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Universal design - terms and terminology

Universal design, inclusive design, innovation for all, and accessibility are all critical concepts that aim to make products, environments, and services usable and accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, age, or background. While these terms share common goals, they also have distinct characteristics that shape their approaches to creating inclusive solutions.

Universal Design

Universal design was developed by the architect Ronald Mace at the North Carolina State University Mace. It emphasizes the creation of products, environments, and systems that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Universal design came out of the field of architecture and has since been adopted within a wide range of design disciplines. In universal design it is important to proactively design for diversity from the outset, ensuring that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, elderly individuals, children, and people from diverse cultural backgrounds, can participate fully in various activities.

The Seven Principles of universal design represent the main qualities that a universally designed solution should fulfil. They are:

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use.

Examples of universal design include curb cuts, which benefit not only wheelchair users but also parents with strollers and individuals pulling wheeled luggage.

Inclusive Design

The term Inclusive design emerged in the nineties in the United Kingdom. It shares similarities with universal design, but by using the word “Inclusive" it emphasises the active involvement of diverse stakeholders throughout the design process. Inclusive design recognizes that diversity is inherent in human experiences and seeks to create solutions that accommodate this diversity from the outset.

Inclusive design considers a broader range of human experiences, including cultural, social, and cognitive diversity. Inclusive design encourages designers to engage with users from diverse backgrounds and experiences to better understand their needs and preferences and integrate these insights into the design process.

Inclusive design also recognizes the dynamic nature of human diversity and seeks to create flexible solutions that can adapt to changing user needs and preferences over time.

Innovation for All

Innovation for all is a mindset that encourages designers and innovators to consider the needs of all potential users when developing new products, services, or technologies. Innovation for all is a broad concept that encompasses a range of approaches and strategies for creating inclusive solutions.

Innovation for all encourages designers to think creatively and critically about how their designs can benefit a diverse range of users, including those with disabilities, elderly individuals, individuals from low-income communities, and other marginalized groups. This mindset recognizes that diversity drives innovation and that designing for inclusivity can lead to better outcomes for all users.


Accessibility focuses specifically on removing barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in various aspects of life, including education, employment, transportation, and social activities. While accessibility is a core principle of universal design and inclusive design, it also encompasses legal and regulatory frameworks that mandate equal access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

Accessibility is a much-used term in ICT and digitalization, where it is based on four principles known by the acronym POUR. They stand for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. POUR is a way of approaching web accessibility, where The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Accessibility considerations may also include physical accommodations, such as ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms, as well as digital accommodations, such as screen readers, captioning, and alternative input devices for computers and mobile devices.


There are several more approaches that offer insight into how to design for diverse user groups, such as design for all, barrier-free design, user-sensitive inclusive design, countering design exclusion, ability-based design, and universal usability.

While these concepts share common goals of creating inclusive solutions, they also offer unique perspectives and approaches to achieving these goals. By integrating principles and perspectives from each of these concepts into the design process, designers and innovators can create products, environments, and services that are accessible, usable, and beneficial to all individuals, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds.

The UD2024 conference value all the different perspectives and look forward to your contributions to the field of Universal Design.