The 7 Principles of Universal Design

The 7 Principles of Universal Design

The 7 Principles of Universal Design were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace in the North Carolina State University.

The purpose of the Principles is to guide the design of environments, products and communications. According to the Center for Universal Design in NCSU, the Principles:

”may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments”

These principles can be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate designers and consumers on the characteristics of the most usable products and environments.

    • Principle 1: Equitable Use
    • Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
    • Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
    • Principle 4: Perceptible Information
    • Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
    • Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
    • Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Each principle corresponds to a brief description and a set of guidelines to guide the designer who decides to use this approach in his work. These are guidelines so that each area of application can refer to them with the necessary adaptations. 

Principle 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 stigmatizing any users.
    • 1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
    • 1d. Make the design appealing to all users.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


    • 2a. Provide choice in methods of use.
    • 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.

Principle 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.


    • 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.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.


    • 4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    • 4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
    • 4c. Maximize “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.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


    • 5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
    • 5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    • 5c. Provide fail safe features.
    • 5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Principle 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. Minimize repetitive actions.
    • 6d. Minimize sustained physical effort.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.


    • 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.

Eight Goals Of Universal Design

The eight Goals of Universal Design were recently developed in an effort to update the Principles, clarify the concept of universal design, incorporate human performance, health and wellness, and social participation as outcomes, and address contextual and cultural issues. For example, there are many sources of contextual differences, such as topography, economic development levels, cultural norms, and local values, which influence the way designers implement universal design. Increasingly, high value is placed on preserving cultural resources like historic buildings and natural resources. Attempts to enhance accessibility, however, often conflict with these two goals. Universal design must address this conflict to overcome perceptions that it gets in the way of reaching other important design goals.

One barrier to adoption of universal design in middle- and low-income countries is the perception that it is often perceived as idealistic, expensive, or an imposition of Western values. It is realistic and appropriate to acknowledge that design strategies will differ or be adapted in different places and by different cultures. In some places, achieving the level of accessibility required by Western norms could be counterproductive. Thus, it is important that universal design strategies also address cultural values associated with social, economic, and physical context. In addition to addressing these concerns, the eight Goals of Universal Design were also conceived to link universal design to bodies of knowledge and identify measurable outcomes.

    • Body fit. Accommodating a wide a range of body sizes and abilities
    • Comfort. Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function
    • Awareness. Insuring that critical information for use is easily perceived
    • Understanding. Making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous
    • Wellness. Contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and prevention of injury
    • Social integration. Treating all groups with dignity and respect
    • Personalization. Incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences
    • Cultural appropriateness. Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social, economic and environmental context of any design project.

(Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012)


The attention is thus shifted from the disability of the person to the environment, which can present barriers, thus creating the possible handicap, or, vice versa, environmental facilitators who cancel the limitations and promote full social partecipation.

Think about the design of any space or object for man, which takes into account the needs of a considerable range of users, the widest possible, avoiding “special” solutions and equipement.

Graphic design: Marta Cipriani, Giuditta Ferrari, Carlotta Chiavacci. Supervisor: Alessia Brischetto. 


    • Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book by Steinfeld, E., and White. J. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010.
    • The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0 by The Center for Universal Design. North Carolina State University, 01 Apr 1997.
    • Trends in Universal Design by The Delta Centre. Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs. 2013
    • Universal Design by Herwig, O. Germany: Birkhauser, 2008.
    • Universal Design: A Manual of Practical guidance for architects by Goldsmith, S. Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000.
    • Universal Design as a Rehabilitation Strategy by Sanford, J. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2012.
    • Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments by Steinfeld, E., & Maisel, J. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012
    • Universal Design Handbook, 2nd Edition by Preiser, W. F.E. and Smith, K.H. (editors). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2010.
    • Universal Design: The HUMBLES Method for User-Centered Business by Aragall, F., and Montana, J. England: Gower Publishing Ltd., 2012.


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