On the occasion of International Women’s Rights Day, we gave a voice to the women who bring design to life at CBA. Today, we wanted to go further by asking ourselves the question of the influence of gender in design. And yes, if design had a gender, what would it be? Do female and male’s influences differ that much? And what is the final impact, on society, on uses?
Men have always had an important, even dominant, place in the world of design, echoing their place in society. Although some female artists have stood out, offering innovative creations, especially for their time, the most famous architects and designers remain mostly men. Thus, the majority of the products and services that we use on a daily basis were created by these gentlemen.
Having always had the monopoly, one can wonder if they ask themselves the same questions as women do. In terms of ergonomics, safety etc. men and women do not have the same life experience, the same culture and often do not have the same education, not to mention biological differences.
What if these experiences had an influence on the final design and on the society?
The impact of the male influence is such that products and services tailored primarily to the male gender are still found today.
For example, let’s talk about car: even if less affected by road accidents, women have 47% more risk of being seriously injured, 71% of being slightly injured and 17% more risk of dying than men. ** The reason? Crash test dummies have long been based on male builds. Therefore, the design of the belts and airbags did not take into account the difference in mass and muscle distribution between men and women, which can be fatal for the latter.
The automotive industry is not the only sector where gender has an impact on society. The same goes for furniture and architecture in general. In 1945, the architect Le Corbusier conceptualized the Modulor, a universal silhouette making it possible to design the structure and size of the furniture. The only thing, this silhouette was imagined on a male build of one meter eighty-three, which is far from the female standards, whose average height is equivalent to one meter sixty. Another more recent example: the current trend is for smartphone screens larger than 4 inches, in order to make the most of multimedia content. However, according to a study conducted by Strategy Analytics *, women would prefer a smaller screen, around 3.5 inches; ergonomic logic, knowing that most women have smaller hands than men.
But make no mistake, not all designers have come up with products that are only suitable for men.
To name but one, Henry Dreyfuss, one of the forerunners of inclusive design, set out to put the user at the center of his designs. “Let’s keep in mind that this object that we are working on is going to be used by people, individually or in mass”, he said. Considering that a design project must be able to integrate all social, ethical, aesthetic and practical requirements, in 1955 he published a book entitled “Design for people”. He was not the only one: many other male designers are showing design innovation. Victor Papanek, a pioneer in eco-design, has dedicated his life to promoting responsible design for the planet and for society. Speaking of society and inclusion, did you know, for example, that some everyday products were originally designed for people with disabilities? This is the case of the remote control, an idea of Robert Adler, which was to be intended for bedridden people unable to move around to be able to change channels.
So yes, design can also be thought of, beyond gender, in an inclusive and useful way.
In terms of design, as in marketing, we find for most products, a separation: there are those intended “for men”, and those “for women”. We observe the same thing with the famous: “pink for girls, blue for boys”. Where did it come from? Did you know that a few centuries ago pink was the color of boys? Indeed, since antiquity, the color pink was rather attributed to men, because it was considered a sub-color of red, which at the time, symbolized power, authority and war. Blue was for a long time the color attributed to women, in reference to the blue mantle of the Virgin Mary: it symbolized purity. It was at the end of the Middle Ages that this fashion was reversed, with the Protestant Reformation, blue became a symbol of gods and strength, and red became the symbol of love and femininity. It was in the 18th century that the Marquise de Pompadour, who had fallen in love with this color, would have made it fashionable in clothing but also in decoration, which would have made pink popular for women.
But ultimately, does this gender classification really define design? Not necessarily. We have seen that fashions and influences change at the same rate as society evolves. Male and female influences are unique to everyone, depending on their personal experience. There is no longer any question of gender separation. For some time now, fashion has been “no gender”, and more and more brands are investing in this niche. This trend is influenced by the changing codes of society: according to a study published by the advertising agency Bigeye, half of Gen Z and 56% of millennials believe that the binary value of gender is outdated.
As a result, more and more brands are deciding to follow this trend: many toys are becoming gender-neutral, with neutral colors in order to break out of this restrictive dichotomy. The same goes for the fashion or cosmetics sector where a certain number of collections are made unisex.
A more “gender neutral” youth and why not freer, in its choices and its own influences.
One by one, social stereotypes are being deconstructed. Inclusion and compassion are not just about women, logic and reason are not just about men. It’s not the gender but the experience and approach that will create the design; and it is mostly the people, the personalities, the eras, the visions and the genius of each one that allow progress.