Universal Design: Process, Principles, and Applications

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The groups in educational institutions, workplaces, and other settings are very diverse – be it in terms of their background or cultural identity. All these different aspects merge to form an identity made up of a variety of these unique facets. Since there are so many different aspects to each person, how can educators form design principles which help in enhancing the learning of all students with diverse backgrounds? How can design principles be created at the workplace so that the productivity of employees can be maximized? How can design principles be imbibed into technology for developing products that can be accessed and used by all? This is where different proactive approaches or design principles come in. Some of these include design applications, design thinking and innovation, universal design principles, and universal principles of design.

The principles of design thinking ensure efficient management of greater user diversity. These practices are also termed as universal design principles. These principles have their roots in architecture and commercial products and information technology (IT). The applications of the principles of design thinking are rapidly being imbibed into education as well.

In project management, Universal design principles ensure that products and environments at all education levels are designed in a way that facilitates learning. Let’s now look at what are design principles, design applications, as well as design thinking courses you can undertake.

What is the Scope of the Design Application?

In higher education, the scope of universal design principles involves products and environments directly or indirectly supporting teaching and learning. Some examples of design principles and design thinking and innovation in this field include online learning, informal science learning, student services, IT, or physical spaces.

What is the Definition of UD (Universal Design)?

As per the definition of the Centre for Universal Design, universal design means “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

In terms of teaching and higher education, universal design principles and design applications are those that enable the creation of products and environments which can be used by everyone to a large extent without the need to adapt or specialize design.

What is the Process for Applying UD?

The following steps provide an idea of the process for applying universal design principles in higher education. However, these universal principles of design and design thinking can be applied to any design application for undertaking design thinking and innovation.

  • Identification of the application and best practices. This refers to the product or environment to which the universal principles of design are to be applied.
  • Consider the characteristics of your user base. Describe them and then the challenges they may face while engaging with the product or environment.
  • Integrate the universal principles of design and the process of design thinking and innovation with the field of best practices. This will maximize the benefits for the user base.
  • Plan to accommodate individuals who cannot access the design principles and design applications. This includes design thinking and innovation for those who are visually impaired.
  • Evaluate after implementing the design applications, principles of design thinking, and universal principles of design. Collect feedback and modify them accordingly. In case, the evaluation suggests the need for changes, return to step 3.

Design Principles

While there are over 20 design principles, let’s focus on a few of them in this blog.

Uniform Connectedness

This is one of the universal principles of design. Uniform connectedness means keeping the elements of design uniform in terms of visual properties. This way the user will be able to easily relate the properties to each other.


This is one of the most important principles of design thinking. Hierarchy refers to organizing information and elements into a simple structure.

80/20 Rule

This means that 80% of the effects in any large system are caused by 20% of variables. Among all the principles of design thinking, this helps to focus on resources and leads to greater efficiencies in design. In any good design system, 20% of the frequently used features should also be the most accessible.

Design Applications

Some of the applications of principles of design thinking include those in a wide variety of products and environments such as websites, distance learning courses, software, multimedia, libraries, computer labs, career centres, advising offices, tutoring, and learning centres.

If you want to advance your career in design thinking, one of the most lucrative fields in today’s time, it is highly recommended to pursue a short-term course in design thinking. When you undertake and complete a design thinking course, you get a design thinking certificate, which can help you get a lucrative job in this domain. Emeritus India offers various design thinking courses  in collaboration with globally renowned institutes.

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