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
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 Designwebsite. There are more explanations in the What is Universal Designsection of this website.
3rd Generation universal design
One of the conundrums of the quest for inclusion, is that individuals have to identify as excluded so that they can get included. That’s because the people already included are doing the including by deciding whether to invite you in. What if inclusion was thought about as “nonclusion”? This is the proposition in a paper on 3rd generation universal design.
“Nonclusive design means design that resists categorisations of bodies/roles and that does not come with predefined or presupposed limits in terms of who it is meant for.
The authors say that “nonclusive design” is an essential element in the shift towards 3rd generation universal design. They define nonclusive design as a design that resists categorisations of bodies and roles. It does not come with with predetermined limits of who it is meant for. Therefore designs incorporate human diversity without reference to existing or traditional ways of doing things.
Nonclusive design is about intersectional thinking focused on unity rather than separation.
The title of the paper is, Towards 3rd Generation Universal Design: Exploring Nonclusive Design. Universal design is more than 50 years old. The first generation began with wheelchair users and the public built environment. The second generation brought additional excluded groups into focus. But the real aim of universal design is to have no excluded groups at all – the 3rd generation concept.
Not yet for everyone
The authors argue that while universal design is for everyone, thinking largely remains in the first generation of universal design. By creating a new word, nonclusion, they hope it takes thinking to a place with difference is a fundamental element of being human.
Creating a new word might help, but regardless, we are still thinking about a future that is yet to exist.
If we have nonclusive design, will a change of name from universal design change existing mindsets?
The issue is also discussed in a 2009 paper,Turning Back Time for Inclusion for Today as Well as Tomorrow. Inclusion is problematic because it requires those who are already included to invite excluded people into the group. Semantics can be important. What we need is inclusiveness – that’s where inclusion has already happened and there are no exclusions. Inclusion is a futuristic concept because it is something we are striving for. If we were inclusive, no discussion would be needed.
From the abstract
In this paper, we identify and describe early signs of a shift towards 3rd generation UD, of which “nonclusive design” is an essential part. Nonclusive design means design that resists categorisations of bodies/roles and that does not come with predefined or presupposed limits in terms of who it is meant for.
We outline seven themes characterising the shift towards nonclusive design:
from included to undefined users
from person to function
from adaptism to variation
from sparation to convergence
from reactive to proactive
from unaware to aware
from explicit to tacit
Nonclusive design directs attention to context instead of the individual, focusing on possibilities, functions and facilities. It highlights variation and unity rather than separation.
Nonclusive design presupposes awareness, knowledge and proactive development void of adaptism. It incorporates human variation without reiterating patterns of norm-deviation.
We argue that the continued growth of universal design demands, is part of, and contributes to a shift in culture, with nonclusive, intersectional thinking as a key future driver. In such a culture, 3rd generation universal design can contribute as a common guiding mindset, as a source for innovation, as a way to listen for diversity
Images created for the conference presentation, Turning Back Time for Today as well as Tomorrow.
Toilet signage and nonclusion
A further paper by the same research group discusses three versions of toilet signage in more detail than the paper above. The purpose is to find a way to be inclusive without depicting exceptions.
Addition – adding more pictograms of different persons
Combination – using composite pictograms
Nonclusion – not depicting persons, bodies or roles at all.
The term ‘universal design’ has its early roots in the built environment, but it is so much more now. Meaghan Walls talks in a podcast about how she came to the universal design concept. She explains how universal design is now the design of everything.
Universal design is about accepting and celebrating diversity as the graphic indicates. So, there are many ways to explain universal design. Two 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 o the city is a short 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 design of everything
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.”
Some nice points made in this 12 minute podcastthat comes with a transcript. Walls discusses showers, invisible hinges, swing-away hinges, language, wayfinding and much more.
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.
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 concept. The key is to design for the diversity of the population.
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.
“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.)
The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? Nevertheless, 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.
“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. That is debatable.
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.
Are universal design and inclusive design rivals?
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. 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 title of the paper is, Agent based modelling to probe inclusve transport building design in practice. 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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone
From the Editor: 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.
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.
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.
Ed Steinfeld explains the difference between accessibility and universal design in, “The space of accessibility and universal design”, in the book, Rethinking Disability and Human Rights:
“Accessibility is a compensatory strategy conceived to prevent discrimination while universal design seeks to change the consciousness of those who create the built environment to address a broader conception of the human body.”
“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.
Apple is well-known for making their products really easy to use. Here is a quote from Steve Jobs, former CEO, Apple.
“Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”
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.
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.
They are all are part of a universal design approach.
The late Judith Heumann has quoted this many times. She also said it is easier to change the design of the environment that to change attitudes. Her TEDx talk is worth a look.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world: people with disability and people yet to have a disability.”
Quote from Christina Mallon, Microsoft’s head of inclusive design: The end goal? “It’s that inclusive design becomes the only way to design, so that my job as an inclusive designer is just a designer. I want my job to go away.” FromFastCompany article.
Overheard at a workshop: “So if you design for the extremes you include the middle”
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.