Category: Design for All

The Prime washbasin lands on TV

There is no greater satisfaction for a design studio than seeing its products in use and visible in everyday life. Even more so than sales. This is the case of the Prime washbasin, selected by the RAI production for the television series ‘Lea – Un nuovo giorno‘ developed over 4 episodes. Designed by Francesco Rodighiero, it respects the principles of Design for All and has obtained the Quality Mark released by the Design for All Italia Association.

The construction of the set involved the installation of three countertop washbasins with mixers chosen and suggested by the washbasin manufacturer. Goman actually supplied the elements requested by the manufacturer, which we thank for their courtesy.

We can assume, almost with certainty, that the choice of the product is attributable not only to its functional characteristics. But also for the desire not to use particularly characterising and stigmatised hospital washbasins, which are very common in various facilities in Italy and abroad. It is all the more pleasing, therefore, at least to think that there was an idea to present a bathroom with innovative and expressive Italian design elements.

Design for All, Wikipedia: an incorrect definition with no solution

Design for All, Wikipedia: an incorrect definition with no solution.

Since several years, some members of the Design For All Italia Association have tried to revise the Wikipedia article that can be read online. Despite various attempts, the proposed changes are not accepted and a profound misunderstanding remains. Comparing or matching Design for All with Universal Design is incorrect precisely because they are profoundly different design approaches. Universal Design, Design for All, Inclusive Design, Human Centered Design, and many other design methods, work in the same direction: improving the quality of life and autonomy, empowering users, even if each has its own specifics and shared characteristics.

The official definition, which you can also find on this website with the appropriate insights, from the Stockholm Declaration of the EIDD of 2004, is the following:

Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality. This holistic and innovative approach constitutes a creative and ethical challenge for all planners, designers, entrepreneurs, administrators and political leaders. Design for All aims to enable all people to have equal opportunities to participate in every aspect of society. To achieve this, the built environment, everyday objects, services, culture and information – in short, everything that is designed and made by people to be used by people – must be accessible, convenient for everyone in society to use and responsive to evolving human diversity. The practice of Design for All makes conscious use of the analysis of human needs and aspirations and requires the involvement of end users at every stage in the design process.

It seems immediately obvious that the 7 principles of Universal Design cannot be compared to Design for All, but rather to some principles of contemporary ergonomics. While on the one hand we are talking about a holistic approach and therefore about the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge, on the other hand we are talking about respecting and applying a list of indications in order to be able to make the project fall within a discipline. Moreover, Design for All involves the end users and all stakeholders in the development of the project, while Universal Design does not make explicit the participatory aspect, and even less the respect for the dignity of individuals.

The Design for All Process

On this last point, Design for All is becoming more and more up-to-date and has anticipated by several years what is now referred to as co-design. The results of the Design for All process, in this way, are extremely more refined because they are able to collect and analyse expressed and submerged needs, trying to find one or more suitable solutions. We will return to the importance of the process and how it can be applied in practice in another article.This is necessary in order to motivate the involvement of the actors, not merely passive to validate the project, but encouraged to contribute their experience and creativity.

Project for disabled people, people with disabilities. It’s not a matter of language.

Project for disabled people, project for people with disabilities.

Apparently it may seem to be a matter of language. Current language and its forms of application remain as an expression of culture, degree of civilisation, way of thinking, and level of attention. Some contemporary authors, indeed, define human language as an instrument of thinking.

The Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities

Following an evolutionary process of current language that always tends to improve also in relation to the respect and sensitivity of individuals, the choices made by important government institutions such as the UN with the “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” are evident. Persons with disabilities is the term officially used by the Italian State, in all likelihood in order to focus attention on the person and not on the pathology or physical condition.

This choice and this expression, when it’s in relation to or accompanied by the project, supports its innovative and contemporary meaning (from the Latin: pro in advance jacere throw; what is thrown in advance). Moreover, providing design services, products, or anything else for the disabled or differently abled is almost an oxymoron: what can improve quality of life, autonomy and the right to access and use is opposed by respect for people.

