Accessibility: A design principle

This is post is part of a series: A brief look into Universal Principle of Design. I am not affiliated with the authors or Rockport publishing. I am simply a fan of their work, revisiting and expanding on some principles that will aid me in my designs and my writing. Interested? You can start here. Would like to have all 125 principles at your fingertips? Check it out here first. Feel free to comment, share, and enjoy!

As I re-read the Universal Principles of Design, I questioned whether or not it would be wise to list all of the principles in the book. I wanted to take the principles that would most relate to where I wanted to take this site: a haven of learning, design, and technology. But expressing what I am learning is the driving force and sharing (and hopefully, helping others) is my ultimate goal.

Therefore, I took 2 of the questions listed in the front of the book to accomplish with this series:

  • How can I help people learn from a design?
  • How can I make better design decisions?

“Objects and environments should be designed to be usable, without modification by as many people as possible.”





The idea of accessibility began decades ago with the civil rights movements. As mentioned by DREDF, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the embodiment of thousands of people seeking equality and the opportunity to live independently as active contributing members of society. The regulations from ADA have spilled over into various aspects of design, most notably in architecture.



(from Commarts article, “When the ADA rules”) 

But why would you want to make an accessible design? Don’t you just want something that is functional and pleasant for some? Isn’t it a form of expression, art from that particular designer?

“Designers are by nature problem solvers and we are interested in creating access for all people in various environments.”

Yes, design can be beautiful but it’s always rooted in functionality and the audience has to be kept into mind. Design and traditional art, though overlapping in some ways, are completely different disciplines and should be treated as so.



W3C added their input on the impact of accessible for the Web. There are 4 basis of characteristics whether or not accessibility is taken into account for:

  • Perceivable information and user interface

             i.e. providing text alternative for images

  • Operable user interface and navigation

             i.e. Enabling navigation using only a keyboard

  • Understandable information and user interface

             i.e. Making content readable, etc.

  • Robust content and reliable interpretation.

             i.e. Maximizing compatibility with current and future tools.

For more info, check it out here.


The more you keep in mind, the more effective and accessible your web design will be. There is an also added benefit the search engines will be able to crawl your site much better if you hadn’t already made the added effort. At Six Revisions, this article points out simple ways to make your web design more accessible.



More often than not, usability and accessibility are used interchangeably. However, there are notable differences between the two:

Usability is more of a user-centered paradigm. This idea is aimed at a target group, regardless of the size and reach. You often hear this to use the quality of user experience across websites, software, products and environments.

Accessibility is more an all-inclusive paradigm. The designer aims to reach as many people as possible through his or her design. The target is everyone.



“But when we apply the term to interfaces, it doesn’t mean that interfaces should be equal for everyone; rather, it means that they should be equally accessible to everyone, and equally empowering no matter what the user’s skill level or familiarity.”


In Faruk Ates’ Smashing mag article, he highlights the importance of the adaptable interface: an interface that would no overwhelm the casual user nor frustrate the advanced user with the lack of options. He imagines a world where interfaces of software applications are invisible to the user only until it is needed, therefore reducing the cognitive load.

Talk about overwhelming the senses for the beginner DJ….


The first application that I can think of not following the accessibility principle is Virtual DJ. This program is amazing gift for the aspiring DJ but as I gave this to my (supposedly) tech savvy 14-year old brother, he was at first frustrated by even the simplest tasks, such as saving a new file. But then as I started fiddling with it, I started to feel his frustration. The application interface did not lend to everyone, only to those who persisted through (a lot) of trial and error and didn’t mind the huge learning curve, it took to become proficient.


Imagine if Virtual DJ incorporated an adaptive interface: It would first prompt for a song.

Then an option of a second one, if you wanted to mix the two. You can choose which song you want to start playing. Bring in the mixer into the picture. From here, it could prompt you for a list of effects you could do to the song(s) loop sampler, effects, etc.

If a DJ does not want a song to start and maybe wants to create a beat, the software should be able to facilitate the direction the DJ wants to go next, not obstruct it.



Again, I’m not a professional or even aspiring DJ. And maybe people dig the super crazy complex interface which looks cool and magical, far beyond my comprehension. This is just my opinion.



“An interface that is truly inclusive of all kinds of users is one that begins with only the fundamentals and then evolves and adapts alongside the user.”

-Smashing mag


And I agree. Incorporating accessibility is not only beneficial to the disabled and handicap but also improves the product itself. This goes back to Dieter Rams, the designer behind Brauns, whose principles for good design has been quoted time and time again. Good design is concrete, universal and almost transcending in time. These “accommodations” are another problem solving aspect towards great design.


So next time, you’re designing a product, website, etc., think: how can I reach as many people as possible? How can I make my idea close to universal as possible?


Would like to learn more? Visit my Readlists: Accessibility: A Design Principle
and enjoy!



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