Divided Desks: The Inequity of Gendered Design

Creating more ethical educational and work environments.

Nina Bellisio 
Associate Professor 
St. Thomas Aquinas College

Academic hoods are sexist. I’m reminded of this at every Commencement when my male colleagues easily slip the looped string over a button to prevent it from pulling back and choking them while the rest of us search for a pin or something to compensate for the fact that we’re not wearing button-down shirts. This inconvenience would not prevent someone from pursuing a career in academia, but it is a small reminder that historically women were not supposed to rise to those ranks.

Reflecting the impact of the #metoo movement, the idea that design can have a gender bias has gained traction. The objects we encounter and the spaces we inhabit can have an impact on our behavior, subtly and unconsciously, giving men an unethically privileged position.

An awareness of the conscious and unconscious biases perpetrated by the designed environment is the first step in creating more ethical educational and work environments. An increase in both the number of female designers and feminist-based design initiatives will also work to create more equity and equality within these environments. In this paper I would like to share my research in this area and begin a dialogue with other designers and academics about how the physical spaces we occupy can be used to reduce gender divisions and preferences.

Experiments in Building Empathy and Revealing Bias

Rebecca Mushtare
Associate Professor Of Web Design & Multimedia
State University Of New York At Oswego

When left to our own devices, we unconsciously design for the audience we know best—ourselves. Although some traditional-aged college students have had travel opportunities or exposure to diverse cultures and communities, most still have limited life experience, which magnifies this tendency.  If inclusivity is an ethic we want our students to adopt as professionals,  we need to do more than read and talk about empathy and bias in the classroom. These values need to be embedded in our curriculum including how we frame assignments, the way we talk about design during critique, and our evaluation systems.

Overhauling an entire curriculum, or even a course, and starting from scratch is likely not an option for most faculty. Additionally, teaching empathy and implicit bias can be overwhelming for faculty who have not been trained,  and therefore do not have the language to confidently speak on the subject. What we can do, though, is make incremental changes in our classrooms that focus on raising awareness of assumptions we make and how our choices impact our audiences. Small changes can have real impact.

In this session, I will share the successes, failures and limitations of four years of experimentation and tinkering in the courses I teach combined with my own journey to become more aware of my blindspots and biases.