How design forgets about female users

Now let’s talk about design.

Like grammar, design can alienate the purpose of its product if it forgets part of its users. A definition of design I particularly agree with comes from the French Design Alliance’s website. It describes design as an “intellectual, creative, multidisciplinary and humanist process, aiming to bring solutions to small and big everyday challenges concerning economical, social and environmental issues”, allowing innovation and progress. And like the sustainable designer Victor Papanek, I would add that “design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself)”. Design is therefore a precious key to a gender-equal society. But how can design achieve such a mission? To answer this question, let us first examine the different inequalities in various contexts.

Photo by Kay on Unsplash
Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

Why these inequalities?

Photo by Ross Sokolovski on Unsplash

When design can stigmatize…

Furthermore, contrary to what one may think, this imprisonment of women within particular roles still isn’t ancient history. The illusion that today’s society is equal for the only reason that it is more equal than before, nourishes the myth of equality and genuinely hides the fact that gender stigmatization of certain sectors remains very real.

Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

So… How can design be egalitarian?

The solutions I suggest are of course not the only ones, and as design calls for everyone’s creativity, I invite all readers to challenge their suppositions.

Deconstructivism power

Even the most feminist person can be biased by patriarchy’s influence. And even if objectivity is aimed for, one can hardly ignore its subjectivity. Everyone has a different position in this world and each person’s point of view is relative to their position. To do egalitarian design, we should start by acknowledging this influence and by recognising our bias, which can be related to our gender, culture, personal experience… This deconstructivist self-analysis is essential. Design can help in the questioning of users experiences: for example, stickers have been placed on Seoul’s metro’s ground, indicating to potential manspreaders where to put their feet to give enough space to their neighbors.

Empathy climax

Once aware of our own subjectivity, we know that we don’t know anything about the other and its vision of the world. The designer will have to be very empathetic in order to project himself or herself into the other and understand the user’s needs. And as these things can’t be guessed, the designer will need to ask, listen, investigate and analyze, while considering the user’s context… This is what Yona Care’s designers from Frog Design did when they worked on improving the pelvic exam experience and redesigned the speculum, a gynecological tool that hasn’t been improved in 200 years despite the discomfort it causes. We can also mention the Indian app SafeCity that offers to report sexual harassment on a map. It informs the community of any potentially dangerous areas to avoid and gives more visibility and precision to rape and street harassment issues, taboo subjects that seriously lack precise data. Both examples take care to address the woman’s needs and to respect her person and her practices through the product’s function and form.

200 year old speculum VS. Yona’s speculum. Image by Core77

Big Up to non-binary and inclusive design

The concepts of these last examples directly aim to improve women’s daily life. But, changing things doesn’t only need raising awareness and availability of the material necessary to this change. It is also crucial to make social norms change so that the border between genders softens. Someone’s identity shouldn’t be defined by her or his gender, but by this person’s singularity and personality… With non-binary design or gender fluid design, we would find satisfaction without being constrained by content exclusively addressed to our gender. This is the aim of fashion brands like One DNA that creates stylish unisex items, or like COS that mingles male and female androgynous clothes in the brand’s shops… Perfumery also bets on gender fluid design, with Calvin Klein’s CK All perfume, suitable for any gender, or with the Gentle Fluid perfumes duo by the Parisian Francis Kurkdjian who offers two non-gendered identities using the same ingredients to call on individual sensitivity rather than social expectations.

One DNA

So, no more cliché personae!

Obviously, designers have an important responsibility as they have the keys to create social change and gender equality. But to accomplish this mission, they must first accept their ignorance, take nothing for granted and identify their bias. With a lot of research and empathy, they will be able to design inclusive and respectful products, as much for male users as for female users.

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