söndag 27 februari 2011

Gendered design

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This week I listened to a thought-provoking talk by KTH Ph.D. student Karin Ehrnberger about gender-coded design. The pictures above says it all. As an industrial designer, Karin's thesis work concerned a practical exercise in uncovering (deconstructing, opening up the black box of) design and values. More specifically she has uncovered gender-coded design practices through an innovative design "intervention". More specifically, she switched the design conventions of a drilling machine and hand blender with each other so that the drilling machine used the conventions of the hand blender and vice versa. The result was the drilling machine "Dolphia" (named after non-threatening round, friendly dolphins) and the hand blender "Mega Hurricane".

Karin also mentioned that all the stuff at IKEA that is made out of soft materials (plaids, curtains etc.) are called Anita, Felicia, Birgit, Inez and Kajsa while stuff made out of wood (bookshelves, footstools etc.) are called Ivar, Billy, Oddvar, Hugo and Bosse. I really haven't thought about that before. The whole talk was an eye-opener. As a Ph.D. student, Karin is now trying to (theoretically) understand and further explore what she did in her master's thesis in terms of design and values (including but not limited to issues of gender).

I immediately thought about the huge difference in design between the original (aggressively "male") Xbox computer game console (2001) that flopped big time in Japan - not the least because of the design - and the (organically "female") Xbox 360 follow-up (2005). Since computer gaming and game consoles have made the trip all the way from the domain of teenage boys to the family living room and even retirement homes (Nintendo Wii) in just a decade or two, it would be really interesting to see a study of how the design of these machines have changed together with the remodeling of computer gaming into a social family activity. At the same time we have another development in the emergence of pro-gaming and professional gamers. I wonder what can be made out of the form language of high-end computer gaming equipment (computer mice etc.). I bet the design conventions are (very) "male", attempting to convey values of speed, force, no-nonsense effectiveness and so on...

Hand mixer with a "sporty" display with a rev counter and a "trigger" button.
Drill with "non-threatening" organic forms and simple interface/settings
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