Three types of gender biases
The examples of gender bias can be summarised in three categories. In most cases, the use of standards led to gender biased design, in some cases the associations of the designer with what is male, or female that are reflected in the final product led to biased design, and in some cases the differences in behaviour between women or men in the target group were not considered and caused a gender biased design.
Below the three themes are visualised. The three themes can serve as a guide on how to analyse gender biased design and can be used to identify what to look out for when aiming to design in a gender considerate way.
Fig. 1: The three clusters visualized.
Production and product standards, the behaviour of users and the associations of the designer, are all influenced by the context (time and place in which they are manifested). The context of the researcher developing the standards might be very different than that of the designer, or the target group, of the design project. The effects of the social and cultural context on a designer, researcher, or target group is hard to see but it is likely reflected in the standards, associations, or behaviour they produce. The researcher, designer, and target group are drawn in the figure as being under water, meaning that their reasoning is not visible to the outside world. What is visible is what comes out, the practices: the standards, associations, and behaviour.
This category focuses on standards that are not representative. In the design process standards are often used to improve efficiency of the design process and improve the safety and usability of the final design. The use of standards that are not representative for everyone in the target group, can lead to unintentional exclusion. In most cases it is the use of unrepresentative standards that are causing the design to be gender biased. An example of this can be seen in car safety standards or piano keyboard standards, that did not represent women adequately. Standards are formed by researchers, professors, architects etc. who are likely to have their own biases too. Their choices for the set standard, will reflect these biases.
This category focuses on the designer's reasoning. Designers are, just like researchers and users, influenced by biases. These biases influence the designer's perspective on a project. It can happen that the views that are represented in a product don’t match with the context that is designed for. The associations of the designer on what is seen as male and female that have translated in the design, have resulted in unintentional exclusion. Examples of this include the gendered design of children's toys, or the gender bias represented in icon design.
This category focuses on the behaviour of the target group. As a result of gender expectations, women and men behave differently. Their difference in social and cultural expectations, believes and obligations influence the way they perceive the world. When the context of the target group is not considered it can happen that the way users will react to a product or service might not match the designer’s expectations. Examples of this include the differences in toilet behaviour of men and women that lead to big lines in front of the women’s toilets, or the unforeseen gender biases with which users judge the design of robots.