The Value of Universal Design Enhanching a City Branding and Success

The 2021 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATIONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Hye-Gyung, Yoon (Research Professor, Yonsei University)

The Universal Design International Seminar hosted by the city of Seoul from 2016 to 2020 made a contribution to the evolution of universal design. And we’re in the process of re-connecting the achievements so far with values that create urban competitiveness and branding. At the same time, the unprecedented pandemic has upended every aspect of our life, causing distress and a sense of alienation. Against this backdrop, the presentation focuses on the necessity and achievements of design policies incorporating ‘design as a value creator’ into people’s everyday lives and our society that yearn for restoration and healing. 

The shifts of ‘design paradigm’ in the 21st century have been strategically and innovatively connected to ‘universal design’ policies that create cities without discrimination. As we’re witnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ‘design’ is an essential value driving major policies in culture and arts, social welfare, economy, education, and IT. We see a crossover of design because its power and charm serve as growth engines and lead to value-added activities. Universal design is a principle, concept, and way of thinking that can be interpreted as Design for All. It started as a global agenda preparing for super-aging society. But as suggested by the slogan of UN’s New Urban Agenda, ‘No One Left Behind,’ the idea progressed into an ultra-social concept to create a sustainable society. Universal design is expected to function as a crepidoma generating urban competitiveness and brand values and continues to expand its scope. 

Design Paradigm Shift
Paradigm comes from the Greek word ‘paradeimga’ for standard or sample. It refers to a cognitive system or theoretical framework that defines a viewpoint and way of thinking in a specific era. The term was first used by Thomas Kuhn when he gave the definition of paradigm in his book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolution.’ Therefore, a shift in design paradigm means that a paradigm is created by a new design concept in line with its changing roles in an era. 
The dictionary definition of design is an activity of creation based on organic and rational thinking to accomplish a given goal. However, design to improve users’ lives was replaced by producer-centered design after the Industrial Revolution in Britain when mass production and consumption met capitalistic market logic. The producer-centered design was then evolved into user-centered design in the 20th century due to the need for ‘well-being.’ The idea of well-being refers to seeking ‘happiness,’ ‘satisfaction of life,’ and ‘health and longevity.’ Its impact can also be found in social welfare policies. The concept of well-being was expanded from focusing on an individual’s health to enhancing health, safety, satisfaction, happiness, and quality of life of the society as a whole. With this, a new paradigm shift took place. We started to see a demand to convert design’s values from figurative aesthetic to quality of life and social and cultural values. 

