Principles of Universal in daily life products.

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’s 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.

Before moving forward let’s discuss some of the uses of Universal Design in Physical World:

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 Examples of Universal Design 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.

Take some time, look around and observe the things and see if you could find more examples.

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