Universal Design

Introduction to Universal Design

The late Ron Mace was an architect and founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. In the 1970s he combined the words universal and design to describe what would become a standard of usability for everyone.

By definition, Universal Design is the creation of products and environments meant to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialization. The intent of Universal Design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.

True Universal Design is unobtrusive, even invisible. If you've ever been through an automatic door, you've experienced a version of Universal Design. A ramp or curb cut is just as welcome to someone with a baby stroller as it is to someone in a wheelchair. In addition to those whose mobility is limited, the design is intuitive to those who cannot read or hear or those who read or speak a foreign language.

Ironically, the "conspicuousness" of a person having to deal (often awkwardly and unsuccessfully) with the barriers of most built environments is what brings attention to their dilemma. "We" have created the handicap and disability. The handicap is the structure itself. The disability comes from dealing with it. In addition to access and inclusion, Universal Design brings with it an extra margin of safety. However, Universal Design isn't about ramps and grab bars, although devices such as these remain necessary for assistance. It isn't a clinical, "special" look.

This article is intended to introduce the concept of Universal Design, not to provide specific construction advice. While many design features are simple, others require an experienced contractor. When in doubt, always consult a professional.

Principles and Guidelines of Universal Design

The Principles and Guidelines of Universal Design as defined by the Center of Universal Design at North Carolina State University:

One — Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

* Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.

* Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.

* Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.

* Make the design appealing to all users.

Two — Flexibility In Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities

* Provide choice in methods of use.

* Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.

* Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.

* Provide adaptability to the user's pace.

Three — Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

* Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

* Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.

* Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.

* Arrange information consistent with its importance.

* Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Four — Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

* Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.

* Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.

* Maximize "legibility" of essential information.

* Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).

* Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Five — Tolerance For Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

* Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.

* Provide warnings of hazards and errors.

* Provide fail safe features.

* Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Six — Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

* Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.

* Use reasonable operating forces.

* Minimize repetitive actions.

* Minimize sustained physical effort.

Seven — Size And Space For Approach And Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture or mobility.

* Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.

* Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.

* Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.

* Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

What Does Universal Design Mean to Me?

Statistics show that you or a family member will undergo a physical transition at some point in your life. Whether it's a temporary impairment, like a broken bone, or a permanent disability, we or one of our loved ones will be faced with change.

The simple process of aging naturally increases our dependency on others. Universally designed features allow us to move through these changes and still enjoy equal opportunities, self-determination, self-respect and quality of life.

When building or remodeling, it's more cost effective to add many Universal Design features during the planning stage. There are a number of design features that can be built for little or no cost. Their addition at the beginning saves the need for future retrofits.

What are Some Common Examples of Universal Design?

You may already be using Universal Design concepts and didn't realize it. Here's a quick list:


* Additional task lighting is needed for "older" eyes.

* Added lighting is also advised in areas to increase safety, such as for stairs.


* Push/pull lever faucets for those with limited hand strength or dexterity.

* Side-by-side refrigerators.


* Leverset entry or interior door hardware.

* Wide swing hinges allow use of the entire doorway.


* Roll-in showers.

* Add reinforcement into the wall substructure now in the event the addition of grab bars is needed later.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse is grateful to the Center for Universal Design for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=howTo&p=CommLib/UnivDesDef.html, accessed on 20 August 2009

Example Universal Design (Accessibility)


Organization of this section

Exhibit Development at the Museum of Science encompasses

Design - The "look and feel" of an exhibit
Technical design - the design and construction of interactive components, from odor delivery systems to accessible computer interfaces
Content - What is presented and how it is presented
Formative and summative evaluation
Planning for accessibility (universal design)
Planning for maintenance of exhibit displays and interactives
Construction of the space and its components
Links with Program Division - related school and public programing, from plays and public demonstrations to classroom kits and school programs.

For major projects, exhibit development is a team process.

The development team typically consists of a project manager, designer, a technical designer, a planner (the content person), an access advisor, someone from the production and the exhibit maintenence shops, and a Programs Division liason.

Universal Design, guided by formative evaluation, is a consideration in each aspect of exhibit development, and the responsibility of all team members. Accessibility is part, but not all of - the Universal Design story.

Organization of the Universal Design section

This section will describe how the Museum integrates Universal Design into exhibit development. It will be illustrated with examples taken from exhibits developed by the Museum (Primarily New England Habitats, The Observatory, Investigate!, Secrets of Aging and Messages) and list general resources that we find helpful.

This will not be an exhaustive summary of all the considerations, measurements, etc that should go into developing a universally designed exhibit. We will link you to several excellent references that provide this. Rather, this will be an ongoing narrative of issues encountered and lessons learned during the development of several exhibits, and of our attempts to address these issues.

"Universal Design" is about inclusion. In museums, it goes beyond accessibility, to educational concept. It defines an approach that uses multisensory, multimodal experiences as an educational tool - the means of communicating an exhibit's main point.

"Multisensory and multimodal" implies choice - something for everyone. It implies that visitors with widely ranging ages, abilities, levels of interest and sophistication, learning styles and cultural identities can access the exhibit's main messages and have fun doing it.

A xylophone in a case

A xylophone in a display case, accompanied by a text label could explain the relationship between the length of a vibrating sound source and the wavelength and pitch of the tone produced by the vibrations.

Add a way to strike a key and hear the tone, and a few more people will stop at the display and perhaps read the label.

