Practical and helpful: When products benefit everyone

Daily helpers are meant to be practical and easy to handle. Yet not every user shares the same prerequisites. This makes a product design that truly meets all needs difficult to achieve. This is the starting point of the Design für Alle (English: Design for All) design concept and where it wants to change things.


Photo: Two girls peeling potatoes

Design for All makes sure that many gadgets can be used by everybody, without further customization; ©

Everyone is different. No two people are alike. This diversity applies to all areas of life. "There is no such thing as 'the' normal person, which is why designers can no longer distinguish between mainstream and custom solutions," says Simon Kesting, Executive Member of the Managing Board of the Design für Alle Deutschland e.V. (EDAD) European Competency Network. "The concepts of designers, therefore, need to provide answers to various requirements and wishes. This requires the active integration of future users. In the future, successful products cannot be developed just by sitting alone at a desk or drawing board."

Design for All is subject to specific criteria

But what exactly does this type of product need to be for everyone to benefit? The Design for All (DfA) principle defines five criteria to assess everyday products:

First, products need to feature usability. They should also be designed so they are easy and especially safe to use.

Their adaptability also plays an important role. The products should be designed so many different users can adapt them to their diverse and individual needs without any problems.

Products that conform to the DfA principle also stand out by their user orientation. This means they incorporate and address future users and their perspectives early on in the development process.

The aesthetic quality also needs to be continuously included. According to EDAD, only attractively designed products can truly reach all people.

The last fundamental criterion is market orientation: the products that are being created should be as broadly positioned as possible to optimally tap the full market potential.

And where is the benefit of these types of products? "Products and places that are designed 'for all' are ultimately just as convenient and attractive to young families as they are to people in the prime of their lives or seniors, to persons with and without disabilities," says Kesting. "In times of demographic change, this type of target market expansion is essential for companies, which is why more and more industry sectors are addressing this issue by now."

From the start, Design for All is aimed at the inclusion of all potential users. "Ideally, great Design for All is also accessible, while not every accessible solution is deemed a Design for All," explains Kesting.
Photo: Wine label with Braille, plug in power outlet

A wine labe with Braille or a plug which can easily be removed - Design for All has many faces; © EDAD Design für Alle - Deutschland, Neumann Consult respectively M. Knigge, Büro grauwert

Versatile products for a self-determined life

Incidentally, the term Design for All can also be found in the German government’s National Action Plan to Implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD). "Generally, Design for All is a widely spread concept in mainland Europe," says Kesting. "The European Commission also recommends introducing Design for All as a requirement for invitations to tender in the public procurement legislation of the member states."

Even though the population at large generally notices DfA, it does so more in terms of great product features that are usually labeled differently, such as "practical", "convenient" and "intuitive" for example. Manufacturers pick up on this trend and prefer to illustrate the respective added benefits of their products. They choose to use already popular and solid terms. "One example of this is the 'Bathroom Comfort for Generations' product award created by the German Central Association of Sanitation, Heating and Air Conditioning (Zentralverband Sanitär-Heizung-Klima), ZVSHK, that regularly distinguishes products based on the Design for All criteria since 2013," explains Kesting.

The DfA concept is, therefore, based on consumers perceiving the resulting products as attractive and especially user-friendly. Potential individual needs that result due to a disability or age, for example, are incorporated in the planning and design process from the start by always keeping one goal in mind: everyone should be able to use the products – without custom solutions or support. After all, a self-determined life should not be a luxury.
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Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(Translated by Elena O'Meara.)