8 Goals of Universal Design

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. 

To find out more about universal design see our free short online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Slide from the video 8 Goals of Universal Design.
Screenshot from the video below

Briefly, the 8 Goals are:

  1. Body Fit
  2. Comfort
  3. Awareness
  4. Understanding
  5. Wellness
  6. Social integration
  7. Personalization
  8. Cultural appropriateness

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

is the bridge between
them as it addresses both
Social participation
Social integration
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. 

The IDeA Center website has more information and some pictures to help explain. Ed Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel devised the Goals in 2012.

The 2020’s have seen a significant shift to the inclusion of users in the design process and co-design methods.

Try out our free online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Universal design is evolving

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. 

Some history

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tie

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.

Principles of universal design in practice

Promoting the classic seven principles of universal design is all very well, but how do they materialise in practice? Designing for the mythical average person can limit the quality of life for some people. So what are the key design criteria for the built environment? 

In his article, Arat says designing to the principles of universal design is the answer. In the conclusions he attributes design criteria to each of the 7 principles. The title of the paper is Spatial Requirements for Elderly and Disabled People in the Frame of Universal Design.

Everyone needs universal design

A suburban house in UK. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.

Some people think that accessibility and universal design are the same thing. Explaining the difference isn’t always easy.  An article from the US, 5 Problems with Accessibility (And How Universal Design Fixes Them)” lists these points: 

    1. Accessibility is not always inclusive. Steps plus a ramp to a building means some people have to take a different route to get in.
    2. Accessibility puts burden on the individual. More planning is needed for every trip, even to a restaurant – not to make a reservation – but to find out if you can get in.
    3. Separate accessible features are not equal. Sometimes they create extra hurdles and more effort.
    4. Accessibility provides limited solutions to a broad problem. This is because it is often an “add-on”. 
    5. Accessibility is not designed with style in mind. It is usually just designed to just serve a purpose.  

Note: the picture of the house with the ramp shows four out of the five points. Different route, separate, limited solution, no style. 

For an even more practical approach from an individual’s perspective, Lifemark in New Zealand has a practical blog post.

A chrome lever door handle with the door ajar. The door is timberIt’s about how everyone needs universal design so that everyday tasks could be more convenient for everyone.  Here are a few examples: 

    • Your wide garage will make getting the kids, car seats and buggy in and out of the car easy and risk free – no paint scratches on the walls from opened car doors.
    •  You will be able to open any doors even if both of your hands are full, because of your easy to operate lever door handles. 
    • If your hands are dirty, you’ll still be able to use the lever tap without making a mess. 
    • Plugging in the vacuum cleaner won’t strain your back because the power socket is higher up the wall. 
    • You will access your kitchen utensils/crockery because none of the drawers will be too high or too low and you’ll be able to open every drawer with one little push of your hand/knee.

See Lifemark website for the full blog post.

Make it right – a builder’s view

Mike Holmes stands in work gear with his muscled arms folded, smiling at the camera. A builder's view of UD.Followers of universal design are familiar with the 7 principles of universal design. They were formulated in the 1990s and are still referenced today. It’s interesting to see how different people interpret these  principles. So it was good to see how a builder does it. 

Mike Holmes’ article begins with issues of everyday home maintenance and then applies it to the maintenance of our lives within the home. That is, the home should be design so that it adapts as our lives change. Holmes takes each of the 7 principles and gives practical examples of what it means to him.   


7 Principles of Universal Design

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tie
Ron Mace

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 principles were devised at a time when the focus was on the built environment and designers were responsible for getting it right.

However, some people find the 7 principles a good starting point for thinking about design from an inclusive perspective. With thought they can apply to any building, open space, service, product, phone app, website or document.  Briefly they are:

      1. Equitable Use
      2. Flexibility in Use
      3. Simple and Intuitive to Use
      4. Perceptible Information
      5. Tolerance for Error
      6. Low Physical Effort
      7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Universal design in 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”. Universal design has evolved and recognised as an inclusive design thinking process. Consequently it applies to all things designed including processes and policies.

It is more than buildings

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. This is where the term “universal access” belongs – it is not the same as universal design. Building, product and web standards are about compliance. Universal design is about creative designs that include compliance to relative standards.  

A world comfortable for all

The video below covers people at home, in public transport, in the street, at an airport, at a computer, at the entrance door and in the parking space. “Universal Design is the design of anything (city, service, thing) to make the experience of using it comfortable for anyone”.

A great little video for anyone new to universal design, or for others wanting to share their understanding. It’s 2 minutes long and great for education purposes. 

More resources

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.

To help policy makers, CUDA has devised a generic Universal Design Position Statement. 

Evolution of Universal Design

Universal design has gone through many iterations. It is no longer just about access to buildings, but access to anything and everything for everyone. 

The latest thinking and practice is co-designing with users – a really iterative design process that shares the design power between users and designers.

The Danish Design Ladder takes universal design thinking yet another step forward. It shows how to apply universal design thinking to organisations and business strategies.


Universal Design Guidance and the ICF

icfThe 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. 

See also a slideshare of Steinfeld and Danford’s crosswalk of UD principles with the ICF. It shows the process they went through to translate the 7 Principles of Universal Design to the 8 Goals of Universal Design, as well as relating them to universal design and the ICF.  All other references have been removed except a review of the ICF conference which includes Steinfeld and Danford’s paper at itm 7.

Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

A blank sheet of paper with an eraser, two pencils and a light globe. Universal Design, is it accessible?This opinion piece, Universal Design: Is it Accessible? critiques the 7 Principles of Universal Design. Several aspects of universal design are questioned including the terminology and inherent difficulties in understanding the concepts. Jane Bringolf argues that the 7 Principles of Universal Design are not themselves universally designed. 

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.


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