Universal Design Principles
Universal Design Principles
Overview of the Guidelines of Universal Design and How it Impacts Architectural Signage
Universal design principles cover virtually every aspect of built environments and commercial products. Architectural signage — when designed and fabricated correctly — is no exception to the principles that govern universal design.
Ronald L. Mace, founder of the Center for Universal Design at the NC State University College of Design, coined the term “universal design.” Mr. Mace defined universal design as the effort to “design all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.” From this concept, seven universal design principles were established.
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities
Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities
Simple and Intuitive Use
The design is easy to understand, regardless of experience, language, or knowledge
The design communicates information effectively regardless of ambient conditions
Tolerance for User Error
The design minimizes hazards of accidental or unintended actions
Low Physical Effort
The design can be used comfortably with minimal fatigue.
Size and Space
Appropriate size and space is provided regardless of the user’s size or mobility
How does architectural signage meet universal design?
Architectural signage is designed to communicate wayfinding and ADA messages clearly and effectively to the majority of people that visit and work in a facility. The universal design principles of equitable use, flexibility, and simple and intuitive are most commonly seen in architectural signage.
ADA-Ready™ Sign Guidelines Meets Equitable Use Principle
While English is the majority language spoken in the U.S., the number of ESL (English as Second Language) people has grown dramatically. In addition, more than 9 million adults in the U.S. are illiterate and rely on pictograms and symbols to find their way.
One of the most effective methods for meeting the “equitable use” universal design principle is by following ADA guidelines and integrating multilingual messages and pictograms on key information and regulatory signs. Although there are a number of universally recognized symbols used in ADA signage, there may be symbols that may have different connotations in other cultural and ethnic backgrounds and thus may offend certain users. Therefore, we recommend using established pictograms.
Equitable Use through ADA-Ready™ Signage:
- Meet the latest ADA Guidelines
- Clearly communicate a regulatory message
- Integrate pictograms whenever possible
- Consult local codes to ensure the regulatory sign and message meets the facility’s needs
- Match the architectural environment/design
Wayfinding Plans, Messages and Signs Meet Intuitive Use Principle
For a wayfinding plan to work, people should be able to comprehend the intent of the message in under five seconds, and the layout should be uncluttered and easy read. This wayfinding guideline runs parallel to the “intuitive use” principle of universal design.
Intuitive Use Means Keeping the Message Simple
The biggest, most common mistake made in wayfinding plans is “over-signing and over-messaging.” Too many signs create visual clutter, causes traffic jams in busy hallways and can even cause visitors to retreat back to the start if the amount of information is too confusing. Here are some tips to help keep messages short and simple and help achieve the “intuitive use” principle:
- Whenever possible, integrate color schemes into the wayfinding plan that match the destination.
- Use common language and keep it to one line.
- When using directional arrows, make sure they point in a logical direction.
- Group destination messages under common directional arrows.
- Remember the adage that “less is more” when it comes to communicating wayfinding solutions.
LRV Color Contrast Helps Meet Perceptible Information Principle
Color and contrast of a message on a sign will always be a critical ingredient of creating a truly functional sign. A useful rule of thumb for achieving a functional sign and message that meets the “perceptible information” principle is the 70% Light Reflectance Value (LRV).
While LRV is not the only measurement for creating a sign message that is perceptible, it is helpful tool. When using LRV, the goal is to achieve a 70% Light Reflectance Value (LRV) contrast between sign text and background color. Using the LRV formula following the contrast requirements in the latest ADA guidelines will ensure that sight impaired individuals will be able to read the sign information and find their way to the desired destination, thus meeting the “perceptible information” principle.
2010 ADA Guidelines for Color Contrast:
- Characters and their background shall have a non-glare finish.
- Characters shall contrast with their background with either light characters on a dark background or dark characters on a light background.
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