Genderless design is a myth
Genderless design is a myth How to deconstruct the gender binary in design and make space for genderfluidity. How to deconstruct the gender binary in design and make space for genderfluidity. Design can never truly be free of culture, gender, and bias. Our pursuit of a neutral and universal design may bring us to modernism, minimalism, and the Apple-esque aesthetic, but these design schools, inspired by eurocentric standards, carry qualities associated with masculinity. How can we go beyond the stereotypical binary view of masculine and feminine and create more universal, inclusive designs? Genderfluidity can give us a hint about the future of design and culture. Beyond universal designUniversal design was a concept that originated in the context of architecture, asserting the importance of accessible environments for everyone, regardless of ability, age, or status. Within graphic design, universal design has become synonymous with The International Typographic Style—or Swiss Design—due to its emphasis on objective clarity and supposed neutrality. The impact of Helvetica in our culture is well documented in films and can be noted in our everyday life and is one the best examples of the values of the Swiss Design school. However, in today’s world where we’re building products for multifaceted audiences, universal design and Swiss Design cannot always be a reliable answer. And although the founders might like to believe so, Swiss Design is not free of meaning and bias.Historically, systems were put in place to serve the privileged (ie white / men / cisgender / heterosexual / wealthy / able-bodied / etc). As time progressed, design has shifted towards the idea that everyone deserves access and that we no longer want to design for solely the privileged class, we want to design for everyone. However, the sentiment of designing for everyone still falls short when serving unique, multifaceted individuals. Instead of designing for the universal, we need to embrace a mindset that no group of people is a monolith. Even communities that we group together have nuances within them. Thus, we have to move from the idea of a universal design to the idea of designing for a pluriverse. Designing with a pluriversal mindset (versus a universal mindset) means that as designers, we become intimately familiar with the users we’re serving. With sensitivity to race, culture, class, sexuality, gender, ability, and more, we can make design solutions that celebrate and acknowledge user differences, rather than erase them with a single solution that will inevitability carry the bias and values of the status quo. Designing for the pluriverse diagram, based on a reference by Mauricio Mejía Genderless design is a mythThe concept of genderless, universal design is an illusion. The reality of Swiss design is that it perpetuates the idea that masculinity is the norm; masculinity equates to neutrality. A parallel example can be seen in the fashion industry. Androgyny in the context of clothing often is synonymous with menswear. Upon googling “gender-neutral fashion,” most of what surfaces are t-shirts, formless sweaters, button-ups, and hoodies. I and Me, a denim and lifestyle brand from London, UK is a prime example, claiming on their website, “The design process is gender-neutral, it will always be about fabric and style before ‘his and/or hers’; this is where the story begins with every garment — on a neutral playing field undefined by seasonal trends.” As much as well-intentioned designers might aim to neutralize gender in their work, » Read More
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