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Monday, December 27th, 2010

Do These 3 Things & You’ll Be A Much Better Networker

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I was stunned recently when, within 15 minutes of a concert I attended, I found a potential buyer for my 94 year-old Grandma’s summer cottage 2,000 miles across the country.

How did I do it?

I found a potential buyer for my Grandma's house at a....Jerry Garcia Tribute Concert!?

This wasn’t just luck — although you could argue that the tips I’m going to share are all ways to increase your luck…or serendipity as I like to call it.

Either way, it was a positive thing…so I re-engineered what happened and am sharing the three tips below.

And I really like these 3 networking tips cuz all are real easy to do and remember.

3 Networking Tips

Networking Tip #1: Attend Events You Enjoy (It’s That Easy!)

The first thing I did was to attend an event I knew I’d enjoy.

A friend had invited me to a “Tribute To Jerry Garcia” concert put on by the REX Foundation…and I’m a huge live music/Jerry Garcia fan!

Why is attending an event you’ll enjoy so important to networking?

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Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Warren Buffett Video Teaching You How To Be A Business Hero

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I found this terrific video (below) in which Buffett teaches students how to become the business hero they want to be (the video is pretty crappy quality but fantastic content!).

I wrote down the basics of the exercise (it starts around Minute 2 of the above video)

As Buffett explains, you don’t have to be a student to benefit from this exercise, but the earlier in life you do it the better!

Ok, grab a piece of paper…this won’t take long:

1) Pick a fellow student/colleague who you’d like to own 10% of for the rest of their lifetime

Question: Is it the person with the:

  • Highest IQ (probably not)
  • Highest grades (probably not)

Buffett thinks you’ll probably end up looking for qualitative factors such as:

  • Honesty
  • Leadership
  • Generous
  • Gave credit to
  • Temperament

Write down the qualities of that person you want to own 10% of on the left-hand side of a piece of paper.

and then, to continue the exercise, you then:

2) Pick a person who you would like to “sell short” based on their performance for life.

This would probably not be the person with the lowest IQ or lowest grades — more likely, Buffett says, this person has turned you off with such qualities as:

  • Egotism
  • Dishonesty
  • They cut corners

Write down the qualities of this person you want to “sell short’ on the right-hand side of your sheet of paper.

Buffett suggests that if you focus on emulating the qualities on the left-hand side and avoiding the qualities on the right-hand side, you’ll eventually become the person that you want to own 10% of.

But even better than owning 10% of that person, you’ll own 100% of that person…because it’s yourself!

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Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

A Simple Way To Increase Your Confidence (Fun Too!)

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Most of us can use a confidence boost once in awhile.  Here’s one exercise I used that works…and it actually feels good and positive as you’re doing it!

I call it the…

“Qualities of Achievement Exercise”

Step 1: Write Down One Achievement In Your Life You’re Really Proud Of

Write down something that you’ve done that you’re really proud of in life — it can be related to business, family, sports or anything.

What’s important about the achievement you select is that it made you feel really good.

Here are examples of achievements I’m proud of:

  • Winning the championship at a basketball tournament in Fire Island (pictured above)
  • Moving to San Francisco from New York (which I decided spontaneously with my then-girlfriend in a NY cafe)
  • Founding a start-up
  • Playing guitar onstage with my buddy Larry at his wedding reception (see picture below)

Step 2: Write Down The Qualities You Possessed For The Achievement

To the right of the achievement, write down the qualities you possessed (or conditions you set up) to make that achievement happen.

For example, to win the basketball championship I wrote down things like:

  • I practiced 3 times a week (aka ‘created a ritual’)
  • I focused on my strengths (aka ‘unique abilities’)
  • I was a team player
  • I gave it everything I had
  • I was in good physical shape
  • It helps to write these down as “I [fill in the blank]” statements.

    You should have at least 5 to 10 of these qualities.

    Ok, you should be feeling pretty good about yourself at this point…after all, you’re revisiting some amazing achievement from your life! That was a great day, wasn’t it!?

    So, let’s do another achievement (you’ll later see that it’s important to do multiple achievements).

    Step 3: Write Down A Second Achievement & List Out The Qualities/Conditions

    Step 4: Write Down A Third Achievement & Do The Same

    Step 5: Create Your Master List of Qualities Of Achievement

    Now that you’ve done 3 achievements, you should have a list of a couple of dozen qualities listed.