Add a descriptive audio label and you could include people who can't read the text label - perhaps a young child, or someone who is blind or dyslexic.

Take away the glass case, and let people play with the xylophone. Or better - let them explore the science by assembling their own instrument.

Visitors construct their own xylophone

This xylophone is more attractive, interesting and potentially educational - not only for people with visual impairment, but for everyone who uses it. It is a universally designed activity.

It's worth emphasizing that the choice of a xylophone is an access-driven content decision. There are many ways to present that particular scientific concept, but a xylophone illustrates the principle auditorally and tactiley, as well as visually.

Definitions of inclusive design

The British Standards Institute (2005)British Standard 7000-6:2005. Design management systems - Managing inclusive design - Guide defines inclusive design as "The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design."

By meeting the needs of those who are excluded from product use, inclusive design improves product experience across a broad range of users. Put simply inclusive design is better design.

Inclusive design is not:

* Simply a stage that can be added in the design process

* Adequately covered by a requirement that the product should be easy to use

* Solely about designing products for a particular capability loss

* Naively implying that it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of the entire population

Inclusive design should be embedded within the design and development process, resulting in better designed mainstream products that are desirable to own and satisfying to use.

http://www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com/betterdesign/whatis/whatis3.html, accessed on 20 August 2009

The glass milk bottle

Easier to access than the fruit juice carton, but more susceptible to accidents.

A typical bacon pack

Difficult to open without the aid of a sharp knife.

Designers have to balance two conflicting requirements - the need to prevent the packaging opening prematurely or by accident and the need to allow easy access when the packaging is being opened intentionally. Plastic bacon packaging is possibly the most extreme example-almost everyone has to use a knife or a pair of scissors to get into the package, sometimes despite the provision of 'easy-open' tabs.

A design where easy opening is preferred over security, is the traditional glass milk bottle with an aluminium foil top.

Sometimes, the designers appear to almost wish to make life as difficult as possible. The best example of this is the shrink-wrap anti-tamper plastic covering on the top of plastic drinks bottles.

A fruit juice carton

Another tough customer, especially if the plastic spout is glued onto the foil tab.

Opening a bottle with an anti-tamper wrapping is impossible without first removing the wrapping. If this were highly visible with clearly marked instructions for removal, it would both be easy to see, to remove and also to check tampering. The predominant use of clear anti-tamper wrapping is not the result of any design compromise, it is simply poor design.

Unfortunately, it is poor design that is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. CDs, DVDs, videotapes are all often shrink-wrapped with clear plastic and many times the only way of removing the wrapping is through the use of a sharp object such as a knife.

Sustainable by Design

The term sustainability can be difficult to define for the contemporary furniture designer/manufacturer. Sustainability can mean social responsibility, use of non-polluting technologies and certified materials, employment fairness and more. Though these "manufacturing with a conscience" ideals cannot be argued with, often they are difficult to implement on a regular basis. To encompass these practices we need to be responsible for the production cycle from raw material acquisition through to manufacture, end use and final disposal.


MDMC logoThe Consortium develops and applies software and data solutions to aid design around environmental constraints.. More...

(View / print this example as a PDF document, 270Kb)

* Minimize business risk due to material and process obsolescence

* Improve response to environmental regulations such as REACH, EuP, WEEE - particularly during design

* Enable design for low carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and reduced wastes and emissions

* Provide engineers, designers, and others with the eco property data that they need, when they need it, in the format they need

* Improve the quality and traceability of key materials and process information and provide specialist analysis tools to apply this information in eco design

The problem

Controlling the environmental impact of products and meeting environmental and other regulations are becoming critical success factors for engineering enterprises. An effective response to these challenges may become a pre-requisite for business survival in many sectors.

Regulations such as the European Union's REACH will have a profound effect on manufacturing organizations. Materials or processes may become obsolete or prohibitively expensive, problems with compliance will introduce delays and cost, and end-of-life disposal will become more complex for many products. Other environmental objectives, such as low carbon footprint, are becoming more important due to consumer demand and government actions such as carbon trading schemes and investment in green technologies.

By far the best response is to build consideration of these factors into the design process - where modifications to products cost least and have the greatest impact. Choices of material and of manufacturing process are of central importance, since these determine the use of restricted substances and can have a major influence on energy usage and emissions over a product's lifetime. Requirements for such choices include:

* Up-to-date, comprehensive information on restricted substances and a trusted, easy-to-use source for other ‘eco property' data - for example, the amount of carbon dioxide generated in producing a raw material

* Specialist analysis capabilities - for example, to estimate the energy that a product will generate at each stage in its lifecycle, based on the materials and processes it uses

* Quick, practical tools to apply this information and analysis, integrated into the organization's normal business and engineering workflow - for example, allowing a designer in a CAD system to rapidly assess the whether the materials in a design are likely to be subject to regulation

Today, most manufacturing enterprises have none of these elements in place. Their response to environmental challenges has usually focused on analyzing existing products - for example, to report on regulatory compliance or to conduct relatively complex 'Life Cycle Assessment' (LCA). Granta can enrich these existing activities through the effective use of materials information. But we go further, to enable effective eco design. Working with our partners in the Environmental Materials Information Technology (EMIT) Consortium we also aim not just to develop ‘point solutions', but to support an integrated approach to environmental issues across the product lifecycle, in concert with other business and engineering systems.

Eco property data

Materials information management to marshall all necessary data and capture resulting knowledge

Restricted substances solution

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