The Seven Principles of Universal Design

The term Universal Design was coined by Ronald L. Mace, founder and former program director of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. In 1997 Ron Mace collaborated with a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers to develop the Seven Principles of Universal Design.

The seven principles of Universal Design are as follows:

  1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
  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.


The Process of Embedding Choice for All People in the Things We Design
Universal Design continues to evolve as both designers and users broaden their understanding and experience of different users' needs, abilities, and desires. The more you know about Universal Design, the more you realize that there will always be more to learn. defines Universal Design as the process of embedding choice for all people in the things human beings design.

  1. Universal Design is an ongoing design process rather than a final type of product, space or system.
  2. Choice is provided by things that are designed to be flexible, adaptable, and provide alternative means of use and multiple interfaces.
  3. All People includes the full range of human diversity, regardless of age, ability, sex, economic status, etc.
  4. Things include spaces, products, information systems and any other things that humans can design, manipulate or create.


More Definitions of Universal Design
Universal Design is an evolving concept, and as such, different people have slightly different definitions. We gather here some definitions from leading Universal Design experts and organizations.


  1. "Universal design makes things more accessible, safer, and convenient for everyone. Also called "Design for All" or "Inclusive Design," it is a philosophy that can be applied to policy, design and other practices to make products, environments and systems function better for a wider range of people. It developed in response to the diversity of human populations, their abilities and their needs." - The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center)
  2. In 2012, IDeA Center authors, researchers and teachers Edward Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel updated their definition of Universal Design in the text book "Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments." "Universal design is a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation." Steinfeld, E. and Maisel, J. (2012) Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments. Hoboken: Wiley.
  3. In addition, the IDeA Center developed eight Goals of Universal Designto accompany the updated definition. Each goal corresponds to a measurable outcome and a knowledge base from research:
      1. Body fit—accommodating a wide range of body sizes and abilities;
      2. Comfort—keeping demands within desirable limits of body function and perception;
      3. Awareness—insuring that critical information for use is easily perceived;
      4. Understanding—making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous;
      5. Wellness—contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and prevention of injury;
      6. Social integration—treating all groups with dignity and respect;
      7. Personalization—incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences; and,
      8. Appropriateness—respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social and environmental context of any design project.
  4. "Universal Design is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Most simply, Universal Design is human-centered design of everything with everyone in mind." - The Institute for Human Centered Design
  5. "Universal Design ("UD") increases usability, safety and health of environments, products and systems in response to the diversity of people and abilities. With attention focused on the changing demographics, differences in functional ability and preferences are part of everyday life experience. UD represents a paradigm for design of the built environment and products to address this diversity and increase use by all by introducing flexibility, choice and accommodating features to the physical world and business practices." - The Global Universal Design Commission
  6. "Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality. [...] Design for All aims to enable all people to have equal opportunities to participate in every aspect of society. To achieve this, the built environment, everyday objects, services, culture and information – in short, everything that is designed and made by people to be used by people – must be accessible, convenient for everyone in society to use and responsive to evolving human diversity." - Design for All Europe (EIDD)
  7. Jamshedji Tata-NID Universal Design Research Chair at India's National Institute of Design (NID) Abir Mullick, along with a team of professionals in the field, produced the Universal Design India Principles in 2011. These guidelines advocate for an inclusive design that addresses the many cultural, economic, and linguistic contexts of India.
  8. International non-profit organization The Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) published The International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review, an overview of the technical data for 31 key design elements of the built environment. It compares information from accessibility codes and standards of 16 international jurisdictions including the US, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Sweden, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Bangladesh, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Lebanon, and is being used by countries as they prepare to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  9. Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. (JAL) believes that providing safe and secure functional value to its customers is at the foundation of its services. However, this alone does not constitute the "Attention to Quality" that it aims for. JAL believes that providing psychological value in the form of excitement from the perspective of the customer is also important. In order to further enhance "Attention to Quality", they have added three more principles to the 7 Principles of Universal Design, including quality and beauty, comfort and security, forming the 10 Principles of JAL Universal Design.

How do you define Universal Design? Please share your insights in the comment section below.

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