Teaching universal design: Progress so far

A group of five students cluster around a computer screen. They look as if they are seeing something important.Tom Vavik argues that there are four pillars to teaching universal design to design students: benefits to society and individuals, laws and regulations, UD thinking as a creative tool and increased market potential. Vavik identifies four main changes that have occurred in UD teaching:

    1. From universal design as basic principles to universal design as an inclusive design process.
    2. From physical to cognitive accessibility due to becoming a digital society.
    3. From usability and functionality to non-stigmatising aesthetics
    4. From second to first year curriculum and not being a separate course.

In his short paper, Facilitating the Concept of Universal Design Among Design Students – Changes in Teaching in the Last Decade, Vavik argues for another four factors that instructors need to consider in teaching universal design:

    1. Decide what the overall learning outcome is, what specific knowledge, skills and experience the students should obtain.
    2. Identify ways to influence the students’ attitudes and ethical values related to the design practice and profession in a universal design perspective
    3. Identify what kind of design theory and literature the teaching is based on
    4. Identify the most relevant themes and tasks for the students to work on and ascertain when they are mature enough for this kind of teaching


This short paper describes and reflects on how the teaching of the concept of Universal Design has developed in the last decade at the Institute of Design at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO). Four main changes are described. Firstly, the curriculum has evolved from teaching guidelines and principles to focusing on design processes. Secondly, an increased emphasis is put on cognitive accessibility. Thirdly, non-stigmatizing aesthetics expressions and solutions that communicate through different senses have become more important subjects. Fourthly the teaching of universal design has moved from the second to the first year curriculum.

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