Are women being ignored by the world of design? We’ve been musing on this after reading Grayson Perry’s challenging and provocative The Descent of Man. It’s a look at how masculinity operates, with a suggestion that an urgent upgrade could make the world a better place, for men AND women.
And it’s the chapter on design that set us thinking. Perry points out that the most fundamental error made by male designers is one which we have all come across: at social venues there are hardly ever queues for the men’s loos, but not enough toilets for women. Why? Because nearly all architects are male.
He has some very sharp observations. “Whenever I wander into a corporate lobby, generally full of black leather and beige marble, and often punctuated by the odd phallic sculpture, I feel as though I’m in an oversized bachelor pad”.
It reminds me of a project I worked on which was arguably masculine in nature. I was involved in the refurb for the relocation of the Jaguar Showroom in Mayfair, and it was identified and instructed from the people higher up that they were trying to shed some of their masculine image and appeal more to the female market.
Addressing the brief, I specified a padded leather feature wall near to the front of the showroom as a backdrop for displaying their latest car, and I moved away from their corporate brand manual and specified cream leather. I had a battle with the head of the design company, who happened to be male, and insisted that it should be Jaguar signature tan leather. I stood my ground and explained my reasons and eventually won the argument, having had final approval from the Jaguar team. One small step for womankind.
Another relevant example was my design for the Serenity Spa. This was a place with more women users than men, but as the spa industry was growing exponentially we were mindful not to alienate men with our design direction and to allow for future growth in the male market. In fact by using the Thai influence with its naturally minimal lines, textures and structures this was a very natural fit for being non gender specific, and the longevity of the design.
As a personal observation, in the design world where there are a lot of male designers, the ones who tend to be better connected with detail and more feminine influences of design tend to be gay. A sweeping generalisation, I know.
But along with many other women designers, I squirm at the notion of “shrink it and pink it” when brands want to “girlify” a neutral product. In fact, as Perry points out, until the 19th century pink was considered a suitable colour for BOYS. “Boys were small men, and men wore red uniforms, hence pink for boys.”
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry is published by Penguin, £8.99 and available from Fred Holdsworth, Ambleside, and other good bookshops