MANY OF today’s products and designs require rethinking and a new design approach if they are to meet the needs of changing society.
That’s the advice from Satoshi Nakagawa, product design engineer, CEO of Tripod Design Co Ltd (Japan) and pioneer of Universal Design in Asia.
Nakagawa was speaking at a seminar on universal design, hosted by Kudos, a high-quality bathroom fittings maker, in collaboration with Isuzu, SAN-EI and SEKISUI in Bangkok last week.
Universal design (or design for all) is the design of products and environments that enables use for everyone – without the need for them to be modified, adapted or specially designed. The universal design approach ensures the elderly, children, the physically challenged and even pregnant women can use everyday items and places with ease.
“The concept behind universal design is that if you design products with the needs of many people in mind, you won’t have to modify the products. Universal design enables people who usually face barriers in their lives to have the freedom to be themselves and pursue their passions and dreams”, says Nakagawa.
This design approach is particularly important for Thailand’s ageing society, as the country’s ageing population is expected to increase to 17 million by 2040, accounting for 25 percent of the population. Thailand’s elderly population has already exceeded 8 million, according to 2014 figures, and accounts for 13 per cent of the total population, according to the Government Public Relations Department.
Universal design follows seven key principles:
l Equitable use: to ensure the design does not disadvantage or stigmatise any group of users.
l Flexibility in use: so that it accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
l Simple, intuitive use: to make sure use is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level.
l Perceptible information: the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
l Tolerance for error: it minimises hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
l Low physical effort: the design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue.
l Size and space for approach and use: appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
For example, a standard door is not accessible to everyone. If a large switch is installed, the door becomes accessible to more people, including some wheelchair users. Applying UD principles could lead to the installation of sensors that signal the door to open when anyone approaches, making the building accessible to everyone – a small child, a man carrying a large box, an elderly woman, a person using a walker or wheelchair.
“In the ‘industry-first’ society of today, the understanding and study of all users tends to be neglected when mass-production and large-scale distribution takes precedence. In other words, large parts of society today feel inconvenienced as their daily lives are disrupted by having to use cumbersome designs that don’t fit their needs. Manufacturers have disregarded those who have physical difficulties or disabilities, leaving them isolated. I firmly believe that now is the time to work out an ‘Inclusive Solution’ to ensure designs are created with all users in mind,” said Nakagawa.