Table of Contents

The 7 Principles of Universal Design


Universal Design: 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.

The authors, a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, collaborated to establish the following Principles of Universal Design to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications. These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

Principle 1: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

dPhoto of sliding grocery doors with motion detectors


1a. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.

1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.

1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.

1d. Make the design appealing to all users.


  • Power doors with sensors at entrances that are convenient for all users
  • Integrated, dispersed, and adaptable seating in assembly areas such as sports arenas and theaters


Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

dPhoto of Fiskars scissors held with a right and a left hand


2a. Provide choice in methods of use.

2b. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.

2c. Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.

2d. Provide adaptability to the user's pace.


  • Scissors designed for right- or left-handed users
  • An automated teller machine (ATM) that has visual, tactile, and audible feedback, a tapered card opening, and a palm rest


Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

dPhoto of furniture assembly instructions with drawings and no text


3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.

3c. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.

3d. Arrange information consistent with its importance.

3e. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.


  • An instruction manual with drawings and no text
  • A moving sidewalk or escalator in a public space


Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

dPhoto of wall thermostat with feedback in multiple sensory modes


4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.

4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.

4c. Maximize "legibility" of essential information.

4d. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).

4e. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.


  • Tactile, visual, and audible cues and instructions on a thermostat
  • Redundant cueing (e.g., voice communications and signage) in airports, train stations, and subway cars


Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

dPhoto of computer software with the option to 'undo' an action


5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.

5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.

5c. Provide fail-safe features.

5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.


  • An "undo" feature in computer software that allows the user to correct mistakes without penalty
  • A double-cut car key easily inserted into a recessed keyhole in either of two ways


Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

dPhoto of closed fist pushing down on door lever


6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.

6b. Use reasonable operating forces.

6c. Minimize repetitive actions.

6d. Minimize sustained physical effort


  • Lever or loop handles on doors and faucets
  • Touch lamps operated without a switch


Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

dPhoto of wheelchair user navigating through wide subway gate


7a. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.

7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.

7c. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.

7d. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.


  • Wide gates at subway stations that accommodate all users
  • Controls on the front and clear floor space around appliances, mailboxes, garbage dumpsters, and other building elements


Please note:

These Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes.

The principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible. All Guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.

Version 2.0 4/1/97
© Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design

The authors
Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order: Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, & Gregg Vanderheiden

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