A crucial part of any product, service or experience is its design. Principles of universal design are fundamental concepts that teach an understanding for a wide variety of situations, applied to modern examples from the world of design: not graphic design, not architecture, not web design or even product design, but just plain old design.
The universal design emerged as a concept in the early 1950s in the western part of the world to accommodate the vast number of differently-abled people. Incorporating design concepts with consideration to differently-abled and older people was one of the central themes for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) at the time. By the 1980s, these principles of universal design became a normalised concept for everyone, and not just the elderly and differently-abled.
The term universal design was devised by Ronald Mace, who was an architect, an industrial designer, and a wheelchair user. Later in 1997, he headed a group of architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers, to create universal principles of design to help guide the design process of environments, products and communications. Mace believed that these principles of universal design are like a structure of an environment so that it can be understood, reached, and applied to the greatest extent possible by the masses regardless of their ability or age. These principles were later compiled by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler, who authored a book named Universal Principles of Design in 2003.
These principles of universal design were founded under the need to provide for the differently-abled and elderly folks, it evolved to fulfil an even greater need in the world, making everything usable to the greatest extent by anyone.
Today, we utilise these principles of universal design to:
- Appraise any existing design;
- Supervise the design process;
- Educate both designers about the hallmarks of more usable products and environments.
Why is universal design important?
The various principles of universal design are so important because if a product, service or experience is convenient, useful, and accessible for everyone, it becomes one for all. Examples of universal design products can be schools and libraries, which are built for a community so anyone can access them.
Think about it, as people age gracefully, they will slowly start to face vision, hearing and mobility issues. And a particular part of the populace will need universally designed spaces so that they don’t feel left out and remain a part of the communities and live their lives to the fullest. Hence the need and desire to include this section of society can be fulfilled by these universal design products like parks and community centres.
Seven Major Principles of Universal Design
There are seven essential principles of universal design that allow a product, service or experience to become inclusive and accessible for anyone. They are –
The design is beneficial and marketable to somebody with several abilities. The best example can a website that is designed to be accessible to everyone, including visually impaired people who use voice command.
Flexibility in Use
The design supports a wide range of individual inclinations and capabilities. An excellent example can be a museum that gives an option to their visitors to choose whether they want to listen to the contents of a display case or just read it.
Simple and Intuitive Use
Use of the design is understandable, regardless of the language skills, experience, knowledge, or attention level of the user. A coffee machine with clear control buttons can be an example.
The design conveys necessary information efficiently, notwithstanding the sensory abilities of the user. An exciting example of this principle can be watching a football match at a loud sports bar.
The design that reduces accidental or unintended actions and minimises hazards. The best example of a service applying this principle is Grammarly, a digital writing assistance tool that provides suggestions to the user in case their English is weak or incorrect.
Minimal Physical Effort
The design can be utilised with minimum exhaustion and pleasantly. Automatic Doors demonstrate the application of this principle.
Size and Space
Appropriate space and size are provided for approach and use regardless of the posture, mobility or body size of the user. A flexible, shared workspace designed for left or right-hand employees to work together and communicate simultaneously is an example that applies this principle.
Principles of Universal Design in Education
Principles of Universal Design in Education is an approach to teaching aimed to ensure that educational plans serve all students. While many educators typically design courses and student services for average students, the principles of universal design in education consider diverse characteristics of various people in the design of all educational products and environments. It goes beyond accessible design for a student with learning disabilities making aspects of the educational experience more wholesome for everyone, including parents, staff, and administrators with a great variety of characteristics.
Universal design model of inclusive education is used as an essential strategy in a successful effort. Principles of universal design in education allow school educators to plan curriculum, assessments and learning environment that deliver meaningful teaching and learning. Personal learning plans aid all students in having power over their education in ways to support themselves in an equitable yet unique way.
In 1984, an organisation named Center for Applied Special Technology, or CAST was founded at North Shore Children’s Hospital in Salem, which is devoted to researching, distributing, and educating the world about the universal principles of design in education.
Though the principles of universal design have its roots in the field of design, applications in the education sector are comparatively new. These principles of universal design provide a reflective framework for all products and environments at all educational levels.
Some universal design for learning examples can be –
- Posting lesson goals for specific lessons in the classroom while teaching.
- Study materials should be available and accessible all form for the learners. Providing a student with options for reading material in various versions like print, digital, audiobooks or even text-to-speech. Educational videos have subtitles, and audios have transcripts as well.
- Students are allowed to have multiple options to complete their assignments, like creating a comic strip, a podcast or even a video to reflect their understanding. There are many possibilities here, as long as students meet the lesson goals.
Universal design principles in HCI
Principles of universal design in terms of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) is the conscious and systematic effort to proactively apply these principles, to develop products, services, and experiences which are accessible and usable by the masses. These principles of universal design are grounded on the idea that designing for an average user leads to an exclusionary design that does not provide for the needs of the entire populace. As a result, these universal principles of design help create an outcome for users with multiple skillsets, without having to modify or use assistive technologies.
With the current rise in technology, there are many examples out there set across the board using these same principles. These principles have solved have not just elevated the field of design and information technology, but also brought a revolution to how we look at thing at this point. For example, There was a time when people could only communicate using text online. Now, we can interact using images, animation, and even sound. Coding was such a back-breaking work in the initial days; however, today, it is a much different story, thanks to automation and intuitive systems. Softwares have developed the concepts of wizards and assistants, which has led to the rise of Chatbots for multiple websites, thanks to natural language processing.
For the hearing impaired section of society, text communication and captions came into existence. Similarly, for the visually impaired, screen readers and braille keyboards were created. For the physically impaired, gestures and predictive systems proved to be a game-changer. For the part of the society which has dyslexia Speech input and output interface was a godsend. Similarly, for people suffering from autism spectrum disorders, HCI and principles of universal design has been able to help them improve their communication skills and attain full control over the environment they are currently focusing on.
With the help of these principles, HCI brought in an era of multiple software and peripherals which make them an equivalent part of the larger community on the internet, rather than merely sidelining these sections of society under some guise.
Believe me, when I say this, it is never too late to revisit the fundamentals. These principles of design are universal for a reason, as they’ve stood the test of time. The world is continuously changing, and technology is ever-evolving, so understanding the basics to be the best designer out there is a journey you must go through.
Also, an updated version of the book that I mentioned earlier, Universal Principles of Design is available on Amazon. And remember, often designers disregard these principles of universal design, and they compensate for this violation. Since you are not a field expert yet, it is best to stick to the rules.