Viva la vulva 2.0
The biggest design flaw in human history, one that affects half of the human population, has entered our public discourse. From mobility and car safety, to medical products, technical devices, urban planning, government and politics, women have been disregarded in favour of the male default.
In design research, we use this male default as a basis for all of our assumptions. But what are the consequences of this absence of women in design? In her book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, Caroline Criado-Perez exposes shocking examples of how this bias ranges from how we test the safety of cars, using only a male model in the drivers seat, to how we educate, diagnose and treat heart attacks based on medical research on male symptoms. This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg of how centuries of a system designed by men, for men, has neglected not only women, but every individual across a wide spectrum of sexual dimorphism.
In Sweden, hospital admissions for traffic-related injuries in winter has shown that 69%* of those injured were women. When they looked into the root causes, they discovered that women move very differently to the ‘male default’, who often moves directly from A to B as a typical commute, compared to women who often carry out ‘trip-chaining’ throughout the day. When Stockholm adjusted the snow-clearing routes to be more inclusive of the way women move, accidents went down by half*.
In considering for the first time the behaviour and needs of women, this opened up the minds of those who plan for urban movement to think more holistically across all players within a society, from children to the elderly, to design cities that benefit everyone.
*Statistics taken from Caroline Criado-Perez’s book on “Invisible Women”.
When we do research, we are biased, because we fail to learn who is responsible for carrying out the research, or what values are set in the criteria of selected participants, as well as our negligence in challenging existing assumptions related to the topic of exploration.
Thankfully, industries are evolving. Taboos are being broken. Stigmas are being overcome.
We can observe one industry in particular that has bravely challenged the stigmas associated to our female bodies. This has taken enormous courage, to take ownership and power of the knowledge how our female bodies work, and to provide the emotional support to women to ensure that they feel no longer in the dark with their health issues. We can now, without fear and dread, feel empowered enough to ask a friend if they experience a similar condition, such as PCOS or Vaginism, of which we’ll find that they are likely to have either have direct or indirect experience with. We would once bury our conditions deeply, unable to express our pain and suffering to a doctor, who would most likely look perplexed, dismissive, or nudge you down a rabbit hole of misinformation, or no information, a lot of wasted time, energy and growing mental health issues.
Thankfully, things are changing.
From fertility, period care, cycle-tracking, nutrition, to sexual health, the female health sector is booming. The mystery of our female health is finally supported through digital therapeutics, smart products, and personalised services, which are disrupting the industry and giving voice to our vulvas.
This is only the start, as we become more diverse in our selection of who and for what we are basing our design research on. We can unlearn biases, include a range of perspectives over just one, be more conscious of the framing and narration of data and shed light on possible stereotypes before research is carried out.
By looking into the way that we design, integrating methods such as sex-disaggregated data collection, we can begin to remove our reliance on codes that objectively exclude large sectors of society, and instead look at what unites us through context and behaviours, to design more inclusively across the whole.
For more about how we design for challenging stigmas, see our article on how to design for unconsciously biased data.
For this year’s Berlin Design Week, FJORD Berlin held a series of talks across topics ranging from sustainability, spatial experiences, to diversity and inclusion within design. We also hosted an exhibition that highlighted the power of experimentation to encourage this free-thinking in our daily work.
Check out our other articles from the Berlin Design Week…
Experimentation as a tool for innovative and differential product creation
Design for spatial experiences
The plights and joys in the transition towards a more sustainable workplace and culture