In a world of customized spaces and products, the incredible concept of universality in design is found to be slowly vanishing. Universal designs of places and things were meant to rule the sphere with its wide expanse of users and contexts, diminishing the need for specially designed articles. Founded, coined and propagated by an eminent architect and designer Ron Mace, this idea is noble and highly recommended in architectural designs and terminologies. It is easy yet tricky to bring in universality into your creations, and once brought, is bound to attract attention and appreciation.
Here’s how you can probably make your designs universal, hang on!
- Making the designs inclusive keeping equality in mind.
Every nook and corner, imagine every kind of user in the space, from young to old, from able to disabled. Make sure the dimensions don’t stigmatize any type of user. When drawing plans and sections, consider the physically challenged community, accepting the blind, the deaf and, the wheelchair users! Make a gap for the wheelchair, and create tactile and audible sensory factors to not let them feel distanced or ignored.
- Function comes first, but aesthetics aren’t disregarded.
Every designer is keen to make space or product look pretty, colored with a theme in a mind, and aesthetically pleasing. Well, for universal design, with dozens of functional aspects and user flexibility concerns, an aesthetic pattern isn’t guaranteed. It isn’t impossible to coordinate shapes and colors by the use and functional controls. Users that find products look usable aesthetically are more in demand and easy to handle, regardless of the extent of its usability.
- Make it less complex!
Complexity reduces the functional degree of design, hence making instruction readable and easily understandable by expectations, and intuition is important. The languages and control button signs are meant to be across diverse borders, with effective Braille codes and proper feedback system. There is absolutely no point of spiral staircases and diagonal intersecting patterns if not flexible to all the members of the family.
- Make sure ‘the design’ is well-communicated, to one and all.
You never know the consumer who is going to use your product or space. What can a color-themed manual do for a color-blind user, or how can a narrow corridor or leg space accommodate a wheelchair ridden person? Hence, all sensory abilities should be well-coordinated into the perception of the design to make it universal.
You ought to use all the receptors; tactile, pictorial, and verbal. The design has to show a ‘non representational’, the ‘more-than visual’, and the relationship between effect and sensation have tended to improve the universality of any design.
- Minimize errors that are bound to happen!
When creating something for everyone, fitting one and all, it is bound to have quite a few errors, and eliminating them is a repository. Give out only conscious actions with less or nil repercussions as unconscious controls can lead to a burst or explosion.
For example, if a certain space has an edge with a mirror on the same face, the user expects the floor to be continuing beyond the edge due to the expanded view in the reflection. This might lead to a trip, and details like these cannot be neglected, especially when its build to make it applicable for all. Even minor design decisions like a switch control that has to turn clockwise with a tactile symbol spiraling anticlockwise can force confusion to a blind person, and take the wrong turn, that might prove fatal.
- Make it flexible to shapes and sizes.
Don’t make the mistake of many in misunderstanding the concept of universality only meant to incorporate the blind and amputated! It applies even to normal people of all heights, weights, mobility, or posture. Hence, make sure everything from flooring material to a door handle grip suits all kinds of feet and hands!
If you have a painting you wish everybody must see, make sure it is visible for a sitting or standing person from a point, you don’t want them to miss it, don’t you? At offices, you might have to provide double or triple options for workspaces, promoting any posture for work, stand-up or sit-down or partially-bent.
- Accessibility is a must!
When it is universal, it has to be accessible to all, at entries, at circulation pathways, at exits, and every point of use and control. Make sure the space you give isn’t just enough to hold a wheelchair but has enough floor area for it to take a U-turn, something that many of the designers tend to forget or intentionally ignore! From seating to furniture, give adjustment options for heights. Wide entrance doors, preferably automated to grab bars in shower areas to full-size mirrors that can fit even the smallest of children; you will have to look into the details.
- Culture cannot be shown off, be it anywhere in the world!
This goes against all the vernacular and traditional styles, promoting an aesthetic common to the universal standards, taking no stand by any nation, race, or religion. Make sure there isn’t any hue that stays partial or a bell or a shrine that might hurt one’s emotion. For that fact, even certain materials or techniques like adobe or gothic arched structures will have to be avoided, to diminish cultural biases at any point.
- Taking public places to another level of ‘public’!
Be it public plazas for community accommodations, the variety of users is immense! And therefore, it requires a deeper degree of attention in making it universal. Direct keen observation in giving tactile guidance to information desks, way-finding cues, providing clear walkways, and expanding safety islands, altogether makes a public space universal.
- Digging deeper into the bathroom and kitchen basics.
Many designers and architects claim and accept that the hardest portion of any house to design is its kitchen and bathroom. A good service area shows the expertise of handling details and dimensions. When it comes to universality in design, there are many ways to make your kitchens and toilets fitting one and all.
In kitchens, raising base cabinets with toe-kicks, pull-out drawers or shelves, providing threshold areas for barrier-free movement, non-slippery floor surfaces, and compliant appliances, are just a few of the ways that can take the notch higher. Grab bars or rails, comfort-height toilets, and trench drains with a streamlined shape and one-directional flow of water can make any washroom go universal.
Well, it seems easy to make your designs universal; after all, it isn’t an architectural style neither an ongoing trend, but the need of the hour. It is much deeper than it seems and harder than it shows!