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Differences Between Accessible, Usable, and Universal Design

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Products can mean anything from information technology to physical items like chairs, cars or anything else that can be purchased and used by consumers. Product designers are constantly creating new products that will sold by a business to its customers. They answer questions that determine who the customer is, how will they use the product, what technology is needed, benefits and features, price point and promotion.

The process of designing begins with an idea. Before they begin building on their idea, it’s important for designers to get feedback. Many do this through feasibility studies. Once established as a good idea, a prototype can be created, then tested, and redesigned if needed. Finally, the product can be launched.

Today, there are three factors being considered for all products: accessibility, usability, and if it is a universal design to those with and without disabilities, and to all age groups. To do this, product designers consider several aspects.

Aspects Considered in Design

Product designers want to create something that looks good and attracts buyers. This is considered a visceral aspect of product design. Next, the focus is on behavioral design or how well the product works and is usable by consumers.

Finally, the reflective aspect of the product is what connects the product’s culture or message to the consumer and helps form lasting relationships.

Principles of Good Universal Design

There are common words you will hear when researching product design. Some call these principles. They include innovation, aesthetic, usefulness, honesty, simplicity, understandability, safety for the person using the product and for the environment, and how well it will hold up over time.

These guidelines are often accompanied by accessibility, usability, and how universal the product can be. It is these three concepts that ensure products are designed so everyone can use them, including people with disabilities. It’s important to understand these concepts.

Accessible Design

The needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered in an accessible design project. To make something accessible means every person choosing to use the product should be able to do so without problems. For public facilities, this means adding ramps leading into buildings, larger stalls in bathrooms, lowering shelves and creating office space that meets the needs of a person’s disability.

This also means making information technology like software and hardware, as well as digital-based resources, ADA-compliant and accessible. Disabilities can be temporary or permanent and may interfere with online use. For example, a person with a broken arm, lack of vision may not be able to benefit from technology unless it is accessible.

Accessible designers take these factors into consideration so no one is limited on what they can access online. Examples of accessibility online include being able to operate the computer even if you can’t use a mouse. Or, being able to change screen size, font, colors and keyboard controls to voice commands.

Usable Design

Usable design refers to how quick and easy the product can be used by those with or without disabilities. It also must provide a level of satisfaction among those using the product.

The major concerns among usable designers include how easy it is to learn how to operate the product. In addition, once a consumer learns it, how easy is it for them to retain the knowledge on how to use it. For example, can they stop using it for a while, come back to it and remember how to work it?

The features must be labeled and easily understood by all users. How easy or how hard is it for the consumer to achieve their goals is a final consideration by usable designers. This includes online usability also. According to reports, usable design ensures online information fulfills a need, is easy to use, attractive, easy to navigate, accessible and credible.

Universal Design

Products created with universal design were made with a focus of inclusion. Universal product designers have a goal of creating something that can be used by everyone and that does not need to be modified or adapted. Universal design considers lifestyle needs as well as disabilities when creating products. They also consider age, gender, and even cultural differences.

Automatic doors at the grocery store are created based on universal design. They automatically open for people using wheelchairs and walkers. They also automatically open for the shopper who bought too much and is holding so many bags they couldn’t open a regular door without help.

Universal design products offer all consumers a variety of options to reaching a goal. Closed captioning equipped televisions, for example, gives a viewer options of reading or listening to their program.

Which One Is Best for Me?

Accessible, usable and universal design are good when used separately. However, they are great when used together. Taking all three into consideration during the design process will ensure the product is created so that consumers with any disability, or with no disability, can achieve success.

Universal design seems to cover all the basis at first glance. But there are things designers can do to make sure accessibility and usability remain top factors, such as:

  • Including people with disabilities during the stages of product design, like in studies, brainstorming ideas, and feedback panels.
  • Getting feedback from people of different ages, disabilities, situations and abilities helps designers in the creation process.

In conclusion, the ultimate goal is something that has yet to be mentioned: inclusion. It should be a goal of all designers to develop products, buildings, entryways, information technology, transportation, and all other spaces so that they make all persons feel included.

This may include taking down the “handicap” or “wheelchair accessible” signs, and replacing them with signs that focus on function only. In turn, it could help:

  • Eliminate stigmas and stereotypes.
  • Those with disabilities live more independent, confident lifestyles.
  • The non-disabled become more accepting and inclusive of all people.

When product designers use all three designs, they can start the process by asking, “who is our customer,” and answer with a resounding, “everyone.”

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