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Acuity Research Group Inc.
P.O. Box 23096, 2121 Carling Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario K2A 4E2
Dept. of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa
Dupuis Hall, Room G11, Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario K2L 3N6
AGENDA: TOPICS TO BE COVERED
What is Universal Design?
Awareness of Universal Design
The culture of product design
"Building" the next-generation of product designers:
BACKGROUND: WHAT IS UNIVERSAL DESIGN?
"Universal design can be defined as the design of products and environments to be usable to the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities" (The Universal Design File, 1998, p. 2).
For example, a universally designed product for the general market will also meet the needs of older users. Also, compared to a "normal" product, the universally designed product may be more usable over a broader range of conditions for persons without disabilities.
However, if future product designers are not trained to consider universal design, this will not become part of their design culture. Consequently, "niche" products designed for special populations will continue to be produced, typically involving smaller production runs, with higher per-unit costs, higher prices to consumers, and greater inventory costs for producers.
AWARENESS OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN (UD)
Universal Design has a high profile at CSUN. Because all of us attend this conference, we may be excused for making the assumption that, because we have heard of Universal Design, everyone knows about it.
As researchers, we made the counter-assumption that our knowledge of Universal Design is atypical, and that most people - perhaps including most product designers - are not familiar with Universal Design. We tested this hypothesis in a two-pronged study.
We asked two questions:
Where did today's product designers learn about Universal Design and related fields, such as human factors, usability, and accessibility?
What is being done in college and university education today to prepare the next generation of product designers in these areas?
We will consider these questions in reverse order.
TOPIC 1: EDUCATION TODAY
First, we developed list of faculties and departments that would be likely to turn out product designers.
Next, we conducted telephone interviews with key faculty members knowledgeable about curriculum, with the goal of verifying the current and planned roles of universal / inclusive design in the graduate and undergraduate curricula, both as core courses and as optional courses.
The faculties and departments we identified as "training grounds" for next-generation product designers included:
At CSUN 2003, we're presenting results from Mechanical engineering as an example.
At the university level, the departments sampled include Mechanical Engineering alone, or paired with Industrial Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, or other related disciplines (graduate and undergraduate).
At the community college level, we sampled programmes in Mechanical Engineering with a design component, typically Mechanical Engineering Technology.
ACCREDITATION CRITERIA: ENGINEERING
First, we looked at the organizations that are responsible for accrediting engineering programmes.
In the US, the evaluation criteria of ABET (Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology) for the 2003-2004 evaluation cycle can be found at http://www.abet.org/criteria.html.
In Canada, the evaluation criteria of CEAB (Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board) can be found at http://www.ccpe.ca/e/prog_publications_3.cfm.
Neither of these groups includes the terms "Universal Design", "accessible", "usable", "usability", "human factors", or "ergonomic" anywhere in their criteria.
We have approached 31 institutions:
One university declined to participate and 3 colleges did not have design programmes. Of the remaining 12 universities, we've had input from 10 (83%). Of the remaining 15 colleges, we've had input from 12 (80%).
AWARENESS OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN
About half the respondents were not familiar with the terms "Universal Design", "inclusive design", or "designing for accessibility". Moreover, no institution sampled has a programme in Universal Design. Finally, no institution sampled has a person on faculty who specializes in Universal Design.
UNDERGRAD AND GRADUATE STUDIES
Undergraduate programmes: The 12 institutions we sampled include ergonomics / human factors in required courses for undergraduates, and another 2 provide it as an option.
Graduate programmes: In total, 6 of the 8 universities with graduate programme in Mechanical Engineering include ergonomics / human factors, but in optional courses.
Summary: Thus, even though "human factors" is not in the criteria required for accreditation, several schools include it in the curriculum.
OTHER SOURCES OF LEARNING
If human factors or Universal Design are not required courses in the curriculum, all is not lost; there are other opportunities to learn. For example:
Students may learn about Universal Design from individual courses, but this is based on the interests of the teacher.
Students may learn about Universal Design from projects, again depending on their interests and those of the teacher.
In universities, students may take optional courses in "parallel" departments where Universal Design may appear.
Students doing a co-op, apprenticeship, or internship may learn about Universal Design "on the job", depending on their industry placement.
TOPIC 2: TODAY'S DESIGNERS
BACKGROUND: THE CULTURE OF PRODUCT DESIGN
What types of companies design products?
Large companies will typically have a team of many members working on a product. The team may include engineers, industrial designers, user interface designers, and human factors specialists.
By contrast, smaller companies have a small core team. They may outsource industrial design, or just "try their best" in-house.
We generated a list of companies involved in product design for assistive technology or accessibility. In telephone interviews with product developers, or product development managers, we probed three topics:
INTEREST IN ACCESSIBILITY
Respondents became interested in accessibility for a number of reasons:
|Chance / luck|
|Know someone with disability|
"HIRING SPECIFICATION" (1)
Today's accessible product designers / managers are looking primarily for technical skills in "new hires". Human factors only figures inferentially (user interface, hands-on testing), and Universal Design was not mentioned.
|Technical, including engineering, computing
science, hardware, software
|"Human" skills, including user interface,
hands-on testing, patience, creativity
|Management, and especially project
"HIRING SPECIFICATION" (2)
Today's accessible product designers / managers tend not to be looking for Universal Design or human factors skills in "new hires", as shown below:
|Human Factors / Usability|
The conclusions below are based on the samples collected to date.
Neither Universal Design, human factors, nor related disciplines is identified in accreditation criteria for engineering programmes.
For Mechanical Engineering programmes:
Most companies designing and manufacturing accessible products do not know about Universal Design, human factors, or related topics.
As represented by our current sample, the next generation of product designers will have to learn about Universal Design / inclusive design / designing for accessibility after graduation. Possible sources of such education include:
However, there seems to be no mechanism in place to ensure that the next generation of product designer will be more aware of the "human side" of product design.
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