Universal Design for Public Space

The 2015 Universal Design International Seminar has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: AN Sanglak (Professor of Korea National University of Welfare)

Korea's aging population has increased rapidly since 2000, and it is expected to become a full-fledged aged society around 2018. The Third Basic Plan for Aging Society with Low Fertility, announced on October 18, 2015, includes various plans, such as reviewing the age classification for elderly from 65 to 70 years old. This shows that the aging of the population is recognized as a full-fledged social phenomenon, and that policy preparations are in progress.

The concept and principle of universal design as a social phenomenon

As awareness of our aging society increases, the application of universal design is also increasing. The first attempt at Universal Design was initiated by the Danish Parents' Association for Disabilities, and later emerged in 1970 as Barrier Free Design and Inclusive Design. The term ‘Universal Design’ was first introduced in Korea around 2000. 

The concept of universal design was defined by Ron Mace, director of the Universal Design Center at the University of North Carolina, as "designing products, spaces, or buildings that are considered for use by as many people as possible." The same concept was called Barrier-Free Design in Japan. Europe uses the terms Inclusive Design and Design for All. Universal design is an environmental safety design that provides a convenient and fair opportunity for anyone, regardless of age, gender, nationality, or disability, and covers a wide range of areas, including education, culture, information and services.

Principles of Universal Design

There are a total of ten principles of universal design. In 2001, Japanese experts added continuity, comfort, and friendliness to the seven principles originally proposed by Ron Mace.

1. Equitable use: Universal design should be equally usable by anyone regardless of physical differences, such as height differences, and age. Products with universal design are meaningless when prices are high, and information on use should be easily available.

2. Flexibility of use: Use of the product should not require both hands, or left- or right-hand exclusively. During operation, continuous interaction should not be required, nor should use be restricted by a time limit. It meets the conditions of universal design when you can use it at your own pace.

3. Simple and Intuitive Use: You should be able to immediately know how to use the object just by looking at it. You should be able to understand the functions with icons, words, shapes, and colors, and the steps of use should be simple. You should be able to easily access it even if you forget how to use it. 

4. Perceptible Information: Ease of perceiving information is the basis of universal design, and basic consideration for human perception is required, such as difficulties in seeing or hearing. In the case of text, it is necessary to secure the size and contrast, and in the case of sounds, it is necessary to secure a volume or frequency that is easy to hear. The amount of information that can be recognized at one time or the timing of providing information should be sufficiently considered when designing.

5. Tolerance for Error: It is most desirable to prevent malfunctions from the beginning, but since to err is human, it is important to prepare countermeasures in advance. In the event of an error, it is necessary to inform the cause of the error quickly and accurately, and to provide guidance so that it is easy to know what to do, so that the recovery can be assured.

6. Low Physical Effort: Some force must be necessary when operating or using an object, but at the same time, operation must not occur unless action is firmly taken. Usage should be possible with light force and in a comfortable way.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: For wheelchair users, a space for feet or space to turn is very important. In addition, the space should be designed in anticipation of various cases such as people who cannot raise their arms or have difficulty getting up.

8. Continuity: Not only should the individual use of products, systems, services, and spaces be easy, but it is also important to consider the continuity of the living environment by putting the entire space in the field of view for a comfortable life. It is important to consider the entire space within a house or public space to minimize movement and to predict and anticipate lifestyle behavior.

9. Comfort: As life becomes more convenient, it should also become more comfortable. Considering health and securing safety has emerged as an important factor.

10. Friendliness: The user (consumer) wants to use it and wants to purchase it. ‘Is it happy to have and fun to use’ should be the goal of the design.

Example of public universal design

Case studies were conducted mainly on the Ground, Concourse, and Platform of Universal Design examples in public spaces.

1. Ground
The design of the ground, where pedestrians, bicycles, and cars coexist, is a public domain that is directly related to the safety and convenience of citizens in daily life, and the application of universal design is essential.

