Monday, June 30, 2008

The Time is Now

Reasons for universal design these days ...

"The concept of universal design is not new. Inclusive processes aimed at enabling all of us to experience the full benefits of products, environments, communications, systems and policies regardless of our age, size, situation, and abilities have been around since the mid-1970s. However, the incorporation of universal design has been a ‘slow go’ in design education, practice and contemporary culture in most countries. There are several reasons for this:

* The design disciplines have been, for the most part, style based. In other words, aesthetics, form, and the way something looks have dominated graphic design, interior design, architecture, and industrial design for centuries.
* Since their beginning, accrediting bodies for design programs in universities have emphasized formal and structural principles as their primary criteria. Because programs were evaluated on these terms, curricula naturally centered on them, often at the expense of other important issues such as social inclusion.
* Until recently, ergonomists, engineers, designers and manufacturers have focused on the large majority in the middle of the population curve and have, more or less, ignored those in the minority. Accommodating those in ranges beyond a ‘theoretical average’ has been considered, for the most part, too costly and complex in the production of products and built environments.
* Popular media has tended to present distorted views of our culture that favor specific aesthetic sensibilities and lifestyles for the sake of entertainment value, and that disregard other realities. More accurate reflections of our world and its peoples often require us to confront harsh realities and to put ourselves into situations that challenge our comfort levels. This is especially the case in cultures where child care, health care, and elder care have been highly compartmentalized, and, therefore, separated from daily living.

According to Kathryn Anthony in her influential book, Designing for Diversity, most design professionals agree that to produce relevant design work, particularly as we move into a more globalized environment, designers should have knowledge and understanding about cultures and populations other than their own. Knowledge about inclusion and its relationship to design is a crucial part of this endeavor. Yet incorporating these issues into already overburdened design practices and production processes has been a somewhat daunting task.

But there is good news. Recently, universal design has been cropping up in places in which it would have been unwelcome twenty years ago. The term is now peppered throughout design firm websites, product websites, and design magazines. More and more, design competitions are including universal design criteria in their briefs. In the past few years, social justice, inclusion, and universal design have been topics at several major design conferences as well as product, technology, and building conventions. Courses addressing diversity and universal design are cropping up in academic programs and continuing education worldwide, and design practices are starting to realize the importance of this approach. Perhaps most important, governments around the world are beginning to include universal design principles in their policies and plans for future development."    (Continued via uiGarden.net, Beth Tauke)    [Usability Resources]

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