The Incidence of Theoretical Content in Universal Design Research

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This article investigates the incidence of theoretical content in Universal Design. Jones and Gregor’s structure of design theory is applied to selected Universal Design works with theoretical content. The Jones and Gregor model of design theory is outlined and explained. Having checked a selection of thirty-seven articles and papers selected for theoretical content, it was found that such content can be fragmentary and not clearly identified. Universal Design work from the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) field conforms more clearly than other research to Jones and Gregor’s structure. This might reflect an unaddressed difference in research philosophies in universal design for products such as assistive technology and accessible product design compared to universal design for HCI. It is concluded that design researchers working on design for disability and universal access need to explicitly identify the structure of their theoretical content. This will aid translation from theory to design practice and to improve theory-building and refinement which is one aim of design research.