The Rise of Universal Design Cities
Universal design means ‘design for all.’ It was first coined by an American architect Ronald Mace who defined the term as a concept or philosophy to design projects, buildings, environments, or services that are easy to use and equally accessible to everyone regardless of their age, gender, language, and disabilities. The idea emerged during the 1950s when environmental factors such as facilities that are uncomfortable to use for the disabled became social issues. And in the mid-1970s, people started to focus on reducing extra costs and addressing problems that occurred when building special facilities and spaces for people with disabilities. As the number of people who acquire disabilities due to an accident, illness, or aging increased, the perception changed to view disability as a social problem rather than a personal challenge. It was asserted that ‘special’ design for the marginalized or disabled aggravate social discrimination and unequal treatment towards those with special needs and therefore should be removed. Accordingly, the demand for a design concept that priorities values of equality and equity based on ‘togetherness’ started to surface globally. Such movement finally led to the creation of ‘universal design.’ Many cities worldwide implemented universal design in their urban planning in response to the aging population. The philosophy of universal design manifests in seven principles, which can be summarized as equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use. Its goal is to employ these principles to create products, environments, and services that are convenient to use and available for everyone. The city of Seoul has also been consistently incorporating the concept and announced the Basic Ordinance on University Design City (2016), Seoul Universal Design Integration Guidelines (2017), and Comprehensive Plan of Universal Design (2018). In 2020, Seoul Universal Design Center opened its door. In addition, Seoul has hosted the annual international seminar and invited universal design experts from both home and abroad since 2013. The seminar brought together citizens, civil servants, and experts for discussions on the importance and necessity of universal design. It also contributed to enhancing awareness around the topic. With these initiatives, Seoul is building another urban branding for a ‘universal design city.’ 
Urban Branding and Urban Competitiveness 
A UN report predicts that 70% of the world population will reside in cities by 2050. In the 1950s, less than 30% of the world population was urban dwellers. Physical spaces in cities expanded due to the development of housing, transportation, and infrastructure to improve the ‘quality of life.’ But serious issues also occurred in the process, from insufficient housing, unstable employment, crimes, problems related with commuting, traffic congestion to environmental pollution. More importantly, while urban planning also expanded in terms of demand and supply, it failed to provide a better quality of life and give psychological satisfaction to urban residents. A city is a living organism intertwined with the culture and life of urban dwellers. Thus, a creative design process is required to enhance branding values through a positive and unique image and ultimately strengthen urban competitiveness. ‘Brand’ stems from an archaic word ‘brandr (to burn)’ which described how animal owners branded their livestock to claim ownership in Norway. The engraved stones at the Fortress Wall of Seoul are considered a cultural brand nowadays. Urban branding is a means to differentiate a city from other places by reinforcing its unique image based on circumstances, services, and culture. New York City’s branding, ‘I ♥NY’, helped revitalize the sluggish economy and focus on tourism as a new growth engine for urban development. It also strengthened the city’s competitiveness. In 2007, Seoul was appointed as ‘World Design Capital Seoul 2010’. It was an opportunity for Seoul to increase its branding value and bolster urban competitiveness globally. Recently, K-culture has been sweeping the world. The economic impact made by K-pop idol band BTS is estimated at 5.56 trillion won (Hyundai Research Institute, 2018). By implementing a branding of ‘Seoul, a Universal Design City for All,’ the city will gain the upper hand in the competition among global cities. 

Progression of the Universal Design International Forum
The Universal Design International Forum which started in 2013 can be broken down into four phases. The first phase can be described as the beginning period in which the forum initiated efforts to share the concept of universal design with people. During this phase, the focus was on the necessity of universal design for public welfare to promote human dignity and respect the marginalized. The second phase is the introductory period of universal design. The forum highlighted not only its necessity but also the importance. Urban design started to incorporate the concept of universal design that creates a loving society for all. The third phase, the growth period, was when the interest toward universal design peaked. People-centered design approach was implemented at full-scale during this period. Also, universal design projects were carried out in earnest as policies started to adopt the concept to create an equal and inclusive city. The fourth phase can be categorized as the take-off period. A new urban strategy for the future is required to cope with post COVID-19, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and smart city. This means new vision and policies to create a universal design city need to cover various technologies including AI, 5G, IoT, big data, smart mobility, and the metaverse. It’s also important to expand the scope of universal design cities and explore ways to respond to the post COVID-19 future. 




Main Agenda


Discussion Topics 





 Introduce UD to citizen

BEYOND THE minimum of LEGAL REGULATION to maximum of Life 

 The concept of UD that provides convenient and equal access to everyone regardless of age, gender, nationality, and disabilities was introduced. UD was highlighted as the first step towards ‘design welfare,’ offering hardware functionalities of cities, ensuring human dignity and equality, and enhancing the quality of life. Case studies from Europe and Japan helped spread the idea of UD that embraces the marginalized including the elderly, the disabled, women, and children. 

Introductory period 



Build a social consensus for the necessity of UD 


 Various urban, housing, and environmental policies of Europe and Japan were presented with the following topics; UD in everyday life; UD & entertainment (Tokyo Disneyland); UD & safety (ToTO cases); and UD & social systems (welfare facilities in Norway & Australia). Future development directions were discussed at the forum. This phase helped reach a consensus that we need to implement UD in social welfare and public spaces. 



Expanding the importance of UD 

UD for Me and Us  

Case studies in which UD improved the quality of life were shared. Best practices of UD as a design paradigm making the world a better place were also presented. The forum raised an awareness that the concept of UD needs to be implemented for everyone as well as the marginalized. Valerie Flecher delivered a keynote speech on ‘design to change life values’ and stressed that design influences people’s confidence, comfort level, and ability to control. It was also highlighted that diversity in abilities is not something special but obvious, and it impacts our life even to a small degree.  





