Universal Design Principles – How To Design For Everyone

Universal design focuses on all potential users' needs, abilities, and limitations. Rather than target a narrow user/customer segment, universal design values inclusivity: designers practicing universal design aim to make their works accessible, intuitive, and safe for the widest possible diversity of users (including different ages, disabilities, and technical expertise). This articles defines universal design, links out to foundational works on universal design, and explores the implications of universal design for writers.

Universal Design is

  1. the act of designing texts, services, and products with the needs, abilities, and limitations of users in mind, especially users who may need special accommodations due to disabilities.
  2. a method for developing apps, products, and services that benefit all users.

Related Concepts: Design Thinking; Emphatic Information Literacy; Inclusive Language; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning


Why does universal design matter?

Universal design matters because it elevates the accessibility, clarity, and usability of your communications. By adopting a user-centered perspective, you can create products, services, and texts that truly resonate with diverse audiences, ensuring that your communications are not only clear and persuasive but also inclusive and respectful of all individuals’ needs and abilities.

Universal design informs composing and design decisions in web development and text creation. Even during prewriting and drafting — but especially during revising and editing — you can best ensure the clarity and persuasiveness of your communications by engaging in emphatic information literacy practices. Adopt the perspective of your audience by asking, “What do I want my audience to think, feel, and do?” This rhetorical question puts you in your audience’s shoes, helping you align your message with their expectations and emotional responses.

Moreover, consider the diverse learning styles within your audience. Not everyone processes information in the same way; while some might prefer textual data, others might be more receptive to visual or auditory information. Taking these preferences into account during the design process promotes inclusivity and ensures your communication resonates with a broader spectrum of individuals.

Above all, attempt to adopt the mindset and disposition of your audience. By truly understanding their expectations, you can tailor your message to meet their needs effectively and comprehensively.

What are the 7 Principles of Universal Design?

The principles of universal design were initially developed in 1997 by a team of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers at NC State:

  1. Equitable Use:
    • Design is usable and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use:
    • Design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use:
    • Design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, or concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information:
    • Design effectively communicates necessary information to the user, irrespective of ambient conditions or sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error:
    • Design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort:
    • Design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with minimum fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use:
    • Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility” (“Center” 1997).

How does universal design inform text creation and web development?

The principles of universal design play an essential role in web development, serving as a guide to creating accessible, user-friendly digital platforms. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), aligning with universal design principles to ensure digital accessibility. The guidelines emphasize creating content that is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.


Center for Universal Design. (1997, April 1). College of Design. https://design.ncsu.edu/research/center-for-universal-design/

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