The Seven Principles of Universal Design: Fundamentals of Inclusive Thinking for Product Development, Part 2
Welcome back! We’re continuing our examination of the original Seven Principles of Universal Design, first developed by Robert Mace, himself a person with a disability, in 1997 at NCSU. You can read the first part of this fundamentals series here.
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.”
My mother is terrified of smartphones. She resisted buying one as long as she possibly could, until the day she went into the store to renew her plan and was told that the “dumb” phone she had clung to “isn’t made anymore, and this plan doesn’t include any devices that aren’t smartphones anymore.” She was not happy. The sales rep, she tells me, seemed very nice, telling her things like “you can do all these great things now” and eventually giving her the simplest, most basic phone any of the plans would support- a very stripped down and limited (to me) device, but still ultimately a smartphone.
I wish she had gotten his name and number so I could call him every time my mother comes over nearly in tears because she’s forgotten how to launch her music player again, or she was able to launch it but can’t find her playlist. Or got texts from her colleagues asking her if she’s almost there but doesn’t understand how to reply to them. I wish I could call him so he could tell her the whole process of each of these things, again, for the twentieth time. After all, he seemed nice.
I know there is a short list of phones for seniors that offer a less overwhelming array of features, more readable screens, bigger buttons, etc., and if I’d been there, I’d have set her up with something like this. But the truth is, my mom loves using music apps, juggling her very busy volunteer schedule, and though she promptly forgot how to do it, she lit up when I showed her how to take pictures of her horses and share them with friends instantly. If there were a user interface that would allow someone like mom to do the same things I do with my phone, without navigating menus and swiping through settings, she- and other seniors and people encountering smartphone technology as their first real interaction with a computer-like device- would probably use all the same features of a smartphone as enthusiastically as I do. On purpose. Without driving me insane.
Ask, “Is everyone who uses this design able to utilize ALL of its features, and can they all do so with the same efficiency as everyone else who will use it?”
Think about someone like my mom, who is terrified of memorizing many complex steps to do one thing, but would love to do that one thing. Think of someone who’s unable to use one (or more) of their senses, can’t read, or has never used a design like this before. Can they do everything your design is meant to do- maybe even the same way that I’ll do it, because of the way you’ve designed your user interface- as smoothly as anyone else?
4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
No matter who you are, chances are, you wouldn’t like being on fire. It’s something humans can agree on: fire bad. So, now that we’re all on the same page, what to do? Obviously, a great start would be to let us know when an unwanted fire is in our space. You’re one step ahead of us- we’re talking about a fire alarm. Have you ever been around a fire alarm when it went off? If you’re able to hear, I’m sure it got your attention! If you’re lucky, you may have also seen very bright, pulsing emergency lights- which some, but not all fire alarms have.
What if you had been deaf, and the fire alarm was one of many common versions that have no visual cue? What if you were from a culture that used that sound to mean something very different, like an earthquake, or police emergency (or maybe didn’t even use that sound at all)? What if the fire alarm went off at a Manowar concert (turn your volume down if you click that link!)? We all agree that we’d like to know if there’s a fire around, but there’s a lot of situations where the most modern fire warning technology wouldn’t be very helpful to some- or any- of us.
Ask, “Can my design communicate everything to its users that it needs to do its job no matter what senses or abilities are available to them under all the circumstances under which it will be used?”
This is a great example of a design challenge that still hasn’t been met- the most “inclusive” feature of modern fire alarms is the addition of a strobing light (in some systems). Can you think of a fire alarm system that meets this standard of universal design? If you can, fame and fortune await!
In Part 3, we’ll talk about the last three Principles of Universal design. In the meantime, you can talk to US about inclusive design any time you’d like! Whether you want to learn more about how to incorporate these principles into your own practices, or you’d like our team to bring them to life for you with our design magic, planning for inclusion will increase your competitiveness and help you stand out in the market for quality. Contact Us to see what an inclusive design studio can do for you!