Universal Design

Universal design is the approach of designing products and environment so that it can be used by broad number people irrespective of age, disability, ability, status in life and various other factors.

Usually, products are designed to be suitable for average users whereas products designed under the principle of universal design try to be suitable for the maximum number of users. The purpose of universal design is not to create a design that can work for 100 percent of the people because it is almost impossible to have a ‘One size fits all’ design. The purpose is to create a design that can serve solutions that are more inclusive. Designers have to look at those designs that push the boundaries as far out as possible without compromising the quality and integrity of the product.

There are many instances where a designer will have to choose between different designs and determine the more suitable design according to UD principles. For instance, if there is a choice to choose between a lever-design handle and a knob-design handle. It is preferable to choose the former rather than the latter as the lever design can accommodate more people’s daily usage. The lever design feature will be a more inclusive element compared to the latter. It can accommodate various usages like opening the door with closed fists or the elbow or so that a person can easily access the door while carrying something as well as people with finite strength.

There are briefly 7 Principles of Universal Design. These were developed in 1997 by a team of architects, designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers.  The team was led by the late Ronald Mace who was an internationally recognized American Architect and designer in North Carolina State University.

The seven principles are:

  • Equitable use

While designing, the product should be kept in mind that it should be accessible by every person including disabled people.  

  • Flexibility in use

The design needs to be configurable to accommodate everyone’s preferences, needs, and abilities.

  • Simple and intuitive

This means that the design should be easy to understand for everybody. The person can easily figure out a well-designed product or an environment without thinking too much about it.

  • Perceptible information

The design can communicate all of its necessary information to everybody irrespective of the environmental conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

  • Tolerance for error

It refers to safety so that the design minimizes hazards, accidents or unintended actions.

  • Low physical effort

The design in use needs to be comfortable and efficient rather than being exhausting and fatiguing to use.

  • Size and space for approach and use

The design irrespective of user’s body size, posture, or mobility should not restrict anybody by its size or space.

Universal design can really make the lives of people much more comfortable, safer, and efficient in the long run. There are still many areas that are not designed well and poorly designed products, buildings or the environment can be a safety hazard as well. It is usually the job of a universal designer to design new products from the ground up and many also renovate existing designs to make them more accommodative and accessible.