Explore implementation in public or education sectors to create a UD city 


To explore urban blueprints to address changing population and user diversity, the forum analyzed how major cities were transformed through UD. Practical implementations were also reviewed to discuss the future direction of discrimination-free UD and UD society. Best practices in architecture, interior, products, and web design were shared. Hubert Foryen delivered a keynote speech on ‘universal design for all’ and proposed co-existing society, social changes, and public participation. It was emphasized that UD needs to encompass elegance (comfort, dignity, no stigma), adaptability (support, variety, change), evidence-based design, people and disabilities, and aging population. The idea that UD enables people to take proactive actions in environments was also highlighted. 



Review UD policies including visual industry sector to create a UD city 


The philosophy of UD was shared. Examples of UD that creates a happy society through ‘empathy and communion’ and respect for others were also highlighted. Thomas Bade, CEO of the Institute for Universal Design in Munich, delivered a keynote speech and articulated that UD is about giving first-class experience to everyone. He stressed that UD needs to build bonds with everyone. The speakers presented Singapore’s UD master plan, Yokohama’s UD policies, Hong Kong’s UD implementation, UD in the digital transformation era, and Seoul’s UD initiatives. 

Maturing period 



 Establish a master plan & explore future directions including architecture and space & environmental design to create a UD city



 To learn more about ‘equity and inclusiveness’, the core values of discrimination-free UD, six experts from 5 countries were invited to present the best practices. Richard Simon who delivered a keynote speech is CEO of Applied Wayfinding. His company came up with Legible London, the world’s most pioneering direction system for pedestrians. He’s driving urban and traffic planning to set up direction systems in multiple cities including London, New York, Madrid, and Vancouver.  



 Explore ways to vitalize industry & economy through creating a UD city


 To demonstrate the success of UD in revitalizing the industry and economy, case studies of global cities were shared. The focus was on showing that UD is closely connected with the industry and economy (in relation to start-ups, job creation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, etc.). Mat Cash delivered a keynote speech on people-centered urban design through shared spaces. His presentation highlighted the importance of urban design that offers comfortable and proud spaces.

 Take-off period



Explore ways to include UD in administration, everyday life, and design principle & to create a future UD city after COVID-19 


 Changes in urban design since COVID-19 were explored. Best practices were presented to help find new opportunities through UD. Richard Sennett delivered a keynote speech, pointing out that climate change is the most pressing issue faced by cities. He highlighted that governance is critical in adapting to climate change that is difficult to control. Also emphasized were individuals’ efforts to create cities in which diversity and creative disorder are integrated and various challenges are effectively addressed.  


Analysis of Seoul’s Universal Design International Seminar

Looking at the previous international seminars held from 2013 to 2020, the presentation topics covered environment sector (16), construction sector (9), policy/planning/system (8), wayfinding system (4), IT/smart technology (3), and service sector (1). Overall, universal design in the environment sector was most extensively discussed. Global speakers visited from Asia, Europe, and U.K./North America in order. Professional experts from various regions and countries presented their best practices and policies. The Universal Design International Seminar successfully introduced the concept of universal design and reached a consensus on its necessity. It also served as an opportunity for civil servants and experts to assess their UD implementation strategies through global best practices. To strengthen the design branding of ‘universal design city for all’, it is crucial to incorporate ‘design as a value creator.’ Equally important is an attempt to pursue a universal design city that can respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and smart city society. By nurturing universal design experts and creating an industry ecosystem, the seminar can contribute to building a comprehensive universal design platform with economic benefits such as job creation or start-up support. Each session needs to focus on more diverse and detailed topics to achieve these goals. 


