selling houseI heard about the idea of human centered design, which is sometimes referred to as universal design, while channel surfing the other night. Some woman out in New England wanted to create a safe home for her aging parents. Traditionally designed homes just didn’t seem to fit her needs. Close by in Boston, she learned of the Institute of Human Design. From floor to ceiling, a team designed a house for her parents.

The amazing thing is that the universally designed house pretty much looked like any other ordinary house. If you didn’t know what to look for, you wouldn’t know what makes it different from a traditional house.

Human centered design takes a traditional home and optimizes it for maximum safety and ergonomics. Many architects, designers and builders strive for a barrier-free environment – particularly for those with disabilities. However, universal design tries to make life easier and more efficient for everyone.

Human centered design incorporates seven principals into each item or blueprint they create:

  • Items or plans do not exclude any group of users.
  • Designs allow for use by a variety of people with varying abilities.
  • The item or plan is easy to use for anyone of any skill or educational level.
  • A simply designed object communicates its usage easily, no matter the abilities, skill level, or environment it’s in.
  • Minimal effort is needed to use the object.
  • The design or the object fits within the confines of the space it’s being used no matter the size or mobility of the user.

A universal designer thinks about every aspect of how the user interacts with the home on all levels. Generally, the main living spaces are on the first floor of the home and have wide paths and open floor plans for ease of movement. Designers also look at smaller things like light switches, faucet handles, lighting and clear labels.

Human centered design also tries to make common household items more user-friendly. This children’s plate sold by the Institute for Human Centered Design sticks like glue to the table. I don’t have kids, but I can imagine that this plate would properly be a godsend for most parents. Another item that I found particularly useful was this one-handed pepper grinder. I can see how it would be helpful to some one with a disability and those times when I need to season raw meat and can’t use my two-handed pepper mill.

The concept of human center design has spread over the last few years, and now many businesses have adopted these ideas. Basic things, like ramps and clear lighting began years ago. However, if you’ve visited a museum recently, you probably noticed that many have audio tours, which was spurred by human centered design movement.

Universal design is a truly amazing thing. Designers look at home holistically from floor to ceiling and light switches to pepper grinders when making a house and everything within it easy to use.

Have you heard of universal or human centered design before? Do you know someone with a home like this? Share your thoughts with other Zing readers!


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