A few years ago I had foot surgery on both feet at the same time. For six weeks, I stumped around the house with the help of a walker. Climbing stairs, making a sandwich, getting the mail—everything took five times longer than it should have, i.e., five times longer than it took me when I was able bodied. It was a stark reminder that, no matter how healthy we are, sooner or later we’ll all experience physical limitations, whether because of surgery or illness or the natural effects of aging.
Universal design accounts for that eventuality by providing for the broadest range of ages, abilities, and work styles. While universal design came into its own when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, inclusiveness has always been part of Herman Miller’s approach to design. In 1968, Robert Propst designed the original Action Office system with universality in mind, and it’s still among the best at accommodating people of all abilities.
If a product can be used with a closed fist, virtually anyone can use it. The sliding door design of Vivo’s overhead unit and its knob are good examples.
Beyond the “closed fist” rule, universal design happens in the application of product in work surface heights and aisle widths, for example, says Marsha Skidmore, Director of Market Response Design & Development at Herman Miller. Herman Miller dealers can help customers plan for universal design in their facilities.
In the product development process, Herman Miller doesn’t mandate universal design, “We don’t have to because we always have taken inclusiveness into account. It’s just a part of our culture,” says Skidmore. “We never aim to make something that would exclude a group of people.”