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Understanding Design Philosophy

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

What makes Universal Design uniquely different?

Part 1: Definitions

The definitions of the following terms and descriptors that are used in this report are accepted by the design community. I hope this section will enhance an understanding of the subject matter:

A user is any person who might avail themselves of a product, service or space that is available to them.

Principles are the accepted or professed rule of action or conduct, or an adopted rule or method for application in action (a working principle for widespread use).

A design philosophy is what a designer is trying to accomplish in the design. In other words, it is a designer’s way of describing exactly what they believe is their objective for the project, through to its completion. There is no “correct” or “wrong” design philosophy, simply different approaches.

Built environment is a catch-all term that refers to the surroundings that provide the setting for human activity. Always human-made, built environments will range dramatically within each category, and can include anything from:

- a single home to a group of office buildings,

- a neighbourhood playground to an expansive green space,

- a general store to a corporate shopping mall.

- It may also include municipal supporting infrastructure, such as water supply or energy networks.

Accessible design is also known as Barrier-free design, and these terms can be used interchangeably. In interior design, Accessible design’s philosophy aims to remove all obstacles that exist between the users and the user’s products. Barrier-free design is often used to create a seamless, accessible experience.

Inclusive design aims to ensure that as many people as possible will be able to access the finished product. It might offer multiple versions of one design, or it might promote an “add-on” that accommodates certain abilities.

Part 2: Thesis

Any one of the three design philosophies mentioned in Part 1 may help drive your project. Before beginning, it is critically important to be on the same page as your designer and to have a clear understanding of their design philosophy.

It is understandable that often other design philosophies are mistakenly used interchangeably with Universal Design because they share enough similarities to warrant the confusion. But there are also major differences

For interior designers, Universal Design provides seven fundamental principles that will guide the design process and ensure that a built environment functions for everyone who uses it. By doing this, Universal design eliminates the need to target specific users.

Compared to Accessible design, Universal design targets everyone, while barrier-free designs specifically target people who have difficulties with existing situations and systems and resolves design issues with an alternative.

Universal design is different because it is NOT about creating multiple versions of a design depending on ability. Universal designs strive to create one strong design that suits everyone.

I believe that Universal Design can simplify our everyday lives using practical and economical ideas that are easy to incorporate in any design aesthetic.

Universal Design is:

Supportive, by offering design solutions that are helpful while they are being used.

Adaptable, because it ensures that the design will cater to a diverse group of people who may presently have specific needs, but their needs may change with time, making the design flexible and adaptable.

Accessible and barrier free, using design to eliminate issues that could inhibit a user.

Safe, because it allows users to make corrections, offering preventive solutions, thereby encouraging good health and well-being.

Economical, because the successful result sets standards, going beyond specialization. A Universally designed space will increase the number of users, and it will increase the longevity of their building by being more used and useful to people of all ages and abilities.

I strongly encourage the use of Universal Design principles and promotes its use in all my design projects.

To read more, please refer to “The Fundamental Principles of Universal Design” at

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