Designing any product or environment involves the consideration of many factors, including aesthetics, engineering decisions, environmental issues, industry standards, safety concerns, and cost. Often, products and environments are designed with an average user in mind.
In contrast, universal design is "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." (NC State University, The Center for Universal Design)
The terminology "universal design" was coined by Ronald L. Mace, founder and former program director of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. In 1997 Ron Mace collaborated with a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers to develop the Seven Principles of Universal Design. The seven principles of universal design are as follows:
Equitable Use: 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: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue. 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.
Good design is good design
The same design features which make a home comfortable for older people also work for younger families. Aging in place is a viable option for homeowners because by applying universal design principles in the home transform the home into a multi-generational living space. A good place to start is with an emphasis on user-friendly products which also have pleasant aesthetics and are easy to maintain.
It's not too early to start thinking about aging in place. Even homeowners in their 40s are starting to think about aging in place, as they intend to stay in the home they are currently in through their senior years. It's a good time to begin to start looking at mobility or other physicals issues which may arise during aging.
There are a number of areas which can be looked at: bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms to name a few. Just remember there is no single right way. Universal design or design for aging in place is a philosophy, a way of thinking, with no one formula for getting it right. Products and modifications can be beautiful and flexible and fit into the parameters of the family in terms of space, budge, wants and needs.