The Importance of Universal Design in Commercial Spaces
When it comes to design, finding ways to create accessible and enjoyable experiences for all is of the utmost importance. This is especially true in commercial, retail, and office spaces, where we hope to make everyone feel welcome. The tools Universal Design and Inclusive Design give us can help us get there.
When it comes to the most successful spaces, we find ourselves drawn to those that are beautiful and most welcoming to all. Designing peoples’ experiences and environments – whether in a restaurant or café, retail shop, or office – is a wonderful way to express the core values and philosophies of your company or organization. It’s a physical and spatial expression of these values that can contribute to the overall success of a business.
Thinking inclusively in commercial space design.
The Pew Research Center, with 2021 U.S. Census Bureau Data, found that 13% of people report having a disability. That’s a sizable portion of our neighbors, friends, and family.
As designers, it’s never our intention to exclude people but, sometimes, whether we realize it or not, small design details can have a noticeable impact on the comfort and enjoyment of a space, especially for those with disabilities.
To help bridge this gap, Universal Design and Inclusive Design have continued to gain traction. These evolving practices place people at the heart of design, going beyond federal and state accessibility requirements to design for all.
The goal of Universal Design is to create spaces with shared design solutions for all that’s accommodating, intuitive, and beautiful. This approach to design can often be the groundswell for responsive new ways to address potential challenges that can arise as your business and operational needs change over time.
Universal design investigates and provides a comparable experience for all guests and employees of your business, regardless of their physical abilities, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other diverse differences
For instance, instead of creating an accessible area at the far end of the bar in your restaurant, consider, from the beginning, laying out the bar to provide a larger, more central section that provides visual and functional interest while fostering opportunities to include all guests, regardless of mobility differences. The same principles can be applied to front desks or check-in areas.
Universal design also looks at spaces with a tolerance for error by minimizing accidents caused by unforeseen hazards. Common things to incorporate into your design are furniture and counters with rounded edges and non-slip flooring.
Barriers come in different forms. When it comes to Inclusive Design, the focus of accessibility expands to include the functional, social, and emotional aspects of the human experience.
As designers, we bring awareness to our own limited perspectives and actively make room to include different lived experiences. This means pausing before we even start designing to consider how a space can be used beyond what we might call “typical” users. There are some simple, yet impactful principles that can guide this process.
The flexibility of a space or furniture, for example, can be used to improve and assist with an individual’s personal preferences. For example, providing tables and modular furnishing that can be combined and arranged into different layouts empowers personalized social integration in a public space. And it can make for a dynamic and welcoming environment that might be a sensory challenge for some.
Having low physical effort when opening a display cooler, a door, or picking up food and beverages are some of the smaller details that can have a big impact in design. Consider selecting equipment that is ADA compliant to keep customization cost at bay while being as accommodating as possible. Another place to consider ADA compliance is at transaction counters, where heights should be no more than 34 inches, with space for a wheelchair to roll beneath.
Although most people can access aisles that are 32 inches wide, there are some who need just a bit more space to get by without bumping into anything. That’s why designing for size and with space for approach and use is recommended. Access aisles of at least 36 inches should be employed between tables, or between a wall and a table. Additionally, self-service condiments and food and beverage counters should be located no higher than 48 inches.
It’s also important to remember that the situation, or perception, in which a person experiences your space varies among your guests or employees. Some may be first-time users, some may be regulars, others may be in a rush or bring in diverse cultural norms or expectations. Visual accessibility can play a role in easing the experience of all these different individuals.
Consider incorporating large text, contrasting colors, and lighting into your menu or room signage. Having your logo and signage checked by a graphic artist to make sure it is accessible to those with low vision, color blindness, or other sight differences can go a long way in creating a pleasant experience for all.
Universal Design and Inclusive Design are about empathy. By exploring a space from another person’s perspective, you can design a more thoughtful and beautiful space for everyone, without it being an afterthought.
We’re passionate about creating inclusive and engaging commercial spaces where our whole community feels welcome and safe. Do you have a project in mind? We would love to connect and learn more about your vision.