Universal design evaluation framework

A diagram that shows the three key areas and how they overlap to create universal design.
Figure 2 from the article

Finding ways to help people understand universal design is not easy. Many have tried by creating frameworks, policies, and guidelines. Many have stayed with the 7 principles of universal design, now thirty years old. Some have used these principles as a checklist for implementation or evaluation. Others have attempted their own definitions and explanations. So it’s good to see a a useful and thoughtful evaluation framework for understanding and implementing universal design in the built environment.

Mosca and Capologo have developed a universal design framework for the built environment that is up to date with current thinking. It encapsulates physical, sensory and social qualities of the environment. The background research for the framework included stakeholder input. This takes it beyond access compliance and evaluates aspects such as user convenience and social inclusion. 

Three key elements or universal design categories:

    1. Physical-Spatial Quality: the capability of the environment to foster easy, comfortable, functional, and safe use of space and objects. This means being able to physically interact with a system;
    2. Sensory-Cognitive Quality: the capability of the environment to foster orientation, comprehension of the service, and comfort of users. This refers to the features that impact peoples’ senses and cognition;
    3. Social Quality: the ability of the environment to enhance well-being and inclusion. It considers emotional stimuli and social integration among users.

Diagram showing stakeholder input.The framework is about performance and assessing the quality of the built environment beyond access. Mosca and Capologo used 21 indicators and 8 main criteria in their work. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design-Based Framework to Assess Usability and Inclusion of Buildings. It is pleasing to see a framework that includes a human centred design and co-design approach. 


Universal Design (UD) offers different sets of principles that can be used as reference in design practice to meet the needs of the vast majority of a population. However, there is a lack of an accountable approach to measure and analyze the built environment through UD performance. This study aims to develop an evaluation framework to assess UD in public buildings to determine, in addition to accessibility requirements, the usability and inclusion of projects for different users.

Multicriteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) was adopted as research methodology to systematically and scientifically develop the framework, which was structured based on knowledge derived from: an in-depth literature review on UD evaluation and workshops with stakeholders and experts. The selection and comparison of a pool of criteria is described including the cognitive mapping technique for translating information gathered by workshops.

A hierarchical framework was created, consisting of three main categories of UD (i.e. physical-spatial quality, sensorial-cognitive quality, and social quality), eight criteria (i.e. usability, functionality, safety/security, wayfinding, understanding, environmental factors, well-being, and social inclusion), and 21 indicators.

The proposed framework can be considered as an innovative approach in the field of accessible design evaluation since it explores the relation among a multiplicity of aspects, including human performance and social factors, to evaluate the quality of UD buildings

Editor’s note: I’ve seen a lot of attempts at frameworks and this is one of the best so far. Yes, universal design is evolving.