Seoul’s 100 Universal Design Policies for the Past 10 years (2010-2020)
◾Established Universal Design Guidelines for 24 Welfare Facilities (2010-2013): Seoul’s universal design project started with the ‘Universal Design Guidelines for Welfare Facilities’ covering 24 facilities used by the elderly, the disabled, women, children, and youth. 
◾Expanded consulting for universal design to 64 public buildings including government offices and libraries (2010-2019): Design consulting services for welfare facilities started in 2010. The services were expanded to public facilities such as government offices and libraries, accumulating more types of universal design consulting examples.
◾Organized six rounds of University Design International Seminars & Exhibitions since 2013 (total participants: 22,295) 
◾Implemented universal design to public spaces and enhanced internal & external awareness ( 2015-  )
◾Universal design best practice project & pilot project (2015-2019): 2 public buildings including Seongdong-gu Community Health Center, 3 public spaces including Hwamok Senior Community Center in Dongdaemun-gu, and Guro G-valley area (complex 1,2,3)
◾Organized moral character & creativity training sessions through universal design (2015- ): Coordinated with the Office of Education to set up a regular curriculum with 13,377 primary school students and 372 teachers 
◾Organized training sessions on UD for welfare facilities: Offered a class at the Human Resources Development Institute for civil servants working in Seoul
◾Established Universal Design Comprehensive Guideline & Assessment System (2017)
◾3 fundamental areas in urban environments including pathways, buildings, and parks & 29 detailed items
◾Enacted Seoul’s Basic Ordinance on Universal Design (2016)  
◾Established UD testbeds at regional level (2018-2019): 1 aged industrial complex (enforcement plan for industrial complex), 1 aged hillside residential area (site for residential environment improvement)
◾Established UD public streets near Gasan Digital Complex in Geumcheon-gu & integrated guide system
◾Established Seoul’s Comprehensive Plan of Universal Design (2018)  
◾Started pilot projects for Seoul’s Comprehensive Plan of Universal Design (2019): Hub for communication and accumulation, research for advancement of UD industry, participation of UD organizations and citizens, collaboration with public administrative organizations
◾Established a plan for ‘Universal Design Platform’ at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in collaboration with Seoul Design Foundation
◾Seoul’s universal design principles for the past 10 years: convenience, safety, comfort, ability to choose
◾Seoul’s universal design values for the next 10 years: inclusiveness, restoration, self-reliance, spread

Epilogue: Universal Design with ‘Empathy, Symbiosis, Sharing’ for Competitive Urban Branding
As widely recognized, design in the 21st century is a core element in the value-added industry’s strategy to increase personal values, corporate competitiveness, and urban branding power. Hence, it’s regarded as a crucial factor in strengthening urban identity. Many leading countries are leveraging design to improve individual’s ‘quality of life’ as well as society’s ‘quality of life.’ It’s a global trend to apply design in the public welfare sector and establish policy services to build expansive design infrastructure. Seoul’s efforts for the past 10 years to increase awareness on the necessity of universal design for social welfare and publicness have led to tangible achievements. But still, most municipal governments are relying on ordinances or guidelines due to a lack of national law on universal design. Policies and projects involving universal design tend to focus on short-term results. Given these, it is vital to establish institutional strategies to enhance the publicness of universal design. The city of Seoul is planning on expanding universal design policies to improve urban branding and the quality of life. Developing a universal design platform is also in the pipeline to ensure comprehensive management. These initiatives will help drive universal design projects to reinforce urban branding and facilitate the development of an open platform for civil governance. At the micro-level, follow-up tasks will make sure the consistent application of universal design guidelines specific to each project. It will also be helpful to have a system in place to conduct reviews and consultations for design-related projects before their execution. Quantitative and qualitative assessments of design projects as well as integrated platform for universal design city will act as policy drivers to create a competitive universal design city. On a final note, the prolonged COVID-19 can result in corona-poor class while psychosocial depression due to isolated social activities may cause severe fatigue. However, we need to remind ourselves that ‘in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunities.’ I believe that we’re currently going through a transition for new advancements. Three values of ‘empathy, symbiosis, and sharing (life with respect and communication, life living together, life sharing with others)’ are essential social philosophies that will contribute to an all-embracing society in post COVID-19 era. I hope that universal design cities continue to improve quality of life and enhance urban image based on these values. 

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