Design engendered

It’s the International Women’s Day and it is time to celebrate womanhood in all its glory. Fortunately for us in Design and especially in India, women constitute 50% of our profession, if not more. The profession sees no gender biases and many women designers are vocal, visible and successful in India.

I am writing to bring to the notice of buyers of design, about bringing gender nuances to products and communication which will make them more gender-neutral.

When we were asked to design a range of craft kits or hobby kits for children, we were asked by the client to make kits for girls. When we enquired why, we were told that crafts are a girls’ domain. To educate our client and therefore the end users, we designed a series of kits that were specifically gender-neutral.

So we did a kit where you learn to make and fly kites. Or make props for play-acting. Or making stuff to celebrate Halloween and Diwali. We had, in the process, educated our client and ensured a new set of happy customers for him.

While working on products for children was easy, working on gender-specific products for women, was not. When a client approached us to design a device for women to stand-and-pee at restrooms and other places, we were completely at sea. We realised that designing for women is not such an easy task. I remember as a student, I was discouraged by my teachers, when I wanted to design a delivery table for women. I was told that it is unfamiliar territory. The same male teacher, however, had developed a ‘pill-dispenser’ for sexually active women, which indicated safe days for coitus.

How often do we see products and spaces developed exclusively for women? By men? In a free-wheeling conversation, a fellow designer mentioned about Taj Hotels’ disastrous attempt to create a ‘Women’s only‘ floor. A nifty idea to begin with. But the spaces were designed with pink walls and flowery bedsheets and stocked with women’s magazines and cookery books. This was clearly a man’s idea of a woman’s space!

Why are women’s razors pink and curvy? Who ordained it this way? A quick image search shows all of girls’ bicycles in pink!

Why should girls’ bicycles be in pink with a flower basket in the front? Why are there more men’s toilets in public spaces? These stereotypes are still going on, mainly because of the fact that men decide for women in most such cases. While there are enough architects and designers who are women, we are yet to see the gender-neutrality getting into our psyche.

It isn’t enough celebrating successful women on every 8th of March. We need to march towards a gender-neutral society. We need to be not just inclusive. We need to focus our energies on designing exclusive products and systems and spaces that are for women and women-friendly. With a lot of empathy. And this has to be done with the sensitivity it deserves, so that design gets engendered. Otherwise, it will definitely, get endangered.

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Women in Design

Today is International Women’s Day.

Women have a way of bringing new nuances to whatever they do. It’s the same in Design. Women designers have brought such richness to the profession in India, that they deserve a mention here.

I was attending the much-admired Pune Design Festival, a few days ago and couldn’t help noticing that the number of women presenters were too few in comparison to male presenters. While lamenting the idea, I couldn’t help noticing that of the lot, two presentations that moved the entire audience for a standing ovation, were made by women.

Kiran Bir Sethi’s ‘ Design For Change’ has brought the sticky idea of using the power of design to empower school children. It has been done with such finesse and detailing that is characteristic of women.141030_800x600

Swati Ramanathan’s Janagraha made a presentation on designing of roads and related systems, that was equally mind-blogging. Using systems thinking, she goes about solving Bangalore city’s vexed problems, which no man would dare getting into. In the process, she takes on the municipality, the road-making mafia, the city’s dwellers, the successive governments, only to emerge successful and triumphant.

swati_ramanathan

The power of women’s thinking is something, we have not leveraged enough in design. In my professional life, I have been influenced by many women and their work. Fortunately for me, my profession has a lot of women, who bring about an influence in my work, that is distinct and different. I want to mention a few, whose work I have admired.

Nilam Iyer, one of my early teachers in Design, who introduced the idea of using product design, to better the quality of life of artisans. She used design as a means to bring change. She also drilled into me, the uncompromising need for precision and quality.

Nilam Iyer

Rashmi Korjan, who partnered with Grishma Dave to start the first-ever, all-women, design firm has also influenced my professional attitude. She helped me tackle everything with humour, a life skill that is so required to survive in the profession. And when she went after the government with Vision First, I learnt how to be tenacious.

Jaya Jaitley, President of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, with whom I have done several design projects, has also influenced my work. I learnt another life-skill from her: grace. To be graceful in giving people their due.

Jaya and me

Women have a way of influencing you with new ideas and pioneering new concepts. Aditi Ranjan is the true-blue design educator. Neelam Chhiber introduced the idea of social entrepreneurship, through Design. Poonam Bir Kasturi believed in the power of the common man to usher change. Her Daily dump is  good example of Design democracy. Jyoti Thapa influenced the media and business, through graphic design. Kripa Ananthan, got into automobile design to design the toughest cars in the market. Sujata Keshavan Guha, was audacious enough to go global with her work. Akila Seshasayee challenged the status quo, when it came to graphic design.  Suhasini Paul is pioneering the profession of Toy Design. Ragini Brar is a pioneer in educating children through 3D animation.

Maria José Barney, Carol Wills, Jolly Rohatgi, Julie George, all believers of Design, nurture the design projects, although they are not designers themselves.

Many, many women have taken to teaching design and continuing to inspire the students. Many toil in remote villages to give artisans the power of design.

So many to acknowledge, so many to thank for.

Thanks to all the women in my profession. You are all so integral and important to the profession’s advancement. You bring joy!