    Review the list on the right-hand side (the reasons you accomplished these achievements) as this is your master list of “Qualities of Achievement” — some of the many things you possess to do amazing things.

    There will be qualities that repeat among achievements too — even though you may use slightly different language for them — those repeat qualities are arguably among the most powerful qualities you possess!

    I found it useful to make a separate list (mine is below) of the repeating qualities. Here are some of my own:

    I utilized my network of contacts
    I was bold
    I focused
    I bought time
    I was positive
    I leveraged my unique abilities
    I created a plan
    I did the “right thing”
    I was persistent
    I practiced
    I created rituals
    I was persuasive

    Step 6: Whip Out Your Qualities Of Achievement Any Time You Need A Confidence Boost

    Now, what’s cool is that any time you are facing some new endeavor, you can look at your ‘Qualities of Achievement List”  to be reminded of the qualities YOU possess to further achieve!

    Furthermore, these qualities will give you ideas on how to tackle your new achievement!

    After all, you achieved greatness before…and you will surely achieve it again!

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Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Four Simple Steps On How To Become An Expert

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I heard a cool thing listening to a GetAltitude interview of Brendon Burchard by my business partner Eben Pagan in my car this week– Brendon mentioned four things an expert needs to do to be successful.

I love frameworks so I’ve listed the four items that Brendon mentioned below along with my take on each.

Listing just the framework felt dull so I decided to give an example of each step using the topic of “Social Media? (since Social Media “Experts” are high in demand these days).

Enjoy!

Four Steps On How To Become An Expert:

1) Tell People What to Pay Attention To

An expert needs to break down the abundance of information available to most people into just a handful of key bullets.

For example, if you’re an expert social media, you might suggest to your listener that the four social media tools to focus on are:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Your blog

2) Tell People What Things Mean

You need to tell customers what things mean and why they are important.

Continuing on the Social Media example, you would tell your audience that social media is critical to their business because it can generate half of their Web site traffic.

And this traffic can be unpaid (i.e. you don’t have to pay direct advertising costs to do it).

3) Tell People How Things Work

Experts should focus on how different pieces of something work…as well as how they all work together as a whole.

For example, you might tell your customer that the different Social Media platforms work in the following ways:

  • Facebook helps your business by allowing you to offer product launch information and discounts to your Facebook “Fans.”
  • Twitter is most useful in terms of listening to what users are saying about your brand and having a conversation with them when appropriate
  • YouTube can help grow your business through a channel you create with Web video commercials
  • Blogs are most useful for your business as a content delivery platform through which your team shares medium-length content about the direction you see your business and industry heading.
  • Overall: All four of the above can work in concert with your blog acting as your centerpiece promoting your Facebook Fan page, Twitter address and URL for your YouTube videos.

4) Show People The Future

A good expert shows their audience the future.

E.g: You can tell your audience that you predict that their Web site will have the following as the top five traffic sources by the end of 2010 if they follow your advice:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google (the current #1 traffic generator for most Web sites)
  3. Twitter
  4. Blog
  5. Facebook

If you work on these four things, there’s no doubt you’ll improve your reputation as an expert in your field.

Thanks for the idea, Brendon!

6 comments so far (is that a lot?) | Continue Reading »


Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The 8 Mistakes To Avoid When Transforming Your Business

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Is part or all of your business in the need of a transformation — A truly radical change?

My smart friend Daniel Neukomm riffed on Harvard Professor John Kotter’s theories on mistakes commonly made in corporate transformations (hint: if you AVOID these mistakes, you can indeed transform your business) –  enjoy!

Introduction

While a professor at Harvard Business School, John Kotter had the opportunity to gain valuable insight into an array of companies ranging in both size and scope.

In doing so, he identified eight key stages of transformational development in which companies failed to manage the change process. He theorized that those companies that had been successful did so only by effectively negotiating all eight steps.

He further noted that those firms who skipped any of those steps, or failed to recognize the importance of them were sacrificing quality and effect for speed of change, giving the illusion of being quick but in realty building a platform for failure.

In addition to illustrating a series of opportunities to fail, Kotter also provides some insight as to how to overcome these commonly experienced errors.

The Eight Mistakes To Avoid When Transforming Your Business

Transformation Mistake #1: Not Establishing a Great Sense of Urgency

The lack of a sense of urgency of transformation is the leading cause of why, and the primary stage of where business fail at effectively managing change.