Even more than architectural barriers, then, it’s cultural barrier that can have a major social impact on the disciplines and manifestations of human activity. The ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) had already laid the foundations for revising certain paradigms: “Disabilities are the result of the interaction between people affected by physical and mental impairments, the obstacles posed by the environment and the behaviour of others that prevent effective and full social integration on the basis of a principle of equality between men.”

Once again, Design for All is more far-sighted and discreet when it comes to human diversity, including in relation to desires and ambitions.

Francesco Rodighiero – New president of Design for All Italia

In May 2021 took place the elections of the new board of directors of the Association Design for All Italia, and with great pride we announce that the new president-elect is Francesco Rodighiero. The institutional role that he’ll cover for the next two years will be mainly directed to the dissemination of the values and principles of Design for All.

The new board is composed by:

In particular, he proposed to continue the work and the commitment of his predecessor, Giuseppe di Bucchianico, in consolidating the base of the association as well as to reflect on effective communication for a mixed audience. In particular, a big confrontation with all stakeholders will start soon to deepen and discuss the effectiveness of the Accessibility Law 13/1989.

The intent is to understand the strengths and limitations after more than forty years of applying, and then build a possible process that leads to the creation of documents useful for the construction of a new law certainly less prescriptive and more indicative according to the trend of Europe and the Nordic countries.

What’s Design for All – An interview with Francesco Rodighiero

I was recently given a series of very relevant questions to fully understand Design for All and how it can be useful when applied. This is a short interview that tries to take the full picture and provide a starting point for those who want to explore the topic further.

Francesco Rodighiero

1. What’s Design for All? How do you mean it?

The Stockholm Declaration of 2004 leaves no space for misunderstanding and defines Design for All as “[…] design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality. [..]”. On a more personal level, I use the principles of DfA so that products for people with disabilities have the same treatment as products in the classic world of Design.

EIDD© Stockholm Declaration, 2004

2. How do you design a product following the principles of Design for All?

Projects are always inspired by observation, research and, above all, by the client’s expectations. Design for All is useful for me to have a lot of attention to the broader user base: traditional design often designs for abstraction considering the standard man. In reality the standard man doesn’t exist, but is actually a complex system of diversified abilities, sometimes disabilities, and above all desires and aspirations.

discover our Design for All projects

3. Do you also benefit from the relationship with other designers?

In Studio Rodighiero.Design I’m lucky to have an engineer father who supports me in some technical solutions, the products for people with disabilities must respect the capacities and therefore stresses and strains of several hundred kg. On the other hand I have an architect brother who helps me to consider and contextualise the products within refined and contemporary environments. I consider myself lucky.

4. How has “barrier-free” design evolved over the years?

Certainly, in the last twenty years, much more attention has been paid to architectural barriers, even if they only solve part of the “problem”. Making a museum accessible doesn’t mean making the exhibition accessible to everyone. Just think of the visually impaired people… In this way, it’s better to have an inclusive approach like DfA and the removal of architectural barriers a subset of the design process.

5. Are you satisfied with the evolutionary path of design?

Yes, if I could see even great designers and archistars designing in an inclusive way….

6. What, in your opinion, are the aspects that deserve more attention in the future?

The aging of the population and its longevity are factors that cannot be ignored. And today’s elderly are people who do not want to feel like that, they’re connected to the web and technologically educated thanks to mobile devices. In this context, the dignity of people will be increasingly relevant. We can’t afford anymore to design assistive devices with a hospital feel, and, more generally, to put on the market products that are difficult to understand and use.

7. How do you think about Goman‘s vision regarding Design for All? Do you have new projects in the pipeline?

Extremely noble. There are very rare companies that take risks by proposing innovative and inclusive products that, in their sector, can be disruptive and unusual. It takes courage and determination. From the gratifying sales results of Prime and the selection for the Compasso D’Oro ADI, we are taking the opportunity to develop, together with the R&D department, a new project that takes full advantage of the latest successes.

