution of inclusive design, but it’s purpose is not entirely clear. 

The title of the paper is, The Evolution of Inclusive Design; A First Timeline Review of Narratives and Milestones of Design for Disability. Note the assignation of disability throughout the article and the use of a proper noun rather than the verb form. It raises the question of  whether the authors consider inclusive design to be disability design or truly inclusive design. 

For the record, universal design and inclusive design have the same goal – they are not different ideas. Nevertheless, they do have their roots in different places.

This is one of many papers still talking about the concept itself but this will not aid implementation in the real world. While we are looking at history, and arguing over terminology, we are not looking at those who have the power to include. 

Key point

The interconnectedness of historical events means there is no one fixed starting point. Instead it is a process still going on today. The idea of co-design is introduced, but whether we need more research is a moot point. But we could do with research into co-design and action-based learning in this context.

Anyone interested in the field of universal design and inclusive practice will find the article interesting. It discusses the evolution of concepts and narratives. The article comes from the UK hence the use of the term “inclusive” design.

Editor’s comment: Do we have to keep talking and mulling intellectually over this word or that, or this narrative or that? We need research into why we don’t have inclusive designs throughout society. Navel-gazing the issue is not spreading the word. We already have enough research on body shapes and sizes and cognitive and sensory conditions, for example.

Designing for Diversity and Inclusion

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities. Designing for diversity.Inclusive design is often misunderstood as designing specifically for people with disability. Similarly, the term “diversity and inclusion” is associated with people from diverse backgrounds. Designing for diversity means both – designing for as many people as possible across age, ability and background

Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked. But then there is the role of designers themselves.

The Role of Designers

A page from a report showing that more than 50% of designers are male, and 80% are white.How do we design for the full-spectrum of user experience, if the designers themselves do not present a variety of experience and perspectives? Inherent in their role, user experience designers, or UX designers, are required to design the overall experience of a person using the product.

Fabricio Teixeira and Caio Braga believe that diversity generates diversity. Touching on topics such as diversity in the design industry, inclusion, equality and equity and gender, this series of five articles explores design from within the industry to explore the impact that designers have on people’s lives.

There are five articles in the series, Design is diversity: it’s time to talk about our role as designers:

The benefits of a diverse team

Is diversity a problem in the design industry?

Celebrating our differences and showing you (truly) care about inclusion

The difference between Equality and Equity in design

Ladies That UX on women in design and diversity.

How “the user” frames what designers see

Front cover of book Anthropology in BusinessUniversality in design gets a mention in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business. Megan Neese’s chapter raises a good point about terminology in the business world. She says, “Marketing teams talk about consumers. Research teams talk about respondents. Engineering teams talk about targets. Designers talk about users. These terms tend to be used simultaneously and somewhat interchangeably in corporations…”. So finding common ground is not always easy when developing a product.

Neese’s chapter discusses the many layers needed in any design, such as, culture, function, regulations, industry initiatives, and social trends. It is thoughtfully written and easy to read.

How “the User” Frames What Designers See: What Cultural Analysis Does to Change the Frame” is in the Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016.

Packaging and universal design

We all experience packaging that is hard to open without a knife, scissors and even teeth. Ergonomic researchers from the University of Wollongong provide an overview of a presentation about packaged food. Their study of packaged hospital food revealed some obvious results – much of it is difficult to open.

Four tetra drink packs showing different shapes in packaging.

Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: food and beverage packaging has no regard for people with low dexterity. In hospitals it can mean missing out on a proper meal.

Many people are frustrated by packaging and have issues opening it.  A series of 3 studies was undertaken with well people aged 65 years and over in NSW examining their interaction with routine hospital food and beverage items.  

The researchers checked for strength, dexterity, time taken and nutritional status. The most ‘problematic’ items were – tetra packs, cheese portions, boxed cereals, fruit cups and water bottles. Most packs required greater dexterity than strength while some packs could not be opened at all. For example, 39% of subjects could not open the cheese portion.

The overarching message is the need for manufacturers to design easy to open packages. Packaging has an important role to play in food provision and if well designed, assist older people remain independent and well nourished. 

The title of the article is, “Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: the challenges of hospital food and beverage packaging for the older user”.  Alison Bell has published more on this topic, including a PhD thesis

A case study

A glass container of flour is laying on its side with the flour spilling out.Researchers use the case of opening a packet of flour. They looked at information, instructions, size, transparency, rigidity, shape, material, handling and opening features. These are all  factors to be considered at the early design phase. 

Usability and technical aspects of packaging design should be considered together in the design process.  The title of the article is, A Design for Affordances Framework for Product Packaging: Food Packaging Case Study in the Journal of Applied Packaging Research. 

