Universal Design is a Good Design: The Seven Principles

Submitted by Mike Shea on Wed, 08/14/2019

Universal design is a broad concept in which products and their environments are designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or a specialized design. How do we get to universal design? This involves a two-level approach. The first level is user-aware design. This approach takes into consideration including as many people as possible by pushing the boundaries of products, services, and environments. The second level is customizable design. This level helps to minimize the difficulties of adaptation to specific users. Unfortunately, universal design is not a one size fits all approach. It is an approach to push the boundaries of design as far out as possible in a matter that will not bring down the integrity or the quality of the product, service, or environment.

The Seven Principles

Many people believe when the term universal design appears it automatically makes a diluted product that meets the needs of a person to a limited degree. Although there are a series of compromises universal design promotes inclusive design to the maximum extent. Features of design that enhance access or use for some people, should not hinder or diminish the user experience for others. According to the Center for Universal Design at NC State University “the intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost.”

Principle 1: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Here it is important to provide a design that can be appealing to all users. You should also avoid segregating or stigmatizing by providing the same means of use for all users.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Here you should allow the user a choice in the method they use. Provide adaptability to the user’s pace. For example in our online trainings here at the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, we break the courses into modules that the user can take at their own pace. They are allowed to come back at a later time and pick back up right where they left off.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand no matter what the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level is. Keep your design consistent and pay attention to having a wide range of literacy and language skills used throughout. This allows your design to eliminate any unnecessary complexity.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, no matter what the ambient conditions or what the user’s sensory abilities are. Similar to the first principle in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, you should use different modes of presentation for important information. Different formats can include; pictorial, verbal, and tactile.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Take a look at your design and ask does this design provide warnings of hazards and errors? Just being aware of hazardous elements helps provide a failsafe feature in advance.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. This one is pretty self-explanatory, making sure the design consists of reasonable operating forces ensures the highest success rate for this principle.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. A clear line of sight for important elements within the design will help ensure your design can be accessed by all.


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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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