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What do the terms “universal design” and “Better Living Design” mean — and what don’t they mean?

Universal design and Better Living Design are actually pretty close in meaning. Universal design is quite broad and applied to the entire designed world, including the built environment but also to educational practices and even the digital environment.

Better Living Design is focused exclusively on the residential sector: new home design and construction, home remodeling and the products that go into homes.

Living Well

The 2014 Home for Life. — Image courtesy of Hanley Wood

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Universal design (UD) was developed 30 years ago with the imperative that designers accommodate a wider range of users and understand that people’s performance characteristics change throughout their lives. As applied to housing, universal design means accommodating design features that are integrated into the overall design of a home or product. The result is that the home or product works better for a wide range of people and is appealing and marketable to a wide audience.

One reason we created the “Better Living Design” brand was because of challenges that both the home building industry and consumers have had understanding what universal design is. Those challenges have prevented a broader adoption of universal design.

The problem is that for many people, universal design has become a general-purpose term for assistive technology and all things accessible. People associate UD with specialty home features such as ramps and wheelchair lifts and kitchens designed for seated users. While these elements are essential for folks who need them, mainstream households seeking general-purpose homes and remodeling don’t see those features as useful or desirable.

In contrast, research shows that consumers will gravitate toward ease-of-use and convenience features that look quite typical and are well integrated into the design of a home. Better Living Design-constructed homes look like other homes in a neighborhood but have features that are quite handy and have lasting utility. Better Living Design (also referred to as BLD) homes are a terrific long-term value that works well for residents and visitors — today and in the future.

The Better Living Design Institute’s job is to make the home building industry and consumers  aware of these good looking, value-added, generic features that can be included in new homes or designed into many remodeling projects.

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