A few months back while travelling in the Metro,
I saw an old person trying to get a ticket from a ticket vending machine. He tried repeatedly but, he couldn’t get the ticket. Then after around 5 minutes of struggle, he asked the person next to him for help.
But what if he didn’t have someone around him late at night?
It struck me, and I started thinking about how can we design something that can be used by anyone and everyone? This question kept me up at nights. I spent the last few months understanding the same thing.
Every once in a while of my starting days of this exploration one of the two names popped out; Universal Design and Inclusive Design. And eventually, it started making sense when I learnt and applied these to my recent projects.
So today, I am going to share the same learnings and experiences with you all.
I will discuss some of my experiences, learnings, examples, and most importantly how can you implement it in the products you design with some simple principles.
The first question that comes to my mind is:
What is “Universal Design”?
Let’s first get our mind straight on what Universal means?
I found this definition of Universal on Google:
Something that can be applied to all cases with little to no modifications in its primary characteristics is Universal.
So, What does Universal Design Means?
Universal Design or Inclusive Design was defined first by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.
In more simpler terms:
Universal design is the design of products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.
The lesser the modifications are needed for more adoption, the more it moves towards being Universal.
Things should be Inclusively Designed in such a way that they should not feel that this is designed especially for me; which is an uncomfortable feeling for the disabled person.
And just to make it clear Universal Design do not claim that for every product or service there could one universal way to do it. So, you might need to work on different products for different user groups by making several personas.
Universality is mainly about two things:
- Understanding the diversity in people.
- Responding to that diversity with informed design decisions.
Why do we need Universal Design?
According to Michael Nesmith,Accessibility Designer at Amazon:
Everyone has a disability at some point or the other whether has a broken arm, pregnant, being a child or being older.
So, everyone needs to learn how to cope, and these solutions are worth sharing.
Have you noticed the things around you that follows Universal Design Principles? Universal Design Examples
Before moving forward let’s discuss some of the uses of Universal Design in Physical World:
Let’s get started with some Universal Design Examples
Universal Design in Doors:
Door opener at a fixed height:
Door handles are placed at a nearly fixed height, may vary from a region to another due to the height of people in that region. The handles are placed at a height that is not too high for a child to use, a person with disabilities on a wheelchair, people coming from other region and also not to low for a normal person. But what about its physical shape?
-The round one? A Doorknob (if I say).
-The Door lever?
-Or an automatic gate?
So we saw in this case the automatic gate left none out.
Flat entrances of doors:
The entrances of the homes and the rooms are kept flat to very little elevation so that people with disabilities can use it just as conveniently as a person with no disabilities.
If the elevation is there, it requires an extra effort from a person with disabilities. Also, it is not intuitive enough to care about the block every time.
P.s.: It also helps in keeping you from injury.
Wider than required entrances:
Did you ever notice the width of your entrances? Why it is kept so wider even at the places where we don’t have enough spaces to bring furniture?
The width of the entrances are kept wider to make the people with wheelchairs can enter them with ease. It helps people not getting injured by hitting an edge. Also, it makes moving furniture easier.
More Universal Design Examples around us:
The placement of the kitchen’s cooktop:
The placement of the kitchen’s cooktop is decided in such a way that it remains accessible to everyone. Shouldn’t be too high for children, people in a wheelchair, shouldn’t be too low for normal people.
Shouldn’t be wider than person’s reach, no water taps should be inaccessible. So that children, old people and everyone else can use them.
Curb cuts on sidewalks:
The places where the sidewalk has been cut out to allow for easy movement of people and luggage from the sidewalk to the road. They are sloped slightly like small ramps.
While as we might think this helps people on a wheelchair but the fact is it helps us just as well remember your walking with a heavy luggage, mom with her child in the baby stroller.
These are just a few such examples that I experienced and learned about, look around you will find plenty of such examples. The point is you never saw them differently. From the gates at the metro station to the switches that turn on the lights.
