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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Principles of Universal Design

The beginning of a New Year is always a good time to look back on what we have accomplished of the past 365 days, review the basics and make exciting plans for the year ahead. The University of North Carolina's Center for Universal Design has published a very easy to reference chart of 7 principles. Take a few minutes to review them … dream big...and change the world one room at a time.
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.

1: Principle One: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities
supermarket doors
  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible;
    equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
  • Make the design appealing to all users.

2: Principle Two: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
large grip scissors
  • Provide choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user's pace.

3: Principle Three: simple and intuitive

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
furniture instructions
  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

4: Principle Four: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
    round thermostat
  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize "legibility" of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

5: Principle Five: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
computer undo function
  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provide fail safe features.
  • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

6: Principle Six: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    door handle
  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Use reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimize repetitive actions.
  • Minimize sustained physical effort

7: Principle Seven: 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.
    subway gate
  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
  • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.
Please note:
These Principles of Universal Design:
  • address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes.
  • offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All Guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

      Version 2.0 4/1/97 Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order: Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, & Gregg Vanderheiden
There are also the Universal Design, Principles & Guidelines available through Trace Research and Development Center. On their website you will find additional references and information about Universal Design.
Copyright © 1997 NC
State University, The Center for Universal Design. “The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The
Center for Universal Design of the use or application.”


  1. Once you learn these design principles you have “the burden of insight” and never see the world in the same way—your interpretive filter changes…for the better.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    Patrick Roden

  2. Thank you for posting this. I had never seen them before. Can I share this with our LinkedIn group?

  3. You may be interested in the downloadable slideshows with the seven principles and Ed Steinfeld's seven goal of Universal Design. The format is basic so that anyone can upgrade it with photos like the ones you have from NC State in your post.) It is available in several languages: