universal designLast updated
Universal design is a practice of designing for maximum usability and inclusivity, most often considered in terms of disability and age. It can be used to design anything from a public space or to a singular object. A common example of universal design is a sidewalk curb cut, intended to make sidewalks/roads more usable for people who use wheelchairs; curb cuts are also useful for people with strollers, shopping carts, or skateboards. As in this example, universal design often has the effect of making a space more useful to everyone, not only someone with a disability.
Universal design appears in different places and includes other elements that are less apparent to most users. For example, the OXO “good grips” cooking utensils may be comfortable to hold for a user without a disability and may not seem like specialty items, but they were originally designed to be usable regardless of hand grip and strength. Websites and other virtual spaces can also be constructed with a universal design perspective, which may influence everything from button or icon size to color contrast and font.
The seven principles of universal design were developed and first published in the late 1990s, led by architect Ron Mace. Universal design grew out of the history of accessible design and barrier-free design, an early version of accessible design from the early to mid-20th century that developed during a shift in moving people with disabilities from institutional to community settings. This focus on integration continued throughout the 20th century, seen most notably in the guidance for public spaces laid out in the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. Subsequently, the focus on universal design in web development and user experience design represents a major shift in the understanding of what spaces and objects need to be made accessible.
- Seven Principles of Universal Design (National Disability Authority)
- What Is Universal Design? (University of Washington)
- Blind Accessibility of Beauty Products (Allure)
Universal design is the practice of designing environments and products that are most usable to most people, regardless of differences like ability/disability or age. Universal design includes features such as curb cuts in sidewalks or closed captioning on televisions. Websites and other virtual spaces can also be constructed with a universal design perspective, which may influence everything from button or icon size to color contrast and font.