Universal Design

Universal design (UD, or Design-For-All) is a simple idea: make products and services usable by as many people as possible.  It serves three purposes at the same time: making the product easier to use for most customers, meeting the needs of consumers who have difficulty using some products, and meeting the needs of companies who want to expand their potential market.  If it’s so simple, why is it so misunderstood?  Does it mean “one size fits all” or that all products have to have the same feature?  We think  UD is more of a process and a goal rather than a strict, measurable design outcome.

From the Center for Universal Design definition:

“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

“The intent of the universal design concept is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by more people at little or no extra cost. The universal design concept targets all people of all ages, sizes, and abilities.”

Here are some resources on UD:

Companies using UD

Microsoft — A corporate group on access and UD.

… and lots more — some of them don’t even know it!

UD research and advocacy

Trace R&D Center is studying why companies do or do not adopt UD in its UD Research Project, funded by NIDRR. Trace also has a neat tool: a customized bibliography on UD while-you-wait!

NIDRR also supports a Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.  Among its many activity, the Center maintains and promotes the key Principles of Universal Design, collects examples of UD, and publishes UD reports and tools, including a new book that delivers detailed information about UD case studies.

Adaptive Environments Center coordinates the Universal Design Education Project and will host their second international UD conference called Designing for the 21st Century in June, 2000.

The Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access (IDEA), another NIDRR-sponsored UD Center at SUNY Buffalo publishes resources on architectural and related UD, and has developed some interesting software for UD training and reference.

Examples of products with UD features

The curb cut, originally intended for wheelchair users, but now used by almost everyone.  Without curb cuts, the entire rolling luggage industry would never have arisen….

A softsided bathtub, both safer and more comfortable.

Leviton Decora switches: easy to use paddle switches, now with occupancy sensing and other features.   Leviton also makes some child safety devices that are UD feature-rich.

Do you have a good example?  Send it to us and we’ll pass it on!

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