What does it mean to be gender inclusive or gender-free, or gender-neutral? And, why is the true expression of oneself gender-stipulated? Why isn’t the personal identity of a person gender-free?
In these times wherein people are open to asseverate their choices, it is essential to embrace the blurred lines between gender representation. But, very often, the things we use define preferences and generate perceptions. Designers today can break people’s act of portraying assumptions due to visual insights and terminate practices that instigate anti-gender theories. Therefore, designs constantly expected to be nonpartisan should cater to an individual and not their associations.
The Role of Designers
Designs are always supposed to be neutral. Because when people start to assign genders to objects, then the next obvious step is to earmark genders to the roles related to the objects and their functions. The impact of product design in society goes far beyond what people can even imagine. The product design needs to go beyond addressing the needs of people belonging to a specific community and fairly aim to achieve fulfilling an individual’s needs.
Consequently, it is fundamental for designers to distinguish their roles in society and the sort of impact they have. Ergo, designers are supposed to be less rigid and not be limited by ordinary grating standards.
Dimensions of Design
The gender-inclusive products regarded as a tool to bring about substantial transposes in people’s thinking should break barriers to create advanced all-inclusive alternatives to the existing ones. Technically, the product design comprises multiple facets: the function, the aesthetic and the interaction, and the communicational aspect.
But, among all, the unstated “gender dimension” is the most articulated one. And, usually, all the other dimensions are oriented towards a target gender, typically derived by a spurious approach that tends to resonate with the traditional norms. When questioned about the gender-inclusive factor of the product, the only solution offered by the industry is the “pinking” of the product.
“Pinking” is a process in which designers attempt to superficially change the product’s physical attributes by changing its color to pink and proclaiming to be gender-inclusive. And consequently, through “pinking,” designers insert gender prejudice by implying pink to be stereotypically a specific gender’s choice. The traditional ideology passed onto us from generations posits conflicting principles. But, people today must understand that ideals that tend to neglect any gender-neutral expression are now obsolete.
The Changing Times
Previous studies and research have shown that design can represent the customary outdated norms to the people in the most accessible manner. Today, any person can deftly categorize a product in the orthodox gender dichotomy because products highlight the aesthetic dimension and undermine its functionality. On the other hand, when the product design only posits its context and the functionality dimension, it is arduous for the user to assign a gender tag. Thus, the product becomes gender-less.
Therefore, a successful product design is one wherein the concept and design thinking does not conform to a category and is unabashedly bold in breaking the preferential bias. And, emoting the expression of freedom through art and craft is the most straightforward way. And, designers should aim to refine and practice user-driven innovation in design.
A practice that necessitates incorporating the gender-inclusive aspects and product designs that go far beyond the gender dichotomy encourages consumers to push the boundaries assigned to them by society, time, or the place they live. When we don’t define people by their gender, why should the products they use be gender-defined!
Gender Semantics of Products
The genderless products go beyond the conformist blue-pink divide and completely derelict the gender markers in the product design and the marketing strategies rather than zeroing in on specific gender orientation.
The most overused phrase in design, “less is more,” is the best way to create genderless products. Products that are simple and minimalistic are gender-inclusive and therefore bring out the essence of the functional dimension. Following this principle, watch brands like Braun and Instrmnt have effaced their gender collections.
Another way to make a product gender-inclusive is by using natural materials and natural textures that are subtle yet appealing and soothing. The natural grain of the product appeals to the senses of a person regardless of gender. These textures also blend well with neutral shades such as beige, greys, pale yellows, and greens. Georganics bamboo toothbrush is an example wherein the product is available in different shades that complement the wooden texture.
And, the most effortless way to create gender-inclusive is to find the perfect balance of masculine and feminine features. The presence of both feminine and masculine elements in a single product cancels out each other. Thus, creating a gender-inclusive product. The MUJI collection of kitchen appliances have a balanced combination. The soft edges of the masculine geometric forms and the lighter undertones of masculine tones result in a gender-neutral product.
Creating Genderless Designs
Gender identities are defined based on social constructions. Following that is the stereotypical gender perceptions’ construction with people labeled with the nametags of their communities. The categorical classification of people into groups leads to the formation of stereotypical notions. Resultantly, this simplifies the conception of people’s wants as a collective and not as an individual taking away the autonomy from the user to choose what they want and restraining them with group labels.
Today, all constructed identities should be treated equally as human beings. For an equal world, designers have a significant role in shaping culture and society. Design is an interactive profession that transmits ideas and products are considered a tool for the designer to communicate with the user. Thus, traces of gender identity should be reduced on products to avoid gender definitions and create a gender-inclusive order.
When the product design is gender-inclusive, the habitual modus-operandi of marketing and advertising shall be adapted accordingly. These strategies will furthermore unitedly change people’s perspectives.
Obscuring gender effects on products will equitably lead society by the medium of product design. Designers should be aware of that and contribute to the future without prejudices, boundaries, and classifications. (Cakiroglu 6) By blurring the lines of gender representation through product design, designers can deaden the practice of typecasting people into groups, enabling freedom of individualistic expression devoid of old hat banal title roles.
Cakiroglu, Irem. “Genders of Products: Creating Genderless Design.” Senses & Sensibility’17: Design Beyond Borders and Rhizomes, 2017. https://www.researchgate.net/, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321309974_Genders_of_Products_Creating_Genderless_Design. Accessed 25 June 2021.
Schroeder, Klaus. “Gender Dimensions of Product Design.” United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW, part of UN Women) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), vol. 28, no. Gender, Science, and Technology Expert Group meeting of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (UN-DAW), 2010, pp. 193-200. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/gst_2010/Schroeder-EP.13-EGM-ST.pdf. Accessed 25 June 2021.