Universal-design principles (UDP) help UX designers create software that people with many different abilities can use, without their having to modify things or use assistive technologies. While the term universal design is more common in architecture and product design than in the design of computer user interfaces, the concept still applies.
In the 1990s, Ronald L. Mace coined the term universal design and founded The Center for Universal Design, at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Design, to address the needs of an aging population and people with disabilities, meet the demands of new legislation prohibiting discrimination against the disabled in the United States, and adapt to societal changes. What exactly is universal design?
“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”—Ronald L. MaceRead More
Several years ago, I worked on a team that was designing a digital experience to help people find spaces and resources on a college campus. During design reviews, the design team presented two ability-based concepts: one for standing users and one with a button that let a user in a wheelchair reposition the screen.
The concepts reflected the client’s requirements and followed the design norms of the time. However, as I watched the team present these two distinct solutions, something felt off. We had designed segmented experiences as if wheelchair users were an exception, and we were requiring them to take extra steps. I wondered: Could we have accommodated different accessibility needs without creating different designs? In other words, could we shape our product-design thinking around designing for everyone? Read More
I rarely talk explicitly about accessibility—not because I don’t care about it, but because accessibility must be so well baked into the overall design process. Plus, there are so many overlaps between accessible design and the concept of design for everyone in every context that my basic design principles and detailed guidelines more or less cover it. On projects, I actually avoid discussing accessibility specifically because I think it tends to lead to project teams’ creating accessibility features, which of course, are all too easy to descope, so teams might never get around to implementing them.
Mobile—and the related trends of using tablets and notebook computers in every environment—has made discussions of universal access even more important. Instead of thinking of disabled rather normal people, it is best to think along the lines of everyone being at least sometimes temporarily disabled. Although much temporary disability is the result of physical conditions, illnesses, or injuries, it can also be the consequence of environmental conditions. For example, sunlight might be coming through a window and glaring off a screen, making it hard to read and colors difficult to differentiate. Read More