Principles of Neo-Universal Design

1. Design for the Exception

Universal design presumes you can make something for just about anybody, but it also acknowledges there will always be an exception.

2. Prioritize Beauty

So you take that exception and you create a beautiful solution.

3. Share it Widely

And lastly, you share the solution widely. Because so long as your aim is not to improve the person, but to improve one’s access; your solution will always have much broader applications.

We believe beauty cannot be an afterthought. It must be given a chance to thrive.

Since design historically has operated for, not with, people with disabilities, the IFDC is developing a community-driven design field. Neo-Universal Design operates under three basic principles:

  • Design for the Exception

  • Prioritize Beauty

  • Market Broadly

Neo-Universal Design was created after Liz Jackson, founder of the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective, saw a glaring hole in Universal Design. Not one of the 7 Principles of Universal Design prioritizes beauty or an aesthetic or emotional connection. Jackson believes this oversight is stifling innovation and further stigmatizing the products people need most.

While Universal Design has improved many aspects of all lives, the oversight of aesthetic needs addressing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidental falls are a leading cause of death. The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) found that successful adoption of an assistive device by someone in need reduces the risk of fall exponentially.

Products made for people with disabilities are so ugly nobody wants to use them. Failure to use hearing aids leads to early onset dementia and early death. And according to a study done by the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), reducing isolation can reduce physical pain.

Universal Design was developed through an architectural lens. Neo-Universal Design is developed through fashion, because we believe beautiful design is the groundbreaking response to these deadly oversights.


The IFDC would like to thank the following designers for their support throughout the development of Neo-Universal Design:

  • Elizabeth DePoy & Stephen Gilson; University of Maine
  • Donald Strum, Robert Van Varick, Vijay Chakravarthy & Jenn Lydell; Michael Graves Architecture & Design
  • Pradeep Sharma; Rhode Island School of Design