Universal Design 101
What is Universal Design?
Universal Design (UD) is the design of products and environments to be
usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for
adaption or specialized design. Also known as “barrier free” or “inclusive” design,
UD blends aesthetics with transparent accessibility from a user-centered
Through medical and technological advancements, people are living longer
than ever. The demand for functional, affordable products and environments
that serve all generations and abilities is rapidly growing. Universal
Design allow us to safely age in our own homes and experience the outside
world with less interruption, regardless of our age, ability, or status
7 Principles of Universal Design:
Defined by North Carolina State University’s Center
for Universal Design. Download the free
quick reference with guidelines!
1. Equitable Use – The
design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible;
equivalent when not.
segregating or stigmatizing any users.
for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available
to all users.
the design appealing to all users.
2. Flexibility in Use – The design accommodates a wide range
of individual preferences and abilities.
choice in methods of use.
right- or left-handed access and use.
the user’s accuracy and prevision
adaptability to the user’s pace.
3. Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to
understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language
skills, or education level.
consistent with user expectations and intuition.
a wide range of literacy and language skills.
information consistent with its importance.
effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
4. Perceptible information – The design communicates necessary
information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or
the user’s sensory abilities.
different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant
presentation of essential information.
adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
- Maximize “legibility” of
elements in ways that be described (i.e., make it easy to give
instructions or directions).
compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used
by people with sensory limitations.
5. Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the
adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements,
most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or
- Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
fail safe features.
unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
6. Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently
and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue.
user to maintain a neutral body position.
reasonable operating forces.
sustained physical effort.
7. 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.
a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated
or standing user.
reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing
variations in hand and grip size.
adequate space for the user of assistive devices or personal
ADA and UD – What’s the Difference?
for Disabilities Act uses guidelines and measurements to set minimum
standards of accessibility for buildings and facilities. Universal
Design is a philosophy that prioritizes usability, and uses performance
as criteria for success. It’s about including all users, regardless
of level of ability.
UD goes beyond accessibility standards set by ADA. It can be distinguished
by the way accessible features have been integrated into the overall design. It
encourages a transparent implementation of inclusive elements in order to
maintain the integrity of the overall design, encouraging Designers and
Engineers to constantly evolve their own set of universal standards.
Who Benefits from Universal Design?
UD concepts apply to anything we can build and construct, including physical
access, learning strategies and tools, participation in activities, web
environments, and devices and equipment.
Everybody benefits from great, thoughtful design, especially those that
are typically “left out” as potential end-users during the
design process. Those people include:
- People with learning differences
- People with situational limitations
- People whose first language differs
- People in new environments, new situations
- People with disabilities
Universal Design in Housing
An excellent resource for designers, builders, and home-renovators, Universal
Design in Housing breaks
down the characteristics and benefits of structural and non-structural
features in universal environments.
This guide is prepared by The Center for Universal Design at North
Carolina State University