Accessible Innovations with Universal Design

By Glowforge

Challenge: Make an everyday product more accessible for anyone to use.

Using universal design principles, redesign an ordinary product to make it more accessible for anyone to use. Think about how alternative manufacturing processes may help, and consider how manufacturing elements, appropriate materials, and production methods can all serve the goal of greater accessibility.

Facilitation Guide


Accessibility is an essential consideration in any design. It refers to the ability of people with disabilities or impairments to use and access products. Accessible design removes barriers that may prevent some people from accessing information, services, or activities, enabling them to engage with the world on equal terms. Considering different abilities and needs during the design stage can lead to more innovative, user-friendly, and adaptable products.

Have you ever thought about how the design of everyday objects affects people's lives? For example, the sloped path on the sidewalk that lets you roll your bike or scooter down to the road is called a curb cut. Whether you're in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, or carrying a heavy load, curb cuts mean you don't have to struggle to get where you're going. They help accommodate everyone.

That’s just one example of what's known as universal design, sometimes called inclusive or barrier-free design. It's about creating products and environments that are easy for anyone to use.

So how do designers create accessible products and spaces? Many follow the Seven Principles of Universal Design. The principles help designers create accessible products and environments that can also be manufactured efficiently and cost effectively. Alternative manufacturing processes can also help make products accessible for a wider range of users.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

  1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

The ideas of accessible design have prompted people to rethink everything from door handles to kitchen tools to shoes. These everyday items are being redesigned to make them safer, more enjoyable, and easier to use for people of all ages and abilities.


Research universal design and how it improves everyday experiences for everyone. Explore ideas for a product that could be redesigned to be more user-friendly. Consider what would have to change in the design and manufacturing of the product.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • What items do you use every day? Do they meet the guidelines for universal design? Consider the examples from Seven Principles of Universal Design.
  • What existing products have been improved to be more accessible? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these designs? Need more ideas? Check out this push-pull-rotate door knob or 5 Universal Design Products We Use Every Day.
  • Can you identify any design flaws or barriers in the existing product that could be improved upon or removed entirely?
  • Do you know someone who struggles to use a product? Do you have an idea of how to make that product easier for them to use? Many universally designed items came from empathizing with someone else’s needs, like OXO Good Grips or MagnaReady

Explore Tip

Explore these Ability Prompt Cards from DTU Skylab to help you think about others’ challenges. They feature different disabilities (whether permanent, temporary, or situational) that might help you consider how your redesign can help more than just one type of user.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the research you did for your accessible redesign. You should have a product in mind. Ask yourself:

  • Have you identified any barriers or opportunities that you can address through your redesign?
  • Have you gathered enough information about universal design to redesign a product to be accessible for a range of ages and abilities?

Consider if there are any other resources or techniques that would be helpful to explore before moving on to the Ideate stage, where you will brainstorm solutions to accessible redesign.


Now, brainstorm some accessible redesigns. Think of as many ideas as you can! Don’t worry about whether they’re good or bad. Get creative! Think about:

  • Who are the potential users of the product? What are their needs, preferences, and abilities?
  • What are some alternative uses that you might consider? Could the product do anything besides its original purpose?
  • How can you involve potential users in the design process to consider their needs and preferences?
  • How might the manufacturing process change based on your ideas?
  • Can you preserve or enhance the product’s essential characteristics to increase its functionality?
  • Can you enhance the product’s look so it works for a wide range of users while still looking stylish?

Team up! Collaborating with a peer can help you generate more innovative ideas.

Ideate Tip

Need inspiration? This Augmented Robotic Manipulator project extends reach for a variety of users. Also, check out this discussion: Helping Blind and Low-Vision People - Using the Glowforge for Accessibility!

Reflect and Review

Reflect on your ideas for the redesigned product.

  • Did you apply the Seven Principles of Universal Design? Can you think of any unique or creative ways to incorporate these principles into your design?
  • Which redesign idea excites you and your potential users the most?
  • How do your ideas impact your users and make the product safer, more enjoyable, and easier to use?

Are there any points to consider before you move on to the Design stage? There you’ll narrow your ideas to one or two product concepts to fully design.


Review the ideas you brainstormed and select one or two to further develop by creating sketches or digital mockups. Consider the following:

  • How does your idea improve the user experience for individuals with different abilities? What features or elements help make the product more accessible?
  • Which parts will need to be manufactured using Glowforge? What design software (like the Glowforge App, Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop) will you use?
  • What tools and materials do you need to develop your product redesign?
  • How could you incorporate patterns, color, shape & form, or texture into your redesign? How could they make it look good, but also function better?

Design Tip

Explore the Glowforge Gallery on how to design moving parts, bend rigid materials, and make joints or hinges. See how Community members have solved different challenges to inspire your own designs!

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on your redesign progress.

  • What design constraints, such as cost, manufacturing capabilities, and materials, do you need to consider? What are some creative solutions to work within these constraints?
  • Does your design solve the problem you set out to solve?

You’re almost ready to create your redesigned product! Is there anything you’d like to change before you start creating?


Select one fully developed design. Using Glowforge, print a prototype using appropriate materials. Consider the following:

  • How can you test the functionality and usability of your redesigned product? Does it work the way you intended it to? Will it be easy and intuitive for users?
  • How can you optimize the prototype to make it functional, comfortable, durable, and safe for the users?
  • How can you refine it for production in a cost-effective and timely manner?

Prototype Tip

Consider using low-cost materials such as Draftboard™ or cardboard for the initial prototype. That way you can test your prototypes for usability or flaws before investing in premium materials.

Reflect and Review

Think about the prototypes you created and tested during this stage.

  • Did your prototype reveal any technical or practical challenges that you need to overcome?
  • Which things might you want to revisit about your redesign?

Do you want to revisit any previous stages before moving on to the Evaluate stage?


After creating and testing your prototype, it’s time for feedback. Here are some sample questions to ask your peers to get useful and actionable feedback:

  • Did you incorporate the universal design principles in your redesign? Is it easy and intuitive to use? How could it be made more user-friendly?
  • How do you typically use the product? Do any specific scenarios or situations make it particularly useful or challenging to use?
  • Is the product visually appealing, and does it effectively convey its purpose? If not, what changes could be made to improve aesthetics?
  • Is it cost-effective to produce using the resources and technology available? If not, what changes could be made to make it moreso?

Evaluate Tip

Conduct a user test. Ask your users to perform specific tasks with the product and observe how they do it. This can help you identify areas to improve.

Ask users about their experience. This can help you understand how they interact with the product and what they find easy or difficult about it.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the feedback.

  • How well does your design meet users’ needs? What did you learn from them?
  • Do you want to revisit any stages in the design process to make adjustments?

Once you have completed and finalized your design, share it with a larger audience!

Share your students' creations on social media! Post your photos and use the hashtag #GlowforgeEDU and tag us @glowforge for the chance to be featured.