Phenomenology of exclusion

Design for All as a contemporary approach to design

I was in the United States, it was the first half of June 2009, and I was wandering along the boardwalk that runs along the Ocean. It was, for me, my first time in the United States and I have no hesitation in expressing my deep disappointment. A place without identity, or at least as we Europeans understand it, and without any points of reference. I finally arrived in a bookstore wondering if I would ever find something to read in the original language; immediately at the entrance there was the Design and Architecture section. I won’t hide the fact that I was pleased, a bit because I had immediately found my spot in an immense (like everything in America) bookstore and a bit because I would have spent the next few hours in a place other than fast food, a clothing boutique, an exhibition. Among the featured books I found the one I would have bought shortly after: “Design meets disability” by Graham Pullin. The subject did not sound new to me, precisely because at the same time I was developing a project for a very special washbasin for the disabled for a company (Goman) and my research had encountered Universal Design and its applications several times.

From the first few pages it’s clear that: “Universal design is the term that is associated with a wide-ranging design methodology, and whose goal is the design and implementation of buildings, products, and environments that are accessible to all categories of people with and without disabilities.” Among the multitude of possible examples of Universal Design, the first ones the author chooses are the iPhone (at the time it was the 3G); the reason lies in the numeric keyboard that the operating system had arranged in such a way as to occupy the entire screen. The numeric buttons were, and still are, oversized, and therefore the dialing of the required phone number is extremely accessible even to the elderly. This shows that the target audience is not, as might seem obvious, only the disabled population, but mainly those who live in the third, and above all the fourth age. It becomes clear that advanced age is among the main themes addressed by the disciplines and by the design processes for broader users.

A few data can help to understand its scope and value. It must be said that the definition of the elderly tout-court is vague and flexible; both in science and in relations between the individual and society, the element that is taken as an indicator of aging is represented by chronological age. In other words, an elderly person is defined as having passed the conventional threshold of 60-65 years of age. Still conventionally, the third age can be defined as that which goes from 60-65 to 75 and the fourth age as that which goes beyond 76. In the European Union there are currently more than 70 million people over 60, which corresponds to 20% of the entire population.

In 2030 in Italy, according to an Eurispes research, we will have an elderly person every three citizens. It’s obvious that there’s nothing in common between people of the same age group; in fact, we find very youthful, lively and self-sufficient seniors in their 80s. Equally evident is that approaching the third age, and especially the fourth, is more likely to lead to the appearance of diseases, illnesses and other types of complications.

But going deeper and back to the topic, Universal Design isn’t the most correct approach, or at least the most complete and comprehensive one to deal with such a complex and heterogeneous issue as design for the whole population. Universal Design, which is very popular in the United States, is very focused on the final product using rules that are easy to apply; this allows for short-term results and benefits, but it completely fails in creating an awareness of social inclusion in decision makers and designers. Therefore, the methodologies proposed by this discipline don’t allow to measure the respect for human dignity, because it can’t be measured with purely objective parameters. In this sense, Design for All differs radically.

Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality.” “Designing Design for All means conceiving environments, systems, products, and services that are independently usable by people with different needs and abilities.” It’s a design process that takes conscious use of the analysis of human needs and aspirations and requires the involvement of direct users. Therefore, unlike other disciplines, all elements of the project that don’t constitute social discrimination or codes of ghettoization of users are covered. That’s the key point that allows Design for All to take a privileged, more contemporary perspective, while at the same time increasing the factors of analysis in the project. In fact, all of man’s senses (5) are involved and so it can be defined as a holistic approach, which undoubtedly turns out to be a creative and ethical challenge not only for designers and planners, but also for entrepreneurs, public administrations and political leaders. Finally, it’s important to specify that by “All” is meant all the people who want, desire or must benefit from the project, and not “all” in a strict sense.