1) Bicycle lane

In Sweden, the edge of the roadway is used as a bike lane, and in Salzburg, Austria, bus and bike lanes are integrated to use one lane. In Hungary,  bicycle lanes are on the sidewalk and are clearly distinguished, and Tokyo, Japan improved the linkage by incorporating the color of the sidewalk and the sidewalk block of the bicycle lane in the signage. In one particular example, Tsukuba University in Japan removed the stairs between buildings so that you can cross between buildings by bicycle.

Bike lanes in Sweden (left) and Salzburg bike lanes in Austria (right)

Hungarian bicycle lane (left), Tsukuba University building crossing bicycle lane (middle), Osaka bicycle lane (right)
2) Braille block on crosswalks for the visually impaired

Among domestic cases, the Braille block in front of the Olympic Park was designed to match the height of the road and the sidewalk so that the visually impaired could easily recognize it. In addition, the wheelchair ramp in Kobe, Japan, secured safety by constructing an anti-skid block and gave consideration to the rotation of the wheelchair.

Braille block in front of Seoul Olympic Park / Braille block near Jamsil Lotte World Mall

Wheelchair ramp in Kobe, Japan / Swedish steel Braille block

3) Manhole covers
The manhole covers in Sapporo and Kobe, Japan, were designed to harmonize with the color of the sidewalk blocks in case it is difficult to change their location. Additionally, the color of the Tokyo Station Braille blocks are not yellow, as is commonly seen, but a color that harmonizes with pedestrian blocks, showing a break away from yellow. In Korea, there were small holes of 20mm and 30mm on the cover of manhole covers in Nowon-gu, Seoul. Since the heel of the smallest pedestrian shoe was about 10mm, there were risks that  pedestrians could get caught in these holes. Therefore, it was necessary to change the size of the hole to smaller than 8mm.

In addition, the symbol of the city was applied to the cover of manholes in Kobe, Japan. If the design of manhole covers in Insa-dong in Seoul goes in this direction, I think the communication of the symbolism of the region can be greatly enhanced.

Manhole Covers in Sapporo / Japan Tokyo Station Braille Block / Manhole Covers in Nowon-gu, Seoul
4) Vents

The subway vents in Kobe, Japan provide comfort and safety, and the subway vents in Tokyo also have an excellent design as a sculpture that injects fresh air. The subway vents in Shinjuku, Japan give the image of nature, and the subway vents in Hong Kong have a strong lower part to show safety and usability.

Subway vents in Kobe, Japan / Subway vents in Shinjuku, Japan / Subway vents in Hong Kong

5) Bollards and fences

The bollards in Yokohama, Japan, use transparent materials and are equipped with lights so that they can be seen even on dark nights. The bollards in Kobe are flexible to ensure safety, but they are also at a height below the knee to prevent accidents. It should be noted that there are risks.
In the case of the fence design, the fence of Kobe city was designed in consideration of the region’s historical background and the temples around the city. Historicality, harmony, and convenience are the keywords of its design perspective.
Yokohama City Bollard Kobe City Bollard

6) Signage and handrail design

Kobe City offers convenience by installing low-height signage in consideration of wheelchair users and short people. And the key information is extracted from the signage and is written onto the pole in order to ensure any critical information will not be missed. In the case of handrails that aid safe walking, you can refer to the Swedish handrail that harmonizes with the building and the handrails of Osaka City that harmonize with the stairs. The handrails in Vienna, Austria, were installed in two layers to ensure that the end should be attached without exposing the risk of tripping, especially on escalators.

  Sign design in Kobe City / Handrail design in Sweden / Handrail design in Vienna, Austria

2. Concourse

1) Stair design

The stairs of the Okayama Symphony Hall are clearly separated from the stepping board and the stair nose, and the stair nose is made to be non-slip. The north-south stairway in Sapporo was also designed to maximize visibility by applying the color of the route to the side. In the case of low visual acuity (0.3), it is difficult to distinguish between the stepping board and the stair nose, but in the case of the stairs at Hagye Station on Line 7, Seoul, there is a risk that people with low vision may stumble. On the other hand, the stairs at Tokyo Roppongi Station are designed to be clearly distinguished by applying the marble color of the stepping board and the front. As in Yokohama Station, it is a truly universal design that has three facilities: an escalator, a staircase, and an elevator, all in one place. It should be easy for users to choose according to their physical condition.

