Universal Design

The concept

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population, it is a fundamental condition of good design to improve benefits for everyone.

The 7 principles

These principles were developed in 1997 by a working group comformed by architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace in the North Carolina State University. The purpose of the principles is to guide the design of environments, products and communications. According to the Center for Universal Design in NCSU, these principles “may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments”. 

Universal Design for Learning: the seven principles
  1. Equitable Use: provides the same means of use for all users with diverse abilities, and design is appealing to everyone
  2. Flexibility in Use: design to accommodate a wide range of preferences and abilities
  3. Simple & Intuitive: easy to understand and use regardless of the user’s experiences, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
  4. Perceptible Information: communicates necessary info effectively, regardless of surrounding conditions or sensory abilities
  5. Tolerance for Error: minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of unintended actions
  6. Low Physical Effort: efficient and comfortable while minimizing chance of fatigue
  7. Size & Space for Approach & Use: design provides appropriate size and space regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility


Benefits to the individual from Universal Design

The human-centred approach to design that Universal Design supports is user-friendly and convenient, but is also respectful of user dignity, rights and privacy.

The social benefits for a changing world

The age-distribution of the world’s population is changing dramatically. People are living longer as a result of medical developments in the last century and healthier lifestyle changes.

Independent living

Universal Design creates inclusive design solutions and promotes accessibility and usability, allowing people with all levels of ability to live independently. The ability of a person to remain as independent as possible can be influenced by how accessible and usable products, services and environments are. Factors that promote independent living, such as universal design, have a key role to play in dealing with this global phenomenon.


Edyburn, D. L. (2005). Universal design for learningSpecial Education Technology Practice7(5), 16-22.

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal design for learning: Technology and pedagogyLearning Disability Quarterly32(4), 199-201.

Mace, R. (1997). What is universal designThe Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University19, 2004.

Ralabate, P. K. (2011). Universal design for learning: Meeting the needs of all studentsThe ASHA Leader16(10), 14-17.

Story, M. F. (2001). Principles of universal design. Universal design handbook2.