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27 MARCH 2015

Is Universal Design a Critical Theory?

"Universal design is a term that was first used in the United States by Ron Mace (1985) although forms of it were quite prevalent in Europe long before. For the purpose of this chapter Universal Design is defined as 'the design of all products and environments to be usable by people of all ages and abilities to the greatest extent possible (Story, 2001, p.10.3). Universal design in recent years has assumed growing importance as a new paradigm that aims at a holistic approach ranging in scale from product design (Balaram, 2001) to architecture (Mace, 1985), and urban design (Steinfield, 2001) on one hand and systems of media (Goldberg, 2001) and information technology (Brewer, 2001) on the other.

Given the popularity, Universal design still remains largely atheoretical i..e. the researchers of Universal design do not explicitly affiliate themselves to any form of theoretical paradigm. One of the reason is perhaps because Universal design is a melting point between cross paradigms. By paradigms I mean basic orientations to theory and research (Newman, 1997, p.62). In this sense Universal design can come under functionalist paradigm (because it caters to utility), pragmatic (because it is instrumental in nature), positivistic (because it strives for universal principles), normative (because it prescribes certain rules) and critical theorist paradigms (because it gives voice to the oppressed).

Conventionally the word universal is synonymous to general and refers to a set of principles that are stable, timeless and value free. In this sense universal design could be interpreted as deriving from a positivist paradigm. However, given its history and perspective, and with the universal design examples I provide, I will demonstrate several instances where the universals do change, are time bound and value laden. In this sense I argue that Universal design follows a critical theory paradigm in its conception and knowledge generation. By conception I mean how universal design came into being as a body of concepts and by knowledge generation I mean how the concepts pervade and are shared by the community of researchers."

(Newton D'Souza, 2004)

D’souza, N.: 2004, Chapter 1: "Is Universal Design a Critical Theory?" Keates, S., Clarkson, J., Langdon, P., Robinson, P. (eds.) Designing a more Inclusive World. Springer - Verlog, pp: 3-10, 5th University of Cambridge, UK.

TAGS

2004 • all abilities • atheoretical • basic orientations to theory and research • critical theory • cross paradigms • defined rules • designing for usability • Edward Steinfeld • functional purpose • functional utility • functionalist paradigmholistic approachinclusive design • instrumental in nature • Judy Brewer • Larry Goldberg • Molly Story • Newton DSouza • normativepositivism • positivist paradigm • positivistic • pragmatic considerationsproduct design • Ron Mace • Singanapalli Balaram • theoretical context • theoretical paradigm • universal accessuniversal designuniversal principlesusable

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
19 FEBRUARY 2010

DESIGNABILITIES

"The DESIGNABILITIES blog is part of the project 'Speechless' managed by Tom Bieling and supervised by Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost, at the Design Research Lab of Deutsche Telekom Laboratories.

DESIGNABILITIES is meant to be an exchange platform, not only for the project members or partners, but also for anybody who is interested in the topic likes to share knowledge in this research field.

We like to collect, document and discuss inspiring projects, products, concepts and theories within the range of design, technology, art, architecture, philosophy and pop culture. This includes also the discussion on the progress of our own research work....

It might be links to interesting projects, publications, products or services. It might be book reviews, announcements of interesting events (e.g. conferences, lectures, presentations, releases) or just questions, hypotheses or comments in general."

(Tom Bieling)

Fig.1 2007_Tact, http://www.behance.net/Gallery/Tact/158198

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TAGS

alternative communication • architectureaugmentative communicationblindblindnessBraille • communication and audibility • communication and movement • communication and time • communication in space • communication over distance • deafness • design • design for all • design for disabilitydesign intelligencedesign research • Design Research Lab • design responsibility • Deutsche Telekom Laboratories • disabilitydisability studies • Gesche Joost • HCIinclusive designindustrial designinterface design • invisual communication • pop-cultureproduct designresearchsocial design • Speechless project • sustainabilitytactile communicationtechnologytimepiece • Tom Bieling • universal designusabilityvisual communication

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
19 FEBRUARY 2010

Research Institute for Consumer Affairs: inclusive design

"The concept of Universal Design goes beyond the mere provision of special features for various segments of the population. Instead it emphasises a creative approach that is more inclusive, one that asks at the outset of the design process how a product, graphic communication, building, or public space can be made both aesthetically pleasing and functional for the greatest number of users. Designs resulting from this approach serve a wider array of people including individuals with temporary or permanent disabilities, parents with small children, and everyone whose abilities change with age.'"

(Jane Alexander)

Jane Alexander, Strategies for teaching universal design, taken from Hubert Froyen, Crisp &Clear, Number 4, European Institute of Design and Disability, 2000.

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TAGS

comfort • commoditycommunicationdesigndesign responsibility • diverse ability • engineering • equitable • ergonomic designergonomics • error tolerance • forminclusive designinnovationinteraction designintuitive designmobilityperceptionposture • Research Institute for Consumer Affairs • Ricability • sensory abilityuniversal designusabilityuser researchUser-Centred Design (UCD)visual communicationvisualisation

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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