Monday, May 26, 2008

Is Universal Design Really Universal?

What universal design really means ...

"In 1988, Ron Mace, Ruth Lusher, and I authored an article that I believe was the first published reference to the concept of Universal Design. Our purpose was to promote the positive side of a design concept that had previously been associated with eliminating poor design (barrier-free) for a limited population (handicap accessibility) and to emphasize the positive aspects of designing for all people. In 1992 when the first issue of Universal Design Newsletter was published, we conducted a search of the internet to identify potential copyright infringement. We found no (0) references to the term Universal Design. Today, as I write this article, my Google search found “about 13,200,000” references. There is no denying that the concept of Universal Design has gained widespread use. But what does it really mean?

At the February 2008 International Conference on Aging, Disability and Independence (ICADI) in St. Petersburg, FL, one track investigated the meaning and future of Universal Design. While international gathering of attendees generally agreed that Universal Design incorporates designs that are inclusive and provide choice, there are many definitions. My currently favorite definition emphasizes the process rather than the end product:

Universal Design: The process of imbedding choice for all people in the things we design.

Each of the following) terms in this simple statement has important meaning.

* Process implies a methodology rather than a product
* Choice involves flexibility, and multiple alternative means of use and/or interface
* All People includes the full range of people regardless of age, ability, gender, economic status, etc.
* Things include spaces, products, information systems and any other things that humans manipulate or create.

I have watched an evolution in the thinking of what is Universal Design over the last 20 years. My involvement in this area has taught me that as we learn more and more about the people for whom we are designing (best provided though user input and involvement in the design process) our designs change and improve. This brings me to the inevitable conclusion that Universal Design is not static. Universal Design changes, mimicking the needs of the users as they differ over time and in different places. Universal Design in Chicago in 1990 was and should be different from Universal Design in Nairobi in 2008. The key is understanding what is the best fit of the environment to the users."    (Continued via    [Usability Resources]


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