Many companies struggle simply to be able to identify the need to change when circumstances arise that warrant doing so. Firms are constantly exposed to the need for change, from the emergence of new foreign markets to the presence of new, more powerful competition in the marketplace.

Kotter notes that more then 50% of companies fail at this initial stage for numerous reasons. Most notable of those significant reasons of failure at this early stage is the gross overestimation of current and prior efforts of urgency by corporate executives.

Many senior managers feel that they have already recognized and leveraged the existing need for urgent transformation and as such lack the necessary motivation to shift the rate of change into high gear.

Another important factor is the imbalance between those who dictate change and those who simply implement change. Firms with too many managers and not enough leaders often experience this dynamic and it adversely affects the ability to change efficiently.

Kotter’s Tips on Establishing A Sense of Urgency

Kotter offers the relatively simple solution of implementing mechanisms that establish a sense of urgency among employees. He further states that the need to aggressively achieve cooperation is essential as this impacts a firms ability to identify and discuss potential threats and pending crisis. The need to be able to clearly identify the market, and its competitive realities is also mentioned as a key solution to lack of urgency.

Transformation Mistake #2: Not Creating a Powerful Enough Guiding Coalition

Creating a powerful coalition is essential to guiding practical and effective transformation within a firm. The lack of importance placed on the need to achieve collective support is the second stage of error as cited by Kotter.

He states that in both large and small firms alike there is an increasing need to build support across a wide range of people involved in both the decision making and implementation process. Many firms believe that just having the senior management team on board with new ideas for change is enough.

In fact, there are many moving variable in the dynamic for change and as such many different roles, and the people who fill them, are required to achieve efficient transformational change.

For example, large firms undergoing aggressive transformation into a new market require the support of investors, board members and product development staff, but perhaps key customers as well.

Furthermore, due to the broad scope of support often needed to implement dramatic and effective change standard hierarchical structures are not enough to ensure success. (Kotter, 1995)

Kotter’s Tips on Creating a Powerful Coalition

Solutions to this stage of error range from instilling more power in those who already hold leadership roles, to the simplicity behind creating a more team oriented environment. (Kotter, 1995)

Transformation Mistake #3: Lacking a Vision

Lacking a vision can be an obstacle in almost any process, and most certainly in a corporate environment. Without a clear and defined vision it is not hard to imagine the difficulty experienced in trying to convey instructions and instill motivation in others to perform.

Furthermore, the lack of a clear and concise vision can be equally de‐habilitating, as broad sweeping goals can be difficult to break down into measurable achievements.

This lack of clarity can also trickle down into incompatible projects stemming from misdirected resources and undefined goals. (Kotter, 1995)

Kotter’s Tips on Strengthening Your Vision

Kotter offers some relatively straightforward and simple solutions to the absence of a clear and concise vision. Ensuring the existence of a vision is obviously at the top of the list as this is the source of the problem.

Many companies have visions that are bland and generic, often open to interpretation which in turn leads to misunderstanding.

Kotter suggests that having a vision that can be communicated clearly, to anyone, in less than five minutes is essential to having that vision realized.

Transformation Mistake #4: Under­communicating Your Vision

The absence of an easily understandable vision can cause confusion in the workplace and hinder fluid change in any organization.

Even with a clear and concise vision, the ability to communicate it effectively to everyone in the company can is vital to facilitate its purpose.

Kotter points out three patterns in which companies fail to effectively communicate the vision.

  1. Many firms often attempt to utilize a single communication to instill a new vision in every employee, such as a meeting or an intra‐company memo.
  2. Corporate directors continuously repeat the vision through speeches to employees who often do not have a clear understanding of what is being stated.
  3. Both the vision and the corporate officers who communicate it to the employees can be clear and concise however those very same senior officers do not act in accordance with the vision. This combined effect often leads to the breakdown of implementation of the companies overall objectives, resulting in broad inconsistencies throughout the organization. (Kotter, 1995)
Kotter’s Tips to Effectively Communicating Your Vision

The most obvious solution to this issue is to implement a system whereby directors not only communicate the vision but also lead by example and execute the stated vision consistently.

Furthermore, all available vehicles should be utilized to deliver the vision to all stakeholders of the organization.

The solution to this potential issue seems rather elementary yet still is not widely practiced. (Kotter, 1995)

Transformation Mistake #5: Not Removing Obstacles To Your New Vision

Communication itself is not enough on its own to instill the goals laid out by the visions of the company to encourage and facilitate change. Numerous obstacles exist for corporate officers in their quest to see their visions brought to fruition through the actions of employees.