Sustainable packaging with universal design

Three pieces of fried chicken are placed in a white cardboard box.The resulting waste from product packaging is causing global concern. When it enters our oceans and food chains it becomes more personal. It’s also a personal concern when you can’t open the packaging without considerable effort or help. Packaging should suit both the consumers and the environment. So how to make packing easier to use and more sustainable?

A research paper from Thailand brings together universal design and sustainable design. The study looked at three main elements of packaging: what appeals to the buyer, level of environmental impact, and functionality. They also considered disposal of the packaging. Using a fried chicken container the researchers developed a prototype to see whether universal and sustainable design principles could work together. 

The article will be of interest for designers of packaging, including the graphic design. The title of the article is, Correlated Key Attributes for Sustainable and Universal Design: A Case Study through Meal Packaging in Thailand


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.

Where would you like to sit?

brightly coloured simple folding chairs in an outdoor cafe setting.

Tanisha Cowell gives her perspective on seat design as an occupational therapist and interior designer. She says her five features for great seats is not rocket science and seems common sense, but as always, it’s the little details that make a difference.

Of course backrests and armrests get a mention, but also where to place seating, say in a park or a cafe. Did you think about colour contrast and height of the seat, or even the thickness of a seat? Tanisha has something to say about these too. And what about a cushion for the leisurely Sunday breakfast at your favourite cafe?  

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.

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. 

Person-environment fit using the ICF 

Making the environment fit for all regardless of capacity is an important goal for public health efforts. But valid methods for measuring accessibility are currently lacking. This study aims to address this lack. Using the ICF as a conceptual framework, a typology of person-environment fit was developed along three dimensions: 1) accessibility problem range and severity; 2) aspects of functioning; 3) environmental context.

Front cover of the ICF. Red with white text.

Abstract background

Making the built environment accessible for all regardless of functional capacity is an important goal for public health efforts. Considerable impediments to achieving this goal suggest the need for valid measurements of accessibility and for greater attention to the complexity of person-environment fit issues.


To address these needs, this study aimed to provide a methodological platform, useful for further research and instrument development within accessibility research. This was accomplished by the construction of a typology of problematic person-environment fit constellations, utilizing an existing methodology developed to assess and analyze accessibility problems in the built environment.”

Download Typology of person-environment fit constellations: a platform addressing accessibility problems in the built environment for people with functional limitations.

Article by Björn Slaug, Oliver Schilling, Susanne Iwarsson, and Gunilla Carlsson

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.

Community Wayfinding

Jon Sanford’s chapter, Design fFront cover of the book Community Wayfinding: Pathways to Understanding.or All Users explains that despite its potential, universal design has not been widely adopted as a strategy in promoting community wayfinding. The book, Community Wayfinding: Pathways to Understanding is published by Springer Link and individual chapters can be purchased. Or go to the ResearchGate site and request free access to the full chapter. 

You can download the table of contents to see what else might be of interest.

From the abstract

In this chapter, the author describes not only what universal design is, but also what it is not: specialized designs to compensate for functional limitations.

Universal design, as articulated by a set of performance guidelines, describes how to promote usability and inclusivity—including community wayfinding—for everyone. The chapter addresses directions in research, policy, and practice necessary to promote universal design implementation.

 Award winning wayfinding design

Birds eye view of a wide pedestrian crossing with lots of people on itThere are three wayfinding design articles in this post. First, is public transport systems where good wayfinding is essential for reducing travel stress. Community wayfinding is essential for orientation, and hospitals are another situation where people experience wayfinding stress. And wayfinding is so much more than signage. 

Deborah Abidakun, won an RSA Student Design Award for her wayfinding system design. Being just below average height she found herself on tiptoe trying to understand 3D graphics. At night the lack of lighting made reading even more difficult. So Deborah started to wonder how others found these signs. This led her to carry out research around the existing pedestrian wayfinding system.

Deborah’s winning design was based on enhancing the Transport for London system. Find out more by going to the article – the illustration below has two more screens that help with the explanation. The title of the article is, Enabled by design: A way finding system that considers the disabled.

a prototype accessible wayfinding post and panel design. Award winning wayfinding design.

Hospital wayfinding

A boy sits on a chair and in front of him is a giant heart shaped apple sculpture with red hearts and other bright colours on it.Healthcare environments are under the design microscope with a growing body of evidence to show how design is linked to well-being. The design project manager for the Seattle Children’s Hospital is Integrating Art and Wayfinding. 

This short article outlines how the art planning team decided on the style of art. Patients, families, clinical and administrative staff. “Finding the right visual voice for patients whose ages range from infants to young adults, along with families and visitors is key” 


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