An Introduction to Universal Design

An Introduction to Universal Design

By Graham Pullin
Mention universal design and see your companions’ eyes start glazing over. Though formally flashy chairs and posh penthouses may reside at the sexier end of the design world, universal design actually affects us all. So pay attention and prepare to learn something - your less hale days aren’t far off; none of ours is.

The term "universal design" is attributed to the architect Ronald Mace, and although its scope has always been broader, its focus has tended to be on the built environment. Those using the term often define it as design "for the whole population," with the notion being that a design should work for disabled and nondisabled people alike. And what idealistic follower of design’s evolution would balk at this humanitarian quest? The very term evokes the jet-setting glamour of the late 1950s: a global consultancy with its HQ on Madison Avenue, perhaps, sharing offices with the sharp-suited ad execs from Mad Men, of James Bond’s cover job with Universal Exports. Yet at the moment, the subject seems neither all that glamorous nor, well, universal.

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