Major contradiction of interests seems to present the greatest barrier for progress, most notably incentive based performance pay structures. Many of these incentive programs reward individual performance over the performance of the company, presenting a difficult position for managers. (Kotter, 1995)

Carter’s Tips for Removing Obstacles To Your New Vision

Solutions for this problem lay in the design and structure of the system as it pertains to the vision of the company. No longer can a corporation have an aggressive vision and an incentive based pay structure that does not reflect the long‐term goals of that vision.

Designers of corporate incentives must take into account how the system may derail the likelihood of integrating the vision. (Kotter, 1995)

For example, if the vision of a health company is to provide medical treatment, incentive programs cannot be structured to reward saving the company money and reducing the bottom line by paying more to those employees who refuse to provide medical services.

Unfortunately, this is largely the practice of US medical insurance firms.

Transformation Mistake# 6: Not Systematically Planning And Creating Short­-term Wins

Many companies experience turbulence in the transformation process by not creating short‐term goals. More firms have trouble in keeping employees motivated to achieve long‐term goals due to the lack of immediate return on efforts being made in the short‐term.

Kotter mentions that most people will not commit to the entirety of the project if there are not results in some measurable returns within the first 12 to 24 months.

If results are not seen within this immediate period, employees will often loose the drive necessary to achieve the long‐term goal. Managers who dissect such big picture goals into smaller more manageable tasks will often see greater results from their employees efforts implying that this may be an effective solution to the problems arising form lacking short‐term structure in the change process. (Kotter, 1995)

Kotter’s Tips on Planning & Creating Wins

Kotter offers some simple yet valuable insight yet again in this stage of transformational change by suggesting that managers break up longer‐term, more complex goals into short‐term, more manageable targets.

The creation of the short‐ term wins in this context so long enables a more momentum driven process, typically allowing for more accurate achievement of the longer‐term goal.

Establishing visible and more measurable performance improvements and then rewarding employees for achieving those milestones will enhance the corporation’s ability to implement change and realize transformational fluidity.

Transformation Mistake #7: Declaring Victory Too Soon

While establishing short‐term wins is key to the success of managing change there are also some disadvantages which can arise form this strategy as well. Kotter points out while short‐term wins are encouraged there is some danger in give incentives to employees to reach a larger volume of small scale project achievements.

This danger arises from employees and managers alike striving for accomplishments that have emotional and financial bonuses attached because there will be a need to declare victory sooner than what is best for the organization.

There is an ironic relationship between those who resist change and those who support stated in Kotter’s theory. He mentions that while change initiators are quick to declare themselves victorious in their ability to effectively manage change is often the change resistors who step in an solidify a failure.

This is due to the fact that such resistors are looking for any opportunity to stop the change process and declaring victory provides that opportunity.

Kotter’s Tips on Declaring Victory

In an effort to solve the issues surrounded by premature victory celebrations Kotter points out that managers should focus instead on their increased credibility to implement change into systems, structures and policies.

Moreover, managers should promote those employees who recognize and implement the vision of the organization, establishing a momentum driven transformation process and achieving long terms goals rather then racking up points on a project score board.

He further states that the transformational process needs to be constantly reinvigorated with new projects, themes and new agents to implement them in order to capitalize on momentum.

Transformation Mistake #8: Not Anchoring Changes in Your Corporate Culture

Perhaps the most interesting error mentioned by Kotter is the inability of a corporation to solidify whichever new process of change deemed effective.

Many firms fail to ensure that years of efforts not be flushed away by a lack of recognition by all employees, including top managers of reasons why change has been
successful.

On many occasions companies failed to ensure that new behaviors were integrated and relied on in the future.

Two important factors are noted for this lack of integration.

  1. Many firms fail to show exactly how the previous change efforts have lead to enhanced performance, leaving the many to make this connection on their own. This can lead to assumptions, or worse, lack of recognition all together as to what aspect of the transformational process were successful and why.
  2. The second factor rests arises when successful change management is not integrated into new management successors. If a successor does not fully grasp the importance, understanding and simple foundations of how and why transformational efforts where successful within the organization he/she can wipe out much if not all of the progress generated under previous management.
Kotter’s Tips on Anchoring Change

Solutions to this problem are readily available to managers.

In the former, simple efforts to communicate the reasons for successful transformation should be made to ensure a clear, broad, company wide understanding of the reasons for success.

An example of this would be the use of company newsletters outlining the relevant information necessary to understand achievements and why they were possible so that al employees can identify opportunities for future success.

In the latter, ensuring that the board of directors understands the reasons behind why a company leader was able to enhance performance through successful change is imperative to ensure that effective processes of change continue under new management. (Kotter, 1995)

Bibliography and References
  • Change Management Class Notes. (June, 2008). International School of Management. Paris, France.
  • Kotter, John P. (1995, April). Why Transformational Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review.
  • Senge, Peter M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. , Random House Publishing, USA.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out Daniel Neukomm’s other pieces such as: Why The Home Page Is Dying and Porter’s Five Forces.

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Thursday, January 14th, 2010

A Networking Pro Explains How to Master LinkedIn in 8 Easy Steps

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My friend Drew Sanders is one of the best networkers I know. He recently presented his Action Plan for using the networking tool LinkedIn to insurance giant Chubb…and was kind enough to let me share it with you.

If you want to know why you should be linked in, check out my You Must Be LinkedIn article.

Here’s the 8-step plan for setting up and managing LinkedIn:

Step 1: Complete your Linked in Profile (1 Hour)

  • Have a coherent narrative of your history from college graduation
  • Print out several examples that you like and model yours after theirs
  • Brevity is appreciated by all
  • Be factual, but humility is a good tack

Step 2: Email accumulation (1 Hour)

  • Export your outlook contacts to a (CSV file)
  • Do the same for your hotmail, yahoo, or Gmail accounts
  • Extra Credit
    • if you have emailing lists from when people have accidentally not bcc’d people and you saw some cool email contacts and saved the emails.
    • Export those as well.
  • Any email from anyone you have ever met now has more value than just a way to get a hold of that person.

Step 3: Contact Invitation Process (1 to 3 hours depending on number of emails)

  • Load all the emails into the LinkedIn Platform
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Saturday, January 9th, 2010

SWOT Analysis Examples: Google, Coke, Walmart & More

14 Comments

A bunch of people checked out my article on SWOT Analysis and asked me for more examples of this powerful strategic planning tool.

It turns out that it’s not easy to find free SWOT Analysis examples (many are listed on the Web but cost money (anywhere from $10 to $500 apiece!).

I found over a dozen examples of SWOT that are free to review…and listed them below.

Enjoy!

SWOT Analysis Examples

If you know of any other SWOT Analysis examples, please let me know by just linking to them in the Comments field below — thanks!

14 comments so far (is that a lot?) | Continue Reading »


Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

How Universal Design Is Good For The World & For Market Domination

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I was telling my designer friend Jessica Zarin Kessin about how there is one brand that dominates my home: The OXO series of award-winning kitchen products.

I own their salad spinner, potato peeler, tea kettle, paper towel holder, tongs, cleaning bucket and travel mug (I’m sure I’m missing something!).

OXO's Products Exemplify Universal Design

OXO's Products Exemplify Universal Design

Jessica told me that OXO is a leader in a design concept called “Universal Design.”

You know me…

I decide to do a question and answer session with Jessica so that you and I can learn more about Universal Design.

Enjoy!

Q: Hi Jess. I’ve heard Universal Design described in different ways — what’s your Universal Design definition?

I think Universal Design is best described by Ron Mace, one of the pioneers of Universal Design:

“Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Basically, Universal Design considers a broader range of users from the onset, thereby creating a more user friendly product or environment for everyone, independent of age, ability, size or culture.

Q:  Why is Universal Design necessary?

Product Design is at the intersection of technology, design, and human factors.   When all these areas coalesce we can innovate and create usable products to improve the lives of users.

Generally designers consider users, but it is a natural tendency to think of people like oneself, which usually means healthy, young and typically developing.  The human population is not typical, however.

We all have physical, social, emotional, cognitive and environmental factors that vary change throughout our lives.

Disabilities may be chronic conditions or temporary.  Most people will experience a ‘disability’ at some point in their lives, a broken leg or shoulder surgery, perhaps.

For those of us lucky enough to live to old age, our physical abilities will naturally deteriorate with time.

As medical technology improves, people are living longer, but the types and severity of their disabilities are increasing. Conditions that would have killed a person not long ago are no longer as great a threat to survival.

Premature babies survive, but often with cognitive or physical disabilities.  Soldiers survive injuries that were not previously treatable, but consequently return with disabilities.

The Baby Boomers are starting to see the effects of arthritis, stroke, and other disabilities associated with the aging process.

At the turn of 20th Century, the average lifespan was 47 years.  Today it is 76.

My grandparents are in their 90s and live independently, but products and environments were not created to make life easy as one ages; there are challenges at every turn.

Universal Design not only makes products and environments easier for people with disabilities, but it increases the use for everyone.

For example, someone with one arm might have trouble stirring a bowl while cooking, but the same situation might apply to a mother with a toddler on her hip.

A wheelchair user might find doors difficult, but there is no one who hasn’t struggled with a door while carrying bags of groceries.

Universal design makes products and environments more accessible to everyone.

As designers, we need to understand the challenges that ALL people face, not just young healthy professionals.  Universal Design breaks down the physical and social barriers between people with and without disabilities.

Q: Would you explain “The Seven Principles of Universal Design?”

The Seven principles of Universal Design were developed with a conference of experts in 1997 at NC State.  The experts were comprised of architects, engineers, designers and environmental design researchers.

These principles can be applied to new designs, evaluating existing designs and to the education of designers.

These principles are quoted directly from the Center of Universal Design at NC State.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Principle 1 of Universal Design: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities:

  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
  • Make the design appealing to all users.

Principle 2 of Universal Design: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities:

  • Provide choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

Principle 3 of Universal Design: 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:

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Principle 4 of Universal Design: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities:

  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Principle 5 of Universal Design: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions:

  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provide fail safe features.
  • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Principle 6 of Universal Design: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Use reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimize repetitive actions.
  • Minimize sustained physical effort.

Principle 7 of Universal Design: 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:

  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
  • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Please note that the Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability.

Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes.

These Principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.

Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design.

Q: What is Barrier-Free Design?

Barrier-free design is another term for “handicapped accessible.” It is generally used in architecture to refer to buildings and environments that have ramps and other accessible features.

Many of these features are required by the ADA Guidelines, but Barrier-Free design usually denotes additional features beyond the ADA requirements.  Barrier-Free Design is a term more often used in non-English speaking countries.

Universal Design has taken over for Barrier-Free design in many cases.  Universal Design considers all the users from the onset of the design process instead of adding additional feature after-the-fact to accommodate more users.

Q: I’ve heard you mention terms like “Assistive Technology” and “Adaptive Technology — would you explain those?

These terms are often used interchangeably.  I like to separate them out, but many people would not differentiate between the two.

Assistive technology is any personal device to help a person with disabilities overcome their physical, sensory or cognitive challenges.   Assistive technology can be anything from a pair of glasses to a wheelchair, or a prosthetic limb.

Assistive technology has historically made limited advances.  Prosthetic limbs are better than they used to be, but there is still a huge cultural stigma associated with them.

Glasses are one of the few bits of assistive technology that have bridged the gap and transformed into the realm of fashion.

While there is room for prosthetics, hearing aides and other assistive technology to follow, this has not yet happened anywhere except eyewear.

Adaptive Technology is a device that allows existing products to be altered or someone with a disability.  This could be anything from a large button added to a child toy to make it easier to manipulate, to a text reader for the blind.

Q: What is “Separate Design” versus “Inclusive Design?”

Separate Design is very similar to the debate during the civil rights movement.  Is separate really equal?

For example, if you are looking at a building, is the main entrance wheelchair accessible, or are wheelchair users forced to go around to a rear entrance?  Inclusive design incorporates accessibility into the core of the design.

All design has an emotional and humanizing factor.  Having someone use a separate entrance or a ‘special’ product goes beyond the actual function of getting from point A to point B….It separates and stigmatizes.

Universal Design fights to eliminate this.

Note: The term Inclusive Design is often used interchangeably with Universal Design

Q: You told me over coffee that the OXO design of kitchen products is an example of Universal Design — would you dive into their products to teach us how OXO applies the Seven Principles of Universal Design?

Sam Farber retired from the houseware industry and started to notice his wife’s arthritis affecting her ability to comfortably use kitchen utensils.  He set out to create a line that was usable across generations, left and right hand users, men and women and people with disabilities.

In 1990 he founded OXO on these principles.

“For OXO, the principles of Universal Design mean a salad spinner that can be used with one hand; liquid measuring cups that can be read from above without bending over; a toilet brush that bends to reach out-of-the-way places; a backlit oven thermometer that can be read easily through the window of an oven door; kettles with whistle lids that open automatically when tipped to pour; and tools with pressure-absorbing, non-slip handles that make them more efficient.”

Read here for: the OXO Concept as it relates to Universal Design

OXO Travel Mug for Universal Design

OXO is the perfect example of how considering different users from the beginning can lead to small changes that can change someone’s life.  All the changes that they made allow people with special needs to use these items, but they also make a ‘typical’ user’s experience better.

Q: Would you mention some other leading examples of Universal Design?

Here are a couple of examples that you may encounter everyday and not realize.

1) Door Knobs: A typical doorknob is very difficult for someone with limited hand function or limited strength.  An amputee using a prosthetic arm or an elderly man with arthritis may struggle to open a typical doorknob.

A lever style door handle can eliminate many of these struggles.  You no longer need to grasp and turn using a large about of force, you can push the handle down with very limited control or strength.

(Try wearing an oven mitt and limiting the amount of strength you exert.  This will give you a small hint of where people encounter challenges.)

2) Automatic Doors: An automatic door or a door with a automatic open button are a great way to help users with a disability, but they are also very helpful to those of us that are carrying bags or otherwise have our hands full.

Sidewalk Cut Away:  You will notice at the corner of most sidewalks there are cutaways to allow wheelchair users to more easily cross the street.  However, these are also helpful to a patent with a stroller, a person pulling a wheeling suitcase or someone using crutches or a walker.  These help everyone.

Ikea Directions:  Universal Design also relates to people of different cultures or who speak different languages.  For anyone who has ever put together a piece of Ikea furniture, you will notice that the instructions do not contain any words. A clear concise series of images allows user who speak any language to understand the directions equally well.

Q:  How have you used Universal Design in your design practice?

I have always worked with special needs people and more specifically with children.  For the last few years I have been working on a developmental toy company for children of all needs and abilities, Development by Design (DbD).

We used the Universal Design principles to design every one of our toys and games.

After hearing multiple stories about how parents could not find any toys that their kids could use effectively, we decided to design a line of toys that they could.

I teamed up with a pediatric occupational therapist and we brought Universal Design to the toy world.  We paid attention to the needs of kids with tactile, auditory and visual sensitivities.

We looked at what kids on the Autism Spectrum needed and we incorporated them into our toys.

For example, we saw kids with poor motor control struggling to use blocks.  So we created a set of blocks that were weighted with a grippy texture.  This allowed these children to play with blocks for the first time, but also made them easier for typically developing kids.

Typically developing kids found that they could then build bigger crazier towers, which they loved.    We also created them in odd shapes to diminish some of the behaviors associated with autism but for the typically developing population, this just spurs creativity in building.

We have a number of examples from DbD, but this is how Universal Design creates better toys for everyone!

DBD Block Stack for Universal Design

In addition to using Universal Design to design our toys, we took it a step further and created an icon system using the same techniques. This icon system was created to clearly communicate the skills that all our toys work on and give parents clear understanding of those terms.

DBD Icon

Besides working on DbD, I have consulted on a number of projects and products to help incorporate Universal Design.

With just a small about of understanding and forethought, most products can be designed to include far more users than they currently do…..the challenge come when you try to change something afterwards instead of incorporating Universal Design into the initial design process.

Q: What are some good Universal Design Web site resources for people to learn more?

The Center for Universal Design at NC State has a great site with lots of information on it. This is where the UD movement got started in the US and one of the only real university deparments in the country.

The Center for Human Centered Design in Boston (previously Adaptive Environments) is another great resource.   They have a fantastic resource list with a number of great articles as well as a store with some universally designed products.

If you are interested in Universal Design for travel, check out Scott Rain.

Q: Do you have a favorite Universal Design book or two you recommend?

Design Meets Disability is not exactly on Universal Design, but it is a fascinating book about the ongoing inspiration of disability on design and visa versa.

A number of interesting case studies on Universal Design are available to read about in The Universal Design File: Designing for People of All Ages and Abilities

Q: If someone wants to get in touch with you, Jess, how should they do so?

I am always up for a discussion about design and as I mentioned, I often act as a Universal Design consultant on projects.

When thought about upfront, there is no reason that most items cannot be made more accessible to people in a broader spectrum.

This is true for products, computer applications, websites, environment or most other designed elements.

Please contact me at jkessin@yahoo.com.

If you like this article, you may also like Jessica’s How to Master the Design Process: Six Easy Steps.

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