efore I sat down to write this article I thought of other subtler ways to put the title like “Why Design teams should be inclusive of Women”, but in today’s day and age, we shouldn’t even be justifying inclusiveness of women, that would mean I’m "dumbing down" (notice how I’ve used a term which was stereotyped with women for the general masses). But what still disappoints me is even after people like Obama, Trudeau, etc. becoming an influential part of the movement, the common man and a lot of women (6 in 7) view feminism as some extremist movement taken up by man-haters and dismiss it as marketing trend. What people think as a recent marketing trend is in fact the struggle women went through for centuries to gain a right to vote, right to education and a right to be considered as an individual identity rather than another asset of a man. Before I start off on why feminism is important in design, let me briefly explain what exactly does feminism mean.
Feminism simply means removing the stereotypical gender roles from the society and considering men and women individual equals on the same parameters. So this should be called equality right? But we call it feminism instead of equality because it is the ‘feminine’ traits that both men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that the society needs to accept and look at people as a spectrum rather than just their biological gender. This holds even more importance today than ever before as we move towards a more individualistic society where gender identity holds a lot of importance.
Chastity, humility and dignity are ‘considered’ the assets of a lady. We don’t talk about our personal health & hygiene, menstruation and sexuality in public, as it makes us ‘profane’. For years, women’s bodies have been dictated by how men would like to see how women’s body. Coincidentally male view also happens to be the societal view of the ideal woman. Because women’s needs are often subdued because their sheer lack in numbers and domination we can see this view seeping down to bad policy making, bad retail practices and bad designs for women. Be it a lack of over-the-counter contraception pills, or the ease of getting an abortion without the society making their decision on it. The inaccessibility to basic needs like sanitary napkins at cheaper prices, to poor design/ unavailability of public toilets; the lack of body positivity in clothing and the catering and promoting an ‘ideal size’ in a particular role is another rampant area where design plays a huge role. Women are iconized and often objectified as sex symbols, but very rarely are they allowed to have their own sexuality. The lack of providers working in these domains causes them to have a market monopoly and often the outreach is limited.
When we’re in school, we see a good number of girls graduating , however as we go higher up to where the research is conducted, and ideas turn into reality and where the business happens, we start seeing the lesser number of females in the picture. There are a number of reasons for this: the hardhat culture, the lack of opportunities, women considered as bad employees, etc. but as a result, when designing happens,the products become more male-centric. Good design practices asks technology to rehabilitate all types of cognition, and kinds of user. More often than not while considering user personas for uni-sexual products, women tend to be under-represented as compared to men by the use of maybe a single persona to represent the needs of all types of women. Also their goals seem to be more superficial and aesthetic oriented than men. A reason why our mothers have a harder time with technology than our fathers, is that technology was not wired keeping their cognition in mind. It was ‘assumed’ that women weren’t as interested as men in tech. The practice of good design has shifted these patterns and slowly we are bridging these gaps.The presence of only female voices as voice assistants except when the role needs to dominate is a shocking realization on how deep-seeded our patriarchy really is.
I would particularly like to cite that we are in a unique point in time, women definitely enjoying the best time in their own history. Design can help reduce this gap at an even more faster pace, as it can help overcompensate where nature cannot. It can identify particular instances where a design interventions can help moving away from pre-historic roles, and stereotypes and biological shortcomings. Game design is another place, which currently caters mostly towards entertaining men. The female characters are highly sexualized and hence finds very less takers among women. Cities can start becoming much safer once the urban planning policies look at women reclaiming the community spaces and the nights. The higher presence of feminine qualities like nurturing, listening, caring in our culture could significantly reduce the stress, depression, and other mental illnesses in our society. Teams which have good number of women are in general better performers.
Power of Design
Design has often been discriminatory and caters mostly for the people in power. Sure that makes sense, because the people in power are our clients who will execute the product after the design has been finalized. Before design started becoming an intrinsic part of the entire product development process, designers had a limited role which was doing what the brief asked them to do, and handing over the design for production.
The lack of participatory design practices have often overlooked women’s needs, wants and preferences and catered for products from the male point of view.
The unique power of design to change cognition and rewire us to form new habits may one day eradicate the way we look at gender roles. Design has power to empower and make everyone feel like an intrinsic part of the society. With sensitive design we can break stereotypes, and for that designers need to look beyond cognitive biases, political biases, gender biases, social biases and start a dialogue on why should we exclude a particular group from our target users, but rather provide them with the power to choose. Through the ages, the greatest role of design has been to make life better; designers need to identify political movements which question the supremacy and the privileges of one group over the other. Feminism is just one movement that is asking the questions of inclusiveness. As we move towards a more global and diverse society, these questions expand to diverse gender groups,ethnic minorities, linguistic minorities, economically underprivileged, specially-abled and so on.
We really can’t gain equal footing as women in the society if we don’t get men standing by us. You can give feminism any other name for your convenience, but that really is a refusal to address the ‘elephant in the room’ and calling it a fox, as the elephant feels to large to accommodate. We need feminists in design. After all, the things we shape, in turn shape us.
Your mental health is an easy one to push to the back burner. We can feel and sense the symptoms of working too hard or burning the candle at both ends, yet we neglect to pay as much attention to them as we would our physical health. As a creative, your mental health can really take a toll on your mindset that's so dependent on keeping in a positive and well balanced state.Read More
Nowadays potential clients, hires, and collaborators will Google you and research you online, before even thinking of reaching out for an inquiry or interview. Think about it - don't we all social media stalk everyone from your ex's new relationship to people RSVP'd to an event you're attending to proceeding cautiously through a random person's Instagram feed with the fear of accidentally liking a post from 4 years ago? Whoever is researching you will have an image of who you are and what you do, before ever surfacing on your radar. This could work for or against you. How do you position yourself positively?Read More