Inclusive design and universal design
 What are inclusive design and universal design?
Understanding the needs of, and design issues, relating to people
If we are designing something for one particular person then we can tailor it to suit exactly the needs and requirements of that person. However, if that person wants other people to be able to also use it then we need to design it to accommodate a greater variety of requirements since people come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, strengths of grip, dexterity, etc.
Historically many designers have tried to limit the range of people they design for, by either ignoring those people who fall outside the majority in the designer's social group; designing it to fit the designer's own shape; developing a standardised human form to fit their design – the mythical 'universal man'; identifying the extent of sizes and then designing to fit 95% of those people within that range.
For those people for whom these designs accommodate there has been little objection. Designers have not necessarily designed people out of their designs deliberately, more so the evolution of design principles has led to design to the 'norm'.
Another option taken by designers of products has been to produce a variety of versions of the product in anticipation that one of the various sizes, shapes, or configurations will suit differing individuals. In the built environment, this option is less successful since it is harder to produce a variety of options that are equal and attractive to use. It is easier to offer a range of seating options in a waiting area, than a variety of ways to enter the building, although on large frontages this can be achieved by careful placing of different types of doorways next to each other.
Ideally, the designer would want to have user involvement in the design process. By engaging a range of users, hopefully a design will emerge that accommodates a wider range of people than one based solely on the designer's own personal experience. But this requires easy access to a range of people and the time in which to debate the issues. Instead designers tend to refer to anthropometrics and ergonomic data (Adler 1999).
These seldom have the range of users, instead identifying certain people as special cases to be treated differently, or ignoring them completely. They tend to adopt a medical model of disability approach, where those people who differ from the 'average' are assumed to want to change themselves to fit, rather than the society accommodate their needs. The inclusive design approach is based on the social model where a clear distinction is made between an individual's impairment and the disabling barriers that society creates.
However, it should be understood that the focus of both universal design and inclusive design is about designing for people and not about design for disabled people, for example, CABE's principles of inclusive design references ethnicity and circumstances as part of the equation.
 Inclusive design
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as "the design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design."
The UK government has defined inclusive design as '…a process that ensures that all buildings, places and spaces can be easily and comfortably accessed and used by everyone.' (Ref. Gov.uk Policy paper 2010 to 2015 government policy: 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy.)
- Inclusive – so everyone can use it safely, easily and with dignity.
- Responsive – taking account of what people say they need and want.
- Flexible – so different people can use it in different ways.
- Convenient – so everyone can use it without too much effort or separation.
- Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility, ethnicity or circumstances.
- Welcoming – with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.
- Realistic – offering more than one solution to help balance everyone's needs and recognising that one solution may not work for all.
These provide a broad conceptual starting point for the underpinning ethos of inclusive design, however, there has been criticism that they are too vague to be applied practically in practice. The problems that occur in the built environment are complex and often interlinked. Isolating one individual element may allow the principles to be used, but when viewed as a larger picture issues beyond the designer's control confound the principles.
The seven principles of universal design are:
 1. Equitable use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
- 1a: Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible, equivalent when not;
- 1b: Avoid segregating or stigmatising any users;
- 1c: Make provisions for privacy, security, and safety equally available to all users;
- 1d: Make the design appealing to all users.
 2. Flexibility in use
- 2a: Provide choice in methods of us
- 2b: Accommodate right or left-handed access and use;
- 2c: Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision;
- 2d: Provide adaptability to the user's pace.
 3. Simple and intuitive
- 3a: Eliminate unnecessary complexity;
- 3b: Be consistent with user expectations and intuition;
- 3c: Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills;
- 3d: Arrange information consistent with its importance;
- 3e: Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
 4. Perceptible information
- 4a: Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information;
- 4b: Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings;
- 4c: Maximise 'legibility' of essential information;
- 4d: Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e. make it easy to give instructions or directions);
- 4e: Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
- 5a: Arrange elements to minimise hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded;
- 5b: Provide warnings of hazards or errors;
- 5c: Provide fail safe features;
- 5d: Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
 6. Low physical effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
- 6a: Allow user to maintain a neutral body position;
- 6b: Use reasonable operating forces;
- 6c: Minimise repetitive actions;
- 6d: Minimise sustained physical effort.
- 7a: Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user;
- 7b: Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user;
- 7c: Accommodate variations in hand and grip size;
- 7d: Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.
 Other definitions
NB The London Plan, Published by the Mayor of London in March 2016, suggests that: ‘Inclusive design creates an environment where everyone can access and benefit from the full range of opportunities available to members of society. It aims to remove barriers that create undue effort, separation or special treatment, and enables everyone to participate equally in mainstream activities independently, with choice and dignity.’
Inclusive design in essential services. A practical guide for firms and suppliers, written by Bailey Kursar for the Money Advice Trust and Fair By Design and published in 2021, suggests: 'Inclusive design is about including the perspective of people with different needs, not just an ‘average user’. It is a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.’ It suggests universal design is: ‘often used interchangeably with the term ‘inclusive design’. Universal design is about thinking about how you might get the widest possible range of people, or the whole universe, using your service or product.’
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- A Home to Remember.
- Accessibility in the built environment.
- Access consultant.
- Access and inclusion in the built environment: policy and guidance.
- Accessible London.
- Anthropometrics in architectural design.
- Braille signage and accessibility.
- BREEAM Inclusive and accessible design.
- BS 8579:2020 Guide to the design of balconies and terraces.
- Building Back Better: Social impact.
- Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission interim report.
- Built Environment Professional Education BEPE.
- Changing lifestyles.
- Disabled access lifts.
- Equality Act.
- Essential principles, Creating an accessible and inclusive environment.
- Evacuating vulnerable and dependent people from buildings in an emergency FB 52.
- Hazard warning surfaces.
- Healthy planning policy and monitoring in Southwark and Lambeth.
- Hearing loss and the built environment.
- Lifetime homes.
- Lifetime Homes Design Guide (EP 100).
- Making a house a home.
- Older people.
- People with disabilities.
- Social inclusion.
- Special educational needs: an analysis of the necessities for inclusion
- The Bourne Estate.
- The full cost of poor housing.
- The role of the engineer in creating inclusive cities.
- Wheelchair user.
 External references
- Design Council, Inclusive design hub.
- Youtube, TEDx IowaStateUniversity- Principles of Inclusive Design. Kody Olson
Diversity, social value and skills
 Join in
Building People is bringing together the huge amount of resource that exists across the Built Environment industry, with a focus on diversity and inclusion, skills and careers, and social value.
We need your help to do this.
Have you got useful material to share? Do you know of information that would be helpful to others? If it is relevant to the Built Environment and to diversity, skills and social value, then it's relevant to others. Help them find it by using the guidelines below.
 Add your own content
- For guidance about writing and adding your own content see Get started - top tips and help.
- Some articles are more popular and useful than others. This article explains more.
- Make sure you use the right title as this helps search engines find it. See here for guidance.
- Add your signature to link readers to your profile.
- Tick the 'People' box when you submit the article - that way your content will appear in this Building People microsite.
- Finding it tricky? Contact us for assistance.