Marc Harrison (1 July 1936, New York City – September 22, 1998) was an industrial designer and pioneer of universal design. As the result of a brain injury when he was 11 years old, Harrison had to relearn basic functions such as walking and talking and thus gained inspiration for this career in industrial design.
Harrison earned his BFA in industrial design at Pratt Institute in 1958, and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1959. After a brief stint of freelance designing in New York City, Harrison took a position teaching at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he became instrumental in establishing the Division of Architecture and Design. He believed in the importance of organic thought and the inclusion of liberal arts courses to enhance students' education, making them better designers.
He died in 1998 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The design philosophy of the time was that products should be designed for those of average shape, size, and ability. Though the intention was that these products would work for many people, the elderly and disabled found products designed by this method to be difficult to use. Harrison turned this philosophy on its head by deciding that products should be designed for people of all abilities. This was the pioneering of a philosophy that came to be known as universal design. Harrison incorporated this design philosophy into projects both at RISD and with his private consulting firm, Marc Harrison Associates.
Harrison's most famous design, which incorporated this philosophy, was the Cuisinart food processor. Harrison redesigned the food processor with large and easily pressed buttons, large and easily grasped handles, and a bold readable typeface. The new design was a success. By designing a food processor that could be used by consumers with arthritis and/or poor eyesight, Harrison had created a product that was accessible to people with a wide range of abilities. The Cuisinart food processor was extremely popular with the general public.
The Universal Kitchen
Towards the end of his life, Harrison became involved with a RISD project, the "Universal Kitchen" that embraced the concepts of universal design. The design study, undertaken by RISD students, analyzed every aspect of the kitchen in order to restructure it to meet the needs of varying abilities. Students documented each step in the process of cooking a meal in a conventional kitchen in order to develop a more efficient, time saving, and user-friendly model. Based on their findings, the students built a prototype "Universal Kitchen." Harrison died before the project was completed.
The prototype "Universal Kitchen" was exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in October 1998.
Further applications of universal design
Since universal design was first defined as "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"  it has been applied to many fields, including instruction, technology, services, and the built environment.
- Digital exhibit on Universal Design featuring items from the Harrison Collection at the Hagley Museum and Library.
- The Marc Harrison papers at the Hagley Museum and Library
- Center for Universal Design
- Center for Universal Design in Education
- The RL Mace Universal Design Institute http://www.udinstitute.org/whatisud.php