All design reflects the established notions of gender both in the society or culture in which it is created and in the one in which it finds its use. While many creators specifically address questions of gender in designs, think of Rad Hourani’s genderless fashion (est. 2007) or Monica Förster’s Lei desk chair for women (2009), the ‘gendered values’, user expectations, and often gender-conforming, stereotypical features and functions are typically mere examples of insensitivity or oversight rather than deliberate discrimination or sexism. Whereas some areas of design are more interested in addressing one or the other binary gender scales, think of fragrance design or the design of protective headgear, the inclusive and universal design perspectives bring forth the idea of pleasing all – or at least both binary – genders. Firstly, most design approaches remain unaware of the necessity to include gender as a self-evident part of the whole design process (Brandes 2017). Although often overlooked, whatever the focus and method be it theoretical, research-wise, or in creating products, experiences, signs, apps or types of online communication, gender and design remain co-dependants. Secondly, gender-related power relationships (cf. Radtke & Stam 1994) claims a key role in the design of products, services and other things, in the use and identification of target markets as well as in object development itself; their form, functions and their affordances. And thirdly, in the field of design, gender’s role is vital in the manner in which educational programmes historically signpost masterminds that situate ‘gender’ hierarchy over others. Practitioners and academics in game design or architecture, for instance, discuss the lack of prominent female role models. A case in point, is Dorte Mandrup’s “I am not a female architect. I am an architect” (Dezeen 2017) plea that echoes throughout this discussion in favour of acknowledging female equality against that of male counterparts or establishing a ‘separate list’ of successful women.
Following Beauvoir (1949), Butler (1990, 2004), Barad (2007) and numerous thinkers before and after, we concur that gender is constantly constructed through regulated repetition of acts. Here we accept the role that both design and design practice have in creating such gender(s). Designed products are both the results and the material processes of constructing gender as individuals and as socio-cultural notions. As such they are not separate entities that would merely incarnate some pre-existing conceptions. Furthermore, intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989), allows us to consider how ethnicity, class and regional identities, such as those best addressed through a postcolonial framework, earmarks ‘gender in design’ a positively messy and dynamic topic. Finally, as an acknowledgement of the ‘other’ genders involved, it is hoped that an expanded discussion will further address queer identities and design concerns specific to LGBTQI creators and audiences. The debate here commences from the valuable, yet at times difficult discussions held at The GREAT small: Gender Design Conference co-organised by the issue editors at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2014. Gender in Design within ‘the mind’ or as a ‘discussion’, as already implied by design, is often the work of willful subjects (Ahmed 2014) where obedience, dismissal, moral law and negative emotions meet in face of injustices. We invite contributions that critically and analytically problematize gender, its questions and its appropriateness in relation to design. Interest here is centred on the question of ‘how’ genders are present and constructed through conflicts, gender fluidity, and manners of interpreting design approaches and problems. This issue also seeks to address the sensitivities that gender brings to various design fields. We further ask, ‘how’ the multitude of genders contributes to shaping the disciplinary course or reframes their understandings? Has the question of gender become a burden or catalyst for designers? What is the future that design should be looking at when considering gender?
Issue Editors: Hanna Wirman & Uta Brandes