Similarity in Difference: Bridging Universalism and Particularism in Design through Resonance

The demand for an inclusive society responding to diverse needs and ways of being poses a major challenge for designers. Approaches such as Universal Design (UD), Inclusive Design (ID), or Design for All (DfA) intend to respond to this challenge. However, their uptake has been limited in architectural practice. UD/ID/DfA are often critiqued for being prescriptive, disregarding individual differences and particularities, or lacking adequate formats to inform designers about the latter.

Inspired by these critiques, this project focuses not on what sets people apart (their differences or particularities), but rather on similarities or overlaps, i.e. resonances, across them, and how these can help designers address the challenge in inclusive designing. It breaks new ground by making explicit aspects of UD/ID/DfA that remain implicit. In doing so, it addresses two important questions: why inclusive designing matters (motivation) and how to make information on human diversity accessible for designers (understanding). First, a set of resonance principles are developed by studying overlaps between diverse people; what built environments afford and mean to them. Second, the project tests the principles’ applicability and what effects they produce (e.g. regarding understanding and/or motivation) in selected architecture firms. Ultimately, resonance principles will become a design-oriented framework aiding designers to develop skills needed on how to design for a diverse population.

This postdoctoral research is conducted by Natalia Pérez Liebergesell, under supervision of Ann Heylighen and Elizabeth Guffey (State University of New York). It is supported by KU Leuven in the form of a Postdoctoral Mandate and by the Research Foundation – Flanders in the form of a Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Image courtesy: Inclusive Microsoft Design

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