Voice User Interfaces are another great Universal Design Examples if done right.
Voice User Interfaces are one of the technologies of the future, the demand, as well as popularity, is increasing with time. And it is expected to increase with time.
The Voice User Interfaces can be used by a variety of age groups and in most of the temporary and permanent cases (excluding the cases of permanent or temporary hearing and vocal issues).
But today most of these Voice User Interfaces only depends on data for providing the results but the data is not solely sufficient for providing a pleasurable experience. We need to invest in UX of Voice User Interfaces, I have shared some pillar principles for UX of Voice User Interfaces in article “3 Pillars of Voice User Interfaces“.
Now it’s your turn: Take some time, look around and observe the things and see if you could find more Universal Design Examples.
7 Principles of Universal Design:
These 7 Principles are developed by a team of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace.
These principles were developed to guide the design of environments, products and communications. So that they can be used by everyone for building Universal Designs.
We have seen some Universal Design Examples in the former section, Let’s see the principles behind making the products Universal
Let’s dive right in,
The first principle of Universal Design is
Products should be equally helpful and usable to people of diverse abilities. It should provide similar kind of experience to everyone if not identical. As I told you before, nobody likes to be treated differently in terms of ability.
The levelled surface of the train and platform, surface and lift can be helpful to a person on a wheelchair, mother carrying her child and also the person with no permanent and temporary disabilities.
Automatic doors at malls, hospitals, and shops help everyone, no need to put any physical effort to use the door.
Flexibility in Use
The products should accommodate a wide range of preferences and abilities. The designs should provide a choice in how they can be used. The user has full control of the pace of use and the accuracy of the use.
The adjustable table, the chair can be used by a Right-handed as well as a Left-handed person also, it solves the problem for the height of an individual. And the extent to which they want to adjust it is their individual preference and choice.
Another example of flexibility in use is the Scissors (identical sides).
Simple and Intuitive Use
The products should be easy to understand to the users regardless of experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. The use of the product should be self-explanatory.
The Designs should be so simple and intuitive that people should not need to think for what should I do next.
Self-building IKEA furniture does not need some additional knowledge to get integrated, The red and green icon while receiving a call, we no longer need someone to tell us that we can pick the call from the green button and drop fro the red button.
Another vastly used examples that we experience every day are the Signboards installed on the roads to Stop, Speed Breaker, and others.
The product design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
The information is communicated to the users in multiple cues(pictorial, verbal and tactile) which is easy to understand and reduces the chances of inability to understand.
Take the example of Dark background on overhead airport terminal signage contrasts with lighted ceiling it provides visual feedback, Siri provides both visual as well as verbal feedback. While I am writing this using keyboard, I can feel every press of buttons as tactile feedback.
Also, The ATM number keys in the image, Signboard outside the washrooms to show Men and Women sections, and the braille language give the tactile feedback on touch.
Tolerance for Error
A Universal Design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. The products should have a certain level of error tolerance, this is done to reduce the harms and adverse consequences caused due to unintended actions.
Put back and the use of Undo button on Computer to go back to the previous state. The handrail on the stairs of your home, to provide additional support if anyhow you get unbalanced.
The fire extinguisher cylinders need you to remove the pin before using it.
Low Physical Effort
The products should be used effectively and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue. The minimal the physical effort is needed to get something done the better it is.
The most common example is a button to call the lift, the push to get the soap out of a dispenser. The use of push to open door button.
Other examples are self-refreshing data on a continuously changing data screen.
Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. The additional spaces are provided around things for comfortable use.
As I explained in the door example, the additional space helps the person on a wheelchair as well as easy mobility of the luggage, a mom carrying a baby stroller.
Another example is the metro entry gate having additional width.
Design for a specific group of people but do not leave anyone out. Do not forget to look around for inspiration for universally design products. Observe how they help and how can you use it. Apply the 7 principles of Universal Design to design for everyone.
Thanks for reading. 👏
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