Yokohama Station Stairs and Escalators

2) Elevator and exit sign

In Sweden, the three-dimensional expression of Braille on the elevator was designed with consideration for emotion and sensitivity. It is a design that considers the fact that visually impaired people want to touch and feel something.

Hong Kong has established a culture of consideration by creating a waiting area for priority users and general users of the subway. Sapporo subway made a cross-section of the exit sign to increase understanding of the location of the stairs, but it is regrettable that the elevator was installed in a separate location instead of in front of the stairs.

                                      Swedish elevator / Hong Kong subway platform
3) Toilet design

The entrance to the toilet at Narita Airport is equipped with lighting behind the pictogram to make it easier to identify, and you can see the design with the induction effect applied by applying colors that symbolize the image of men and women. Tokyo toilets have notices for managing belongings, and Hong Kong stations have installed trash cans with lids to maintain cleanliness. The men's restroom at Yokohama Station has been provided with a space to put the child down for a while as the number of men raising children has increased, and the entrance to the restroom at Narita Airport is differentiated with a dark color and material on the floor to increase visibility, and the toilet sink protrudes in front of the unit for increased accessibility. Most of the washbasins are located above the unit, which takes into account the inconvenience of having to bend a lot at the waist.

Floor of the entrance to the toilet at Narita Airport / Protruding toilet sink

3. Platform

1) Sign system and information design

The Frutiger typeface, created by master type designer Adrian Frutiger, is suitable for universal design because of its legibility (including the clear distinction between numbers 3 and 8) and is widely applied to transportation and public domain sign systems in major cities around the world. Indonesia's airport has a prayer room, but it is regrettable that the signage for this has been designed in a way that deviates from universal design. Public spaces where color schemes and pictograms are used and designed properly can be found mainly in the subway. On subway line 7, Seoul, boarding and disembarking braille blocks use red for prohibition and warning and yellow for caution and guidance but this requires improvement. The floor design of the Hong Kong subway is also confusing because the image pattern on the floor is placed irrespective of entry and exit, but the arrow side is designed with an anti-slip design for safety.

Frutiger typeface applied to public sign

Braille block (color) of Seoul Subway Line 7 / Floor pattern incongruity in Hong Kong subway

2) Inside the subway 

Inside the Sapporo Subway in Japan, connecting doors are opened, for the convenience of passengers' movement in the carriage. In the Hong Kong subway, many handrail poles are installed to ensure safety in the wobbling carriage, and all interior seats are made of non-combustible materials and ergonomic design is reflected to provide individual comfort. Safety was emphasized by installing glass walls. In the case of the Swedish railway, there are bicycle holders, in consideration for bicycle users.
Joints inside the Sapporo subway in Japan / Hong Kong subway handle poles and non-combustible material / Reserved seats for pregnant women
Bike cradles in Swedish subways

Through many cases, we discovered the psychological stability and functional beauty that universal design gives, and found that visual satisfaction is necessary. A sidewalk designed to allow pedestrians with visual impairments or mobility difficulties to walk safely by using point-shaped blocks and linear blocks appropriately according to the shape of the terrain provides users with a sense of stability. Lighting and color schemes make a positive impact, and guidance signs and arrows emphasize functional beauty by improving visibility based on format.

Functional beauty and visual satisfaction can be satisfied at the same time by installing small dot-shaped irregularities on numerous stair treads in subway stations, and bold graphics applied to vehicles that help people with reduced mobility provide visual satisfaction to users. This is an element of universal design.

In order to build a city that is safe and secure for all around the world, the principle of universal design was applied and distributed in public spaces. The Seoul Metropolitan Government will also introduce a universal design certification system in the public design sector, and propose a plan to grant the certification to spaces and areas for citizens to which the principles of universal design are well applied.

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