Universal Design

Transformational Tea Kettles

How can something as simple as a new tea kettle design create buzz in advertising and creative industries and become transformational for people with disabilities? In this post’s two examples, Michael Graves and OXO share the power Universal Design is bringing to the disabled community.

It’s universally accepted that the foundation for successful advertising is good design and, for people with disabilities, good design is creating universal acceptance. Many forward-thinking architecture and industrial designers are incorporating a higher aesthetic known as Universal Design and ushering in a new era of inclusion for people with disabilities.

Universal Design, according to Wikipedia refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities. The term “Universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

If you’re not familiar with Universal Design, after reading that definition, you may instantly think of sterile spaces like antiquated hospitals, mass produced products “suitable” for everyone and a one-size-fits-all utilitarian mentality, but this is far from what defines these enabling designs.

OXO, according to Wikipedia, was founded by Sam Farber, an entrepreneur in the housewares industry. Noticing that his wife Betsey was having difficulty gripping ordinary kitchen tools due to a slight case of arthritis in her hands, he saw an opportunity to create more comfortable cooking tools that would benefit all users. After years of research, the first group of 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen tools was introduced to the U.S. market in 1990. Now the brand has over 850 products in their line-up. Here’s a keynote video (a bit long – but stay with it) from the 2008 GEL Conference of OXO executive Alex Lee sharing the brand’s design philosophy.

World renowned architect and designer, Michael Graves, able-bodied for most of his life, is now paralyzed from the waist down and he champions Universal Design’s seamless connection between beauty, functionality and disability inclusion. In a recent New York Times article Michael was asked if there was anything positive about being in a wheelchair, which he responded to by stating “I realize how bad the health-care situation is for people, and being a designer I can do what I can do relative to that industry to make it better.” Below are part 1 and 2 of a CBS interview with Michael Graves about his personal challenges.

Target’s website shares that: The Michael Graves Design™ collection for Target represents the shared belief that people instinctively appreciate great design and that it should be affordable and accessible to all.

Michael Graves, OXO and other innovators among architects and industrial designers who are championing this cause are creating tangible, real-world opportunities that are literally gripping to people with disabilities and the larger community. I believe that advertising is a reflection of the best in what we all hope to aspire toward and I’m confident the underlying philosophy of Universal Design can help to better connect advertising and disability.


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  1. Pingback: In Case You Missed It: Exploring Personal Boundaries | Yahoo! Accessibility

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