27
May
08

The Center for Universal Design and Its Principles

Neurosciences Institute

It’s still May, Older Americans’ Month, so let’s look at the seminal document from which such notions as transgenerational design, and the awareness of issues that enable “Aging in Place,” were derived. North Carolina State University is the home of the Center for Universal Design, whose principles are laid out on its website. The people who created the list are, alphabetically, Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, & Gregg Vanderheiden, who say:

These Principles of Universal Design: address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. [The Principles] offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All Guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

Equitable use is the first of the seven principles given here, meaning a commitment to providing equivalent, if not identical, means of use for all users. The second principle is flexibility in use – in other words, accommodating to the user’s pace, handedness, strength, and other individual characteristics. The third principle asks that use be simple and intuitive, understandable by non-native speakers, or by someone whose concentration is impaired, such as a hospital patient in pain.

Principle four addresses the perceptibility of information, that it be legible to the user in various modes, like Braille signage in an elevator. The fifth principle advocates tolerance for error, or what in the vernacular would be called “idiot-proofing,” and also has to do with matters like keeping the user safe. The sixth principle wants the user’s interaction with the object to be ergonomically sound – for instance, it should not require a contorted body posture, or any more repetitive motion than is strictly necessary. Principle seven has to do with providing the necessary space for approach and manipulation of the element – the most ready example that comes to mind is the toilet enclosure with enough room for a wheelchair or an assisting person to maneuver.

Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, offers a lavishly illustrated and detailed chapter on Inclusive Design. The chapter quotes architect Ron Mace, founder of the Center for Universal Design, on the definition of the term as

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.

Among many other exemplary projects, AGS-11 gives details of the design strategy used for the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla (pictured above). We learn that “[a]s a matter of ‘ethics and aesthetics,’ the architects have seamlessly integrated universal access into a tectonic essay on movement, creating an ever-changing spatial experience.”

The Universal Design Resource List includes much information on universal design, particularly design for aging. Another useful thing to know about is, of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards. Whether we are professionals or laypersons, sooner or later we will all be end-users of this technology, so it’s definitely a subject area with a large and ever-growing constituency.

SOURCE: ” Universal Design Principles ” 04/01/97
photo courtesy of cudmore, used under this Creative Commons license

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