As defined by the North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, with out the need for adaptation, or specialized design. The seven principles of universal design help lay out the steps to be taken when producing such design work. Each principle focuses on different design considerations to be carefully thought out through the design process. The seven principles of universal design are:
1) Equal Use (design is useful, marketable, and appealing to persons of all abilities)
2) Flexibility in Use (accommodates range of personal preferences and abilities. “I.E. works for left and right handed people”)
3) Simple and Intuitive Use (no manual required to understand)
4) Perceptible Information (uses different modes of communicating info: verbal, tactile, auditory, etc.)
5) Tolerance for Error (“fail safe” features)
6) Low Physical Effort (used with a minimum amount of fatigue)
7) Size and Space for Approach of Use (easy to use regardless of persons body size, or abilities)
From the definition mentioned above, the phrase “… without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” really stood out to me. Being left-handed, I am a frequent user of these “adapted” products. These include left-handed scissors, left-handed can openers, left-handed spiral notebooks, just to name a few. I don’t know how many lefties have ever tried using a right-handed manual can opener before, but I assure you it is almost impossible. It is from these small moments of struggle in my every day life that I have derived a true appreciation for universal design.
In my eyes, a universal design is a more complete design than those products and environments that are conceived without taking these principles into account. Universal design, as I understand it, is not the creation of one single design determined for all people to use, but all design that carefully and thoughtfully considers all of the different types of people who would want or need to use the product or space being developed.