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Universal Design Examples

Providing information through different senses is one way of doing Universal Design, because it takes into account all of the different ways that people perceive and learn.

Multisensory exhibits broaden the appeal of a museum while they invite interactions and encourage learning in new ways.

1.  Multisensory experience

Boat of the Daigo Fukuryu-maru Exhibit

Daigo Fukuryu-maru boat exhibit

Tokyo’s Daigo Fukuryu-maru or Lucky Dragon #5 Exhibition Hall displays a wooden fishing boat that was contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States’ nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll in 1954.  The boat is now a multi-sensory exhibition. Visitors can walk around it, absorbing its salt-water smell and experiencing its size, and visitors with visual impairments can also experience it through a tactile model.




2.  Universal Design Case Study Collection

N E A logoThis is a collection of Universal Design case studies, highlighting the relevant design features of each of four projects that received the National Endowment for the Arts 2008 Accessibility Award.  Each example highlights general design features that make the places more comfortable for all who visit.


3.  Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Photo: Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

This description of the new Canadian national museum highlights all of the elements that make the building a model for universal design, and shows how universal design may be incorporated throughout an institution’s programs and operations.






4.  Objects for Grandparents

Older Woman with "Social Sewing" objects

Older Woman with objects from exhibit “Social Sewing”

A collaboration between the University of Dundee and Microsoft Research resulted in two projects, “Storymaker, Storyteller” and “Social Sewing,” that reveal the kinds of breathtakingly creative solutions that can result from a combining design with ethnography and personal relationships.  These inspirational projects were created by undergraduate design students partnering with their grandparents, learning about their lives, and thinking with them about solutions to some of the dilemmas that an aging population faces.




5.  Museum Seating

two chairs with a table in between; on the table vase, crayons and paper

Denver Art Museum: Seating arrangement includes still life of flowers in a vase, crayons, and a sketch book where visitors left their drawings.

This playful article points out the fact that contemporary design exhibitions and museums seldom provide sufficient seating for their visitors and speculates about the reasons for this oversight.  Perhaps contemporary design does not require the kind of contemplation appropriate for the Old Masters?  Certainly the article provides food for thought for exhibition designers as well as others concerned with how visitors experience their exhibitions.







6.  Design with the Blind in Mind

Photo Chris Downey

Photo of architect Chris Downey  at a  TED Talk


Architect Chris Downey describes his experiences in becoming blind, learning to live with a disability, experiencing his environment differently, and providing tips on ways of interacting with people with visual impairments.  Downey’s talk could be helpful to anyone unsure of how to work with or talk to people with visual impairments.




7.  Wayfinding and Design

Pictogram with Braille

Pictogram with Braille for wayfinding

Avanti-Avanti Studio in Spain specializes in “Design for All” (universal design) and works for companies and institutions in the leisure, tourism, and cultural areas as well as for museums. Alex Dobaño and Elvira Muñoz lead the creative studio Avanti-Avanti, a multidisciplinary team of communication professionals, designers and technicians. They have produced remarkable examples of Digital signage, Exhibition Graphics, and Wayfinding.





8.  Berlin’s talking tactile models

Tactile Model of Berlin

Tactile model of Berlin

Two tactile models provide multisensory experiences for visitors of the city of Berlin.  What kinds of buildings and spaces lend themselves most easily to experiencing through touch?  Which elements of the design process were key to the project’s success?





9.  Multisensory Exhibits

Photo Aimi Hamraie

Aimi Hamraie

Aimi Hamraie is assistant professor of Medicine, Health, & Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her blog highlights the design features of museum exhibits that incorporate sensory information appealing to sight, touch, sound, and even smell!

Explore Aimi’s blog to find thought provoking examples that will inspire educators and exhibition designers.





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