There are several examples where this design process has been applied with considerable success. The accessible environment (even if often discriminatory) par excellence is certainly the bathroom, also because it is regulated by precise laws when it is used as a public service in contexts such as bars, restaurants, hotels, trade fairs, etc… Less obvious as an example is Autogrill’s effort in recent years to have facilities following the Design for All guidelines. At the moment, Autogrill’s truly accessible hospitality and rest stop sites are in Ravenna on the E45 and in Villaroesi Est on the A8 Milano Laghi. These two buildings are accessible in all their parts in a non-discriminatory manner, the shelving can be reached by everyone (children, adults, the disabled), the furniture (seats and tables) is light and easy to handle, there are adequate colour contrasts, and counter-top areas are also accessible for wheelchair users, etc. Even the bathrooms of the Villoresi Est structure have an original and almost sui genereris conformation that is not only non-discriminating, but more comfortable and functional. It’s no coincidence that the DfA Italia Association has awarded Autogrill with the Design for All Quality Mark.

Among the various inclusive products, either on the market or under development, the Delicanter, designed by Paolo Favaretto, still deserves a special mention. It’s a blown crystal decanter with a bottom almost spherical hosted by a base made of wood or metal. In this way it is also (but not only) possible to serve the beverage (wine or liquor) without the slightest effort, because it’s sufficient to rotate the decanter without lifting it. It’s a project that opens the path for those who have difficulties in handling weights (especially if weights are unbalanced) or have lost precision in performing daily gestures. This kitchen accessory is just one of a long series of innovative objects that can underline the importance of creating a usable and comfortable world for everyone through a design that is increasingly attentive to people’s needs.

If it’s evident that Design for All (like other similar disciplines) is aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at the elderly (for accessibility and independence) and therefore at a very large segment of the population, it’s surprising how it’s not such a widespread and perceptible approach and method in daily life. Research shows that 90% of products in Europe are not fully accessible and there is an urgent need for education but above all a design sensitivity that completes the work and effectiveness shown by the application of local or international regulations such as, for example, the removal of architectural barriers. It’s just enough to think of Ikea, whose worldwide diffusion for both furniture and furnishings and low-cost, democratic design, to show how the topic of “accessibility” is not a priority; at the moment, in fact, there is a kitchen for the disabled and not much more. From the perspective of Design for All, Ikea immediately becomes a less democratic reference and with a visibility that should make you think. In this way, unfortunately, we can speak of a phenomenology of exclusion, social and perceived. The reasons that do not push Ikea towards a more declared social inclusion are multiple and perhaps unquestionable, but certainly this multinational is currently missing an opportunity.

In fact, Design for All can be an economic lever for companies that shouldn’t be ignored: it makes possible to satisfy the majority of customers by giving comfort, ease and pleasantness of use even to groups that are excluded or penalized, it builds customer loyalty because it enhances their specificity, and it gives a creative and non-discriminatory response to safety and disability standards. Obviously, increasing the possibility of using an environment or a product means increasing the number of users or consumers, but above all, in the current panorama, for a company it means differentiating itself and showing itself socially active, contemporaneous. It can be said with certainty that designing Design for All does not mean applying limits or restrictions to the project, but that it is an opportunity to develop products, systems or environments that have a strong innovative value and, if desired, bring new languages and solutions; famous is the phrase of Paul Hogan, president of EIDD Design for All Europe “Good design enables, bad design disables”.

It’s about time that Design for All, or more generally Design for People, is treated, considered and valued with the same commitment with which the theme “sustainability” and its surroundings have been treated in the last decade. If a product cannot disregard its environmental impact, it is now no longer acceptable that a product does not consider the possibility that it be used by people with different abilities. The future of design is consequent, as History teaches us, to the future of mankind; the only certainty is that mankind is surviving longer and longer and the difficulties generated by this phenomenon must be faced.

If Design doesn’t take care of it, it’s out of History.


Graham Pullin, Design meets disability, Mit Pr, 2011

Avril Accolla, Design for All — Il progetto per l’individuo reale, Franco Angeli, 2009

Luigi Bandini Buti, Ergonomia Olistica, Franco Angeli, 2008

Gilardelli Daniela, Progetto “Idea DfA” — Il primo progetto italiano di introduzione del Design for All nelle PMI e le linee guida emerse, Camera di Commercio di Milan

Manipulation and/or reproduction (in whole or in part) and/or telematic dissemination of this work is permitted with prior approval of the authors. This essay was published in 2012 within Bootleg 5/10.

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