Takamura teaches empathy as a path to beautiful universal design

Thirty years ago this month, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, creating protections in employment, housing, health care and access for millions of people. One of the most obvious results of the law is accessible building design — curb cuts, automatic doors and ramps.

But truly universal design, sometimes called “inclusive design,” is much more than that. It’s a design concept that makes everything as easy as possible for anyone, and includes products from smartphones to flexible drinking straws. The concept means that design that accommodates one group actually makes it easier for everyone. For example, curb cuts meant to help people who use wheelchairs also make it easier for people with strollers or wheeled suitcases.

Read a Q&A with sustainability scientist John Takamura, an associate professor of industrial design in The Design School at Arizona State University, who teaches universal design in a studio class to graduate students. He had a career designing electronics and consumer goods before coming to the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.