Monday, 27 February 2012

Design For All

Last week I attended the launch of a universal design resource in Dublin. A publication by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) and the National Disability Authority (NDA), 'Building for Everyone' is a set of booklets giving a comprehensive guide to how to design a building or urban space according to the principles of universal design. Not solely a launch with a speech from the relevant government minister (this time round it was Phil Hogan, Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government), the event also brought together a number of speakers who helped stress the importance of universal design across all scales.

One of the speakers at the event was Onny Eikhaug, a Programme Leader at the Norwegian Design Council, with particular responsibility for Design for All. Onny's presentation was a great insight into Norway's concerted efforts to become fully universally designed by 2025. Through legislation, communicating to the public, connecting designers and the public and private sectors, and recognising achievements in the field, the Norwegian Design Council seems to be making very positive steps towards its amibitious target. Pictured above and below is the overall winner of Norway's first Innovation Award for Universal Design. Beating six other category winners including education spaces, easy-to-grip cutlery, hi-speed ferries and a new voting system, the Scandic Airport Hotel at Gardermoen outside Oslo was designed by Swedish architects group Krook & Tjäder AB with mobility issues, sight and hearing impairments and even allergies in mind. Doorways and corridors are wide enough not only for those using wheelchairs, but also those carrying lots of luggage; alarms work both visually and aurally; carpets are used to a minimum and all the paints, plaster, glues and textiles used were selected because they give off low levels of fumes; the solutions simplify good cleaning, which minimises the use of cleansing agents. And all while effusing Scandinavian cool and using a great colour palette, creating an environment tailored to everyone and where anyone would like to stay.

Images via

The main theme of last week's event wasn't how awesome the Norwegians are at all this (though you'd be forgiven for leaving with that sentiment) but about how important universal design is - not for the 15% of the population living with various disabilities, but for the 100% of us who age, have mobility issues as a result of temporary injury, who sometimes end up laden down with luggage or shopping bags, or (like me) have a poor sense of direction. Our designers - from those designing vast urban spaces to those designing print and web materials - need to think of greater accessibility as not just essential for a small number of people but valuable for everyone. To hammer home the point, see below for one of a series of tv ads run in - yeah, you guessed it - Norway that ask "Din Feil? Eller dårlige løsninger?" - Your fault? Or bad solutions? When you see how design can build barriers for even the very able bodied, it becomes clear how important universal design really is: