Universal design (UD) is a process by which designers strive to produce materials that are equitable, flexible, and simple and intuitive to use. Such materials also present germane information in a way that is easily perceptible to all, regardless of the user’s sensory abilities or of the ambient conditions. UD provides room for error by minimizing the affects of accidental or unintended actions. If an object is designed with UD principles in mind, the object occupies an appropriate amount of space and can be used with minimal effort. Ronald L. Mace, founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, coined the term universal design in 1997.
Highway exit signs provide an excellent example of UD addressing a performance issue in an instructional context. All seven principles of UD are met by highway signs across the world. For example, the information is presented just-in-time for the learner to perform a task – exiting the highway. Because highway signs look essentially the same across the globe, they are equitable, flexible, and intuitive to use. Incorporating UD principles in highway signs is important because a highway sign must be used with a minimal amount of effort so drivers can comprehend the information without adding extraneous information to their cognitive load.
Highway signs provide verbal cues in the text (city and road names) and numbers (highway names and mileage/km), and visual cues in the form of arrows indicating the direction of an exit. Often the color is also a visual cue, with green being the most commonly used color for highway signs that I found in my research.
To compose the image above I found several highway sign examples from six continents. Each highway sign in the composite image above is from the public domain. Even the map of earth is from NASA and is in the public domain. The signs represent North America (San Antonio, TX), South America (Argentina), Europe (Italy), Asia (Japan), Australia, and South Africa (Johannesburg).