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Universalism, universal design and equitable access to the designed environment

Final Report Summary - UNIDESIGN (Universalism, universal design and equitable access to the designed environment)

The project is an investigation of universal design (UD) and its development and implementation. UD is a relatively recent idea that appears to be influencing, increasingly, how designers think about the nature of the design process. UD seeks to democratise design by opening up the process to scrutiny by users, and to sensitise the design of objects to the different ways in which people interact with (in) designed environments. The project is particularly interested in the interrelationships between disability, design, and embodiment, and the relevance of UD in creating sensory design, or designed artefacts that, in interaction with bodies, facilitate people's mobility and ease of use of objects and materials. The achievements of the project include:

1. Through attendance at UD conferences and events, the collection of web materials, documents, and scoping interviews, the research has documented the development, circulation, and translation of concepts, ideas and practices relating to UD. UD discourse is not a singular entity, and it has proliferated into diverse fields, ranging from legal and educational services, to design consultancy, and construction and architectural practice. Our research has documented the filtration of UD discourse through specific experts, fields of expertise, and its augmentation as knowledge through codification, standards, and specific institutional collectives, or what Callon and Rabeharisoa (2004) describe as 'the ordered and ordering arrangement of actions' (also, see Moser, 2005).

2. The methodological basis of UD is a focus of study, in relation to how UD practitioners conceive of the body and, subsequently, design for it. This issue is rarely discussed in any theoretical or methodological depth in the UD literature. Our focus has been documentation, through case studies, of methods used by designers to model and/or simulate the body or to understand how users interact with (in) design. The research has been documenting different forms of co-design, and also simulation of bodies involving the production of tools and methods to simulate how bodies perform in different design settings. The data show that such methods, while limited, have potential to foster critical and flexible ways of thinking about bodily diversity, through creatively and consistently expanding sensory modes of engagement with an object or space.

3. The nature of design is the anticipation of the future or the crafting of space and objects in ways whereby a pre-determination of use, or people-design interactions, are inbuilt into formative parts of the design process. Interviews with actors in organisation with a declared interests in UD was the basis for exploration of how designers, using UD principles, seek to anticipate the future and craft designed environments in ways whereby they work well for people. Here, our research has been interested in asking designers about their views/visions of a future based on UD, how they seek to assure it, through what means, and with what, anticipated, outcomes, in relation to bodily interactions with (in) designed environments.

4. The research team has presented findings at over 40 conferences and workshops, including prestigious events in Australia, USA, Thailand, Japan, Copenhagen, Barcelona, and London. Out reach events have occurred with disabled people's organisations in Coventry,Greenwich, Cornwall, and Southwark, and the project has experimented with a range of mobile and sensory methods, including video, audio, and photography. An up to date and active web site features the different elements of the project (see, and the team has produced a wide variety of papers, published in both academic and practitioner presses.

5. We have produced 21 different pieces of output, and of particular note is the publication of the book 'Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (Wiley & Blackwell, Chichester, 2017), the first of its type to explore how concepts and practices of care can cultivate responsive, inclusive, forms of design that attend to the fragile relations that constitute cites. One reviewer has described the book as 'inspiring and provocative...which thoughtfully positions an ethos of care with and within dynamics of trust, justice and joy', and another has described the book as offering 'a sophisticated set of methods, case studies and analyses that establish a reasoned and compelling argument for placing care at the core of design.’