Universal design and the difficult definition of "all"

  • Lars Christian Risan NIBR, Norsk institutt for by- og regionsforskning Medforfatter: Siri Nørve, samme sted.
  • Siri Nørve Seniorforsker Norsk institutt for by- og regionforskning E-post adresse: siri.norve@nibr.no
Keywords: universal design, social democratic housing policy, Carsten Boysen, Byggforsk, TEK 10


Universal design is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”. During the last 15 years this principle has been promoted in Norway as an unequivocal step forward. It may, however, be dangerous to believe that a pure technical solution in itself can bridge political controversies, to reach “universality” (Imrie 2012), and in this paper we unravel important ideological biases that are hidden under the umbrella of universality. Our empirical field is Norwegian housing policy. Within this field we see that some versions of universal design have been advocated for the last 40 years, under various headings, and we see that it has changed from having a social democratic content before it was renamed as “universal design”, to be advocated within a neoliberal paradigm in the last 15 years. Within the social democratic area, the predecessors of “universal design” were advocated as a further development of a housing policy of social justice and economic equity.  With the advent of the term “universal design”, the last 15 years, the broad social frame disappeared, but under the cover of “universality” and progress this political change has been silenced.

How to Cite
Risan, L., & Nørve, S. (2013). Universal design and the difficult definition of "all". FormAkademisk - Research Journal of Design and Design Education, 6(3). https://doi.org/10.7577/formakademisk.436