Universal design is an approach to design that aims to create products, environments, and systems that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their age, abilities, or disabilities.

Universal design is an approach to design that aims to create products, environments, and systems that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their age, abilities, or disabilities.

It promotes inclusivity and equal access for all users. It does not use any specialized techniques to achieve the same. It imagines a society where every individual can engage completely and autonomously in daily tasks.

Whether it involves creating a website, erecting a structure, or formulating a public policy, universal design highlights adaptability and ease of use, guaranteeing that no one is excluded.

By giving importance to inclusivity from the beginning, universal design promotes settings that are not just practical but also enriching and empowering for all segments of the population.

No! It’s not just the accessibility guidelines!

By just reading the above paragraph you might be thinking that it’s something like accessibility guidelines, right? Well.. it’s not.

It’s much more than that. Let’s go through all of them and see what universal design is and why it matters!

Universal Design venn diagram
A pyramid depicting principles of universal design

Principles of Universal Design

Let's now delve further into comprehending the fundamental principles that underlie universal design.

These guiding principles serve as the basis for developing environments, goods, and services that accommodate the requirements of every individual, irrespective of their physical or cognitive capabilities.

In 1997, a team from the Centre for Universal Design, composed of architects, designers, engineers, and researchers, elaborated a set of principles covering the fundamentals of Universal Design.

In the upcoming section, let’s understand more about each of those principles with examples from various fields.

Diagram representing the 7 principles of Universal Design

1. Equitable use

This principle ensures that designs are accessible and appealing to individuals with diverse abilities.

An example of this is an automatic door, which benefits a wide range of people, from those with mobility impairments to parents with strollers.

Amazon's additional feature to make its products universally accessible

Amazon created a new feature, the Echo Show, where everyone can access it by asking "Alexa, what am I holding?" or a similar phrase that will cue the system to examine an object through the camera.

spotify's feature addition to make its app universally accessible

Spotify apps accessibility feature for high contrast text and components which helps users with visual disparity to understand equally as others

2. Flexibility in use

Designs should be able to adapt to different preferences and abilities of individuals. For instance, an ATM that offers both audio instructions and a visual touchscreen caters to users with varying needs.

Mouse redesign to accommodate both right and left handed users

ergonomic mouse by AMBI. The mouse's versatile accordion-style design accommodates both right- and left-handed users and can be adjusted to fit different hand sizes, promoting comfort and reducing the risk of wrist pain during extended use

pricing page design of storyblok with visual editor

Pricing page design on Storyblok. (Visual editor platform) As plans “grow” from left to right, everything on the previous plan is included in the next plan, which in turns help user to understand that the product is flexible and it offers a space for anyone.

3. Simple and intuitive use

The design should be easy to comprehend, regardless of the user's background, knowledge, language skills, or level of focus. Clear and intuitive signage in public spaces helps all individuals navigate more effectively.

Google Nest Thermostat with easy setting adjustments

Google Nest Thermostat offers a rotational control for easy setting adjustments, keeping the interface uncluttered. It also features a proximity sensor that activates the interface when the user approaches.

Uber’s ultra-easy Ride section

Uber’s ultra-easy Ride section offers users the quick convenience of pickup location and destination.

4. Perceptible Information

This principle involves effectively communicating necessary information to users, regardless of environmental conditions or sensory abilities. Tactile, visual, and auditory cues at crosswalks ensure safe crossing for all pedestrians.

high-tech medication manager

Hero, a high-tech medication manager, streamlines daily medication routines with app-connected features. A single button press dispenses pre-set pill doses, while clear, audible alerts and flashing lights for signaling low supplies.

Atlassian Trello

Initial intro of starting a group in Atlassian Trello. (flexible work management system) Here, it clearly informs users what to do to get started.

5. Tolerance for Error

Designs should reduce the risks and negative outcomes of accidental or unintended actions. For example, undo features in software allow users to rectify mistakes without significant consequences.

SensorSafe clip

SensorSafe clip alerts you if the child frees themselves from the chest clip while in motion or if they are left alone while buckled in. You can also set the app to notify emergency contacts and share the child's location.

Undo, cancel, recheck options just before or after completing an action would help users to reduce the error consequences. The same technique is also used in payment gateways to get users make sure about their actions

6. Low physical effort

The design should be easy to use efficiently and comfortably with minimal physical strain. Lever handles on doors, which can be operated without a tight grip or wrist twisting, exemplify this principle.

Volkswagen helmet is a hands-free video streamer

The Volkswagen helmet is a hands-free video streamer that offers on-site knowledge from a worker's perspective to students in real-time. It uses an open-source broadcast software for video streaming and includes an audio feed for student questions.

Figma offers Keyboard shortcuts

Figma offers Keyboard shortcuts for users to work more efficiently.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Adequate size and space should be provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user's body size, posture, or mobility. For example, kitchen counters at different heights accommodate both standing users and those in wheelchairs.

SLIP WASH designed by Jiheon Song door slides up reducing the maneuvers and bends

Considering size and space, the  SLIP WASH designed by Jiheon Song door slides up, and the wash container is at the front, making the area less restrictive and reducing the maneuvers and bends that the user would generally have to do

WordPress’s homepage

WordPress’s homepage offers users generous amounts of space to access desired dropdowns (at the top of the webpage).

The Strategic Advantages of Universal Design in UX/UI

Universal design principles have a profound impact on the field of UX/UI. They not only promote inclusivity but also enhance user experiences for a wide range of individuals.

By incorporating these seven principles, designers can create interfaces that are both functional and welcoming to all users, regardless of their abilities or circumstances.

In short, Universal Design ensures:

  1. All users, including those with disabilities, have equal access to the interface.
  2. Flexibility in use allows for personalization, catering to individual needs and preferences.
  3. Simple and intuitive interfaces reduce cognitive load, making navigation a breeze for users.
  4. Perceptible information effectively conveys essential details through various means, ensuring that users can easily understand and interact with the interface.
  5. Tolerance for error minimizes user frustration by providing forgiveness for mistakes.
  6. Designs that require low physical effort enhance comfort, particularly for users with physical limitations. 
  7. Ample size and space guarantee accessibility for individuals of varying sizes and mobility levels.

The advantages of universal design for a business are substantial.

Advantages:

  1. A single product designed universally eliminates the necessity for multiple iterations, thereby reducing production expenses and simplifying the development process.
  2. Decreases the time and resources needed to manage various product versions, leading to more efficient resource allocation.
  3. A product that caters to everyone's needs can attract a larger market share, boosting revenue and customer loyalty.
  4. Embracing Universal Design principles elevates the quality of your work and establishes you as a pioneer in crafting accessible and enjoyable user experiences. 

Taking into account a wide range of user requirements right from the beginning results in products that are both inclusive and competitive, fostering high levels of user satisfaction and engagement.

Amal Jahan

Amal Jahan is a UX Designer with a background in Architecture. He is interested in exploring intuitive experiential strategies and is passionate about art, literature, cinema, and history. Having worked in various groups and places, he is always ready to take up the next challenge. When he is not working, you can always count on him for a ride, or catch up for a movie. Connect with Amal Jahan via https://www.linkedin.com/in/amal-jahan/

Table of Contents

Start building universal Designs.

Talk to Our Design Experts Now.

Contact us

Related blogs