Ethical Design of Gendered Products

Roy, O., and McComb, C.

2018, Engineering, Social Justice and Peace Conference

The goal of this workshop is to provide a forum for discussing the cultural and ethical implications of gendered products and to provide participants with an opportunity to engage firsthand in the process of designing ethically gendered products. The workshop will be delivered in a way that is accessible for both technical and non-technical conference attendees.

Engineers and marketers often design products for specific genders in order to segment the market. Sometimes ergonomics and function determine the perceived gender of a product, but often it is arbitrary. For example, a bike seat designed specifically for women is a purposely gendered product, whereas a set of pens designed and marketed towards women is an arbitrarily gendered product. Research in gender studies shows us that these arbitrarily gendered products force consumers into gender roles and support stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. Within this context, the workshop will ask conference attendees to consider the following questions: Who is ethically responsible for the creation and consumption of products? How can engineers and designers create more inclusive designs?

The workshop will begin with a very brief introduction to the product design process. Next, serving as an icebreaker, participants will work quickly in small groups to conceptualize a gendered product from a design prompt. Their designs will fuel a guided discussion from the lenses of ethics, anthropology, gender studies and product design. Principles for designing ethically gendered products will be examined. Finally, they will conceptualize a second gendered product and discuss the differences between the product concepts and compare/contrast their experiences in the two design problems. The workshop will conclude with a discussion of how the takeaways from this workshop can be applied more generally to the design of products and services for marginalized groups.

After participating in this workshop, attendees should be able to identify different categories of gendered products, relate academic models of production and consumption to their experiences in product design during the workshop, and be able to discuss the cultural and ethical implications of gendered products.