10 Things to know about Universal Design

Page with 10 things to know about universal design.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:
      1. Universal design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive
      2. Universally designed products can have a high aesthetic value
      3. Universal design is much more than just a new design trend
      4. Universal design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets
      5. Universal design is not another name for compliance with accessible design standards
      6. Universal design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities
      7. Universal design can be undertaken by any designer, not just specialists
      8. Universal design should be integrated throughout the design process
      9. Universal design is not just about ‘one size fits all’
      10. 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 Design website.  There are more explanations in the What is Universal Design section 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.
Inclusion is one group looking at another group and thinking about "Them".
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
Graphic of stick people in various poses with the caption, "Inclusiveness,, looking at everyone
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.
Image shows the version with additions
A toilet door sign with four icons: access, man, woman, baby change with a woman and a baby.
The title of the paper is, Moving beyond human bodies on display – signs of a shift in categorisation. Scroll down the list of papers to reach the paper which is in English. This paper is prelude to further research. The key issue underpinning this work is that the quest for inclusion relies on “the included” to do the including.  

Out and About with Universal Design

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkwayGetting out and about is part of staying active and connected within the community, but some people find that more difficult than others. Inner Sydney Voice has an article explaining the 8 Goals of Universal Design and how they can be applied in the urban environment. The examples given are not exhaustive, but do help with thinking about including everyone. The 8 Goals of Universal Design extend the concepts of the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design that are most often quoted in academic articles. You can download the PDF of the article.  

The 8 goals are: Body Fit, Comfort, Awareness, Understanding, Wellness, Social Integration, Personalisation, Cultural Appropriateness. They were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel (2012).

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