One for All: 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.” -architect Ronald L. Mace. This design concept began in the 1950s in Europe, Japan, and the US to accommodate the vast array and number of people living with disabilities and even the increase in lifespans. Incorporating design concepts with consideration to elderly people and people with disabilities is one of the most important themes for ISO in creating international standards. By the 1980s, universal design went beyond providing to people with disabilities to being a normalized concept.

While the principles of Universal Design were founded under the need to provide for the elderly and people with disabilities, it evolved to fulfill an even greater need in the world, making everything usable to the greatest extent by anyone. After all, no person is the same. Universal Design is applied and adopted across multiple industries. The principles can be applied to a production facility and tools used in production lines as well. Following these guidelines can lead to a design that many customers will enjoy and even make their lives easier which is a true duty of an engineer. We hope you consider MISUMI components in your future designs!

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

(1) Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

Guidelines include: Provide the same means of use for all users. Identical whenever possible; equivalent when not. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.

(2) Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Guidelines include: Provide choice in methods of use. Accommodate right or left handed access and use.

(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.

Guidelines include: Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

(4) Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

Guidelines include: Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

(5) Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Guidelines include: Provide warnings of hazards and errors. Provide fail safe features.

(6) Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.

Guidelines include: Allow the user to maintain a neutral body position. Minimize repetitive actions.

(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.

Guidelines include: Accommodate variations in hand and grip size. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Shared Universal Design Terms

These terms and principles were founded around the same time as Universal Design with the increase of people with disabilities came to spotlight around the 1950s. These terms were the first terms in design used to bring equality to those with disabilities.

Accessible Design

The word “accessible” means approachable and easy-to-use.“Design with consideration to elderly people and people with disabilities” and “design in response to the needs of elderly people and people with disabilities” are adopted as a language used in the accessible design concept. However, the term “accessible” meaning approachable or easy-to-use does not target only elderly people and people with disabilities. This also refers to sophisticated designs that everyone can easily become familiar with.

Design for All

This literally means “designs for everyone”. It aims at creating user-friendly products, services, and systems, regardless of the user’s ability or situation. Prevalent in Europe, it is very close to the meaning and intent behind universal design.

Barrier Free Design

The concept of designing products, public services, buildings or environments, including commercial facilities and transportation systems, so that they are easily accessible to people with physical impairments. This is the fundamental concept of “barrier free” frequently used in building designs.

Inclusive Design

The term “inclusive” means that it includes everything in a comprehensive manner. These designs accommodate everyone’s needs. It requires design research toward creating a future market structure based on changes in demographics and the social involvement of people with disabilities.

“Universal design broadly defines the user. It’s a consumer market driven issue. Its focus is not specifically on people with disabilities, but all people. It actually assumes the idea, that everybody has a disability and I feel strongly that that’s the case. We all become disabled as we age and lose ability, whether we want to admit it or not. It is negative in our society to say “I am disabled” or “I am old.” We tend to discount people who are less than what we popularly consider to be “normal.” To be “normal” is to be perfect, capable, competent, and independent. Unfortunately, designers in our society also mistakenly assume that everyone fits this definition of “normal.” This just is not the case.” ‘ -Ronald L Mace

While Universal Design is not a new science and to many engineers, it is common sense but it takes a high level of attention to details to fulfill all of the principles for designs to be a success. Engineers love efficiency and can apply these principles to help the greater good of mankind.

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One Comment

  1. squint9

    July 27, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    That washing machine is a particularly bad example. In fact, it is the quintessential example of what is wrong with our consumer engineering these days. So-called “modern” machines are merely electronic whiz-bangs designed to cost more and underperform. My original “direct drive GE” got clothes measurably cleaner on less detergent than any of these newer machines. My current “HE” machine takes more water and twice as much detergent to maintain the same degree of whiteness in tee shirts, for example. Same water. Same location. Same detergent. Only difference: the HE machine. And it requires literally twice as much detergent. Looks like “belt-drive agitator-less” machines are no match for “direct drive agitator” machines. And my old machine never smelled – a common complaint amongst my “electronic drive front loader” friends (for which they have to buy additional cleansers and periodically “clean” their machines). And let’s not get started on the controls. My “direct drive GE” had a timer, a couple buttons, and a level control (with pressure sensor). All the new machines have electronic timers / controls with printed circuit boards (which are now lead-less and unreliable thanks to the Eurocrats) along with a zillion different cycles to parse out. What nonsense. ALL cycles reduce to water and soap in, slosh it all about, water out, water only in, rinse it all out, water out, spin and done. The only controls one actually needs are Start, Hot/Cold and (optionally) water level¹. ALL other controls and settings are Marketing nonsense designed to wow the women and console the men (over having to pay 5X as much as they used to for this formerly simple home appliance).

    The proof is in the pudding, as they say. My GE was warranted for 15 years. That is 5 years longer than new machines are even expected to last according to various consumer estimates (even though new machines cost 2X to 5X more than they used to). Adding insult to injury, my first two “direct drive” machines both lasted more than 20 years EACH (25 and 23, in fact) and had a simple design. And when repairs were finally needed, I could do them myself because they were designed with simple, easily replaced parts. New machines are loaded up with electronic gee-gaws which cost a fortune (sometimes more than a new machine oddly enough – lessons learned from the auto industry no doubt) and are designed to be nearly impossible for the average consumer to get into (much less fix). Although I will admit my experience with Millennials thus far may support that design strategy (they’re a fairly clueless lot when faced with anything more complicated than installing an app or finding a Poké-mon). The cost of parts alone is a good reason to search out repair shops rebuilding old “direct drive” machines. Old school timer: $50. New school timer: $500. Old school motor: $75. New school (servo) motor: $750. It is insane.

    And those aren’t the only hits to TOC (total cost of ownership). After replacing my good old washer / dryer pair with new HE (high efficiency) machines, we had to use twice as much detergent (as already mentioned) and, our monthly electric bill went up about 25%! Apparently HE dryers need more watts to do the same job as the old machines.

    So. It is all well and good to preach about beautiful Universal Design but we need to spend a whole lot more time examining the actual purpose of the equipment we design and how it impacts our lives and the environment for its intended lifetime. Designing things to only last a few years to get through the warranty period is NOT particularly smart environmentally or financially (from the consumer’s perspective at least). Designing things with lots of extra settings and such nonsense does not get clothes any cleaner; it only encourages more and more expensive but useless electronics and complexity. I know that we are going to replace our HE machines with rebuilt “direct drive” models (because they are only three years old and already showing signs of unreliability)! Hint: you need to replace those wear strips on your dryer more often.

    ¹ The latter, water level, is even euphemistic now because many new machines have no actual level control. My new “HE” machine does not have a level sensor. It just runs water in for a set number of minutes and goes. The first time I used it I wanted a little more water so I turned the control to Reset and let go (it spring returns). In the old machine this would have run in another inch or so of water BUt in this new HE machine it dutifully ran water for same amount of minutes (most of which, of course, ended up on the floor). An actual water sensor like my old “direct drive” had would have stopped when the tub was full. But some bean-counter figured out they could save a dollar by eliminating the water level sensor (a simple pressure switch BTW) and just running water for “n” minutes. God save us from the bean-counters and Marketing managers that think they can run Engineering better than a real engineer.


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