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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
30 APRIL 2007

Alexander Honory: One World With Many Faces

"The aim of One World with Many Faces is to create a record of the faces of people from 12 major cities on four continents.

In each city I take photographs and short videos of 720 city–dwellers in order to capture 8,000 faces from all over the world. All the people are photographed in the same container, in front of the same backdrop, and with the same lighting. In this way the inhabitants of 12 capital cities from different continents come together in the same room and under the same circumstances.

From the video material I produce a 24–hour video, in which every face appears for 10 seconds. For each city I also print a book with the faces the of the respective city's inhabitants: Vienna, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Panama City, Antwerpen, Lodz, Tokyo, etc."

(Alexander Honory)

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TAGS

2002 • Alexander Honory • Antwerpen • Bogota • Buenos Airesfacefaces of peopleheterogeneousidentityinformation aesthetics • Lodz • normative • One World with Many Faces • Panama City • personal portrait • photographportrait photographportraiturerepresentationstandardisationTokyoViennavisual depictionvisual identityvisualisationWien
01 JANUARY 2004

Pioneer 10: betraying assumed and privileged cultural codes

"We have sent several inscribed messages into space. The two Voyager probes each carry a long–playing record of 'The Sounds of Earth' and both Pioneer craft, the first manmade objects to leave our Solar System, bear plaques charting their route, along with a picture of naked humans waving a greeting. A similar alien salutation could be waiting on Earth for us, says Rose"
(Mark Peplow, Nature News)

Rose C. & Wright G. Nature, 431. 47 – 49(2004).

[On the 3rd of March 1972 NASA launched the Pioneer 10 interstellar probe (spacecraft) into deep space. Attached to it was a plaque designed to communicate something of what it meant to be from Earth. It attempted to present a generalised view of humanity stripped of all cultural and social difference (a normative view). Despite this noble aim the plaque couldn't help but betray its assumed (and privileged) cultural codes. Its focus on Terrestrial life was unmistakably: Human; ethnically Anglo–Saxon (logically North American); heterosexual and 1960s – 70s.]

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03 DECEMBER 2003

Constructing Digital Representations

"The complaint that we are being reduced to numbers is, as I have suggested, a common expression of how we experience the depersonalising effects of the bureaucratic reduction of our identies to bits of computer data. [...] It is engendered (sometimes) when we are confronted by a survey form or credit report whose precisely delimited categories we experience in ways that contradict, often jarringly, our noisy self–understandings."

(Diana Saco, p.155)

Diana Saco (2002) "Cybering Democracy: Public Space and The Internet", Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota.

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02 DECEMBER 2003

Data Normalisation: Eliminating Context-specific Determination

"...the digitisation of credit applications, for example, automates processing according to predetermined algorithms. From the standpoint of efficiency, this eliminates the need for time–consuming, inconsistent, and sometimes venal human decision making, but it also, by extension, removes the opportunity for a qualitative, context–specific determination of a person's creditworthiness. Binary conditions are recorded; personal circumstances are not."
(Diana Saco p.133)

[Saco, Diana. 2002 Cybering Democracy: Public Space and The Internet, minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota.]

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TAGS

algorithmautomationbinarydatadata abstraction • data normalisation • Diana Sacodigitisationefficiencyheterogeneousinconsistencynormalisationnormative • quantitive versus qualitative
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