This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Design What Matters, Better: A Case Study of Universal and Inclusive Design Implementation Throughout the Design Process Toward Empowerment




Brown, Courtney

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Consumer and Design Sciences

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



The architecture and design industry wields significant influence over inclusion and empowerment in the built environment. Historically, marginalized groups have been left out of the design process, resulting in spaces that limit their access to fundamental human rights. Universal and inclusive design exists to reimagine the conventional design process with a mindset of designing for all through the provision of design goals and principles; however, due to the entangled systems of society, academia, and design practice, the implementation of universal and inclusive design practices faces perceptual, technical, and organizational barriers. This study endeavors to challenge entrenched power dynamics within the conventional design process, which perpetuates non-inclusive environments, by empowering marginalized communities through their engagement in the design process. Using the Design Better (Brown & Wuebker, 2023a, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d) process in a specific design case, the author introduces inclusive and empowering strategies and process interventions to disrupt conventional design paradigms. As an action researcher, the author conducts a qualitative design case study of the Athene North Shore Recreation Area at Easter Lake Park project. A forensic time series analysis of specific project data was used to identify five key Design Better (Brown & Wuebker, 2023a, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d) process intervention categories aimed at addressing perceptual, technical, and organizational barriers to universal and inclusive design implementation across the four phases of the conventional design process. Using thick description and thematic coding, the researcher details the inclusive and empowering strategies used to develop each intervention, what interventions are worth repeating, the challenges faced during implementation, and the recommended areas of improvement for each intervention. This exercise informed a revised version of the Design Better (Brown & Wuebker, 2023a, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d) process that can be used in future design cases to empower communities. The implications drawn from this study underscore the importance of collective responsibility in the path toward inclusion, the pivotal role of universal and inclusive design facilitators, and the need for a paradigm shift towards empowering and inclusive design practices within the architecture and design industry. Future research needed to foster inclusive and empowering environments include the implementation of the revised Design Better (Brown & Wuebker, 2023a, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d) process and the universal design checklists introduced in this design case study to inform universal and inclusive design practice further, the examination of the intersectionality of occupational therapy program design process and the design process of physical space to explore the additional empowering resources relevant to both fields and historical documentation of accessibility policy and academic program requirements in architecture and design to inform the future direction of the academy.