By building and designing with the principles of universal design, society is in turn creating products, services, and spaces which every person can use during every stage of their life, regardless of ability, injury, or illness.
What is Universal Design?
Simply put, universal design ensures something– a building, product, or information, can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, language, or ability.
Today, the concept of universal design, inclusive design, or barrier-free design is increasing in popularity; However, the original concept of universal design was created in 1977 by the architect and industrial designer Ronald Mace.
A wheelchair user, Mace led a group of engineers, architects, product designers, and researchers to develop the 7 principles of universal design as the design guide for built environments, communications, and products.
Seven Principles of Universal Design
The Seven Principles of Universal Design are:
- Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Example: Automatic doors.
- Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Example: Adjustable chairs.
- Simple and Intuitive Use. The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Example: Infographics and universal symbols on signage.
- Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Example: Textured warning strips on train station platform.
- Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Example: Car auto unlocks when the driver exits, but the key remains inside.
- Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with minimal fatigue. Example: Ramp to the main entrance of a building.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use. Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
Example: Multi-level service desk or automatic sinks.
Universal Design in Everyday Product Design
Universal design is applied to the items we use every day. from furniture to technology to consumer and household finishing products:
Some examples include:
- Automatic sinks
- Google Home
Universal Design in the Built Environment
Universal design is generally associated with the design elements within architectural spaces, some examples include:
- Automatic doors
- Elevator with mirrors
- Curb cuts
- Flat paneled and automatic lights
Universal Design in Communication
Universal design is frequently applied through the design of communication and print materials.
Some examples include:
- QR Codes
- Traffic lights
- The use of infographics on signage or way-finding
- The use of plain language on web, social, and print materials
Why is Universal Design Important?
By building and designing with the principles of universal design, society is in turn creating products, services, and spaces which every person can use during every stage of their life, regardless of ability, injury, or illness. When communities have the opportunity to access the services, places, and information crucial to their health, happiness, and independence they can reach their full potential– an outcome which has a positive rippling effect on society at large.