23 April, 2014

"THE GREAT small": 2014 iGDN Conference in Hong Kong

Gender difference, gender sensitivity, and possible futures in design

10 Oct 2014 – 11 Oct 2014
09:00am – 06:00pm
V322 & Podium, Jockey Club Innovation Tower, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The second annual conference of the international Gender Design Network organised in collaboration with Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Open for everyone interested, including:

  • thought leaders and policy makers
  • scholars, educators, researchers, and students 
  • design professionals
  • artists and creative industries practitioners 
  • women's associations, LGBT, youth, and other community groups
  • members of the public

The international Gender Design Network (iGDN), an organization consisting of design practitioners and design scholars around the world, is set to hold its second annual conference in Hong Kong on 10 & 11 October 2014. With the aim of facilitating exchange and critical discussion on the topic of gender and design, the conference will explore questions of gender awareness in design disciplines and practice. The conference targets designers, researchers, and members of the public worldwide.

The iGDN Board is thrilled to announce its partnership with the Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation in organising the upcoming conference in conjunction with the Institute's signature event, the Social Innovation Festival.

The GREAT small: Gender Design Conference will examine how gender is implicitly embedded in both our designed environments and design practices by using interdisciplinary approaches. Participants will share insights on how designers can tackle social responsibility and can empower consumers, audiences, and users in their interaction with one another. In hopes of transcending the binary thinking and essentialism prevalent in the design tradition, the conference will feature keynote speeches, roundtables, and workshops, thus shedding light on the multiple and fluid options located at the interface between gendering and designing, and on what the future holds for innovation, research, and practice.

Date & Time

10 Oct 2014 – 11 Oct 2014
09:00am – 06:00pm


V322 & Podium, Jockey Club Innovation Tower, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


3400 3436
Conference info at PolyU Design website

Organizer: iGDN Second Annual Conference Secretariat

Co-organizer: Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

10 April, 2014

Monthly Column: Design of the workplace in non-territorial Coworking Spaces

»The past: You were in the office.
The present: Your desk is office.
The future: You are the office.«
(Mary Colette Wallace, 2000)

The changing society is always accompanied by a change in the work environment: these changes - especially in terms of flexibility - entail new requirements for work spaces. Therefore, more and more spaces are created, which provide an infrastructure that self - employed workers, freelancers and employees can use flexibly and where, at the same time, they can enjoy the benefits of networking.
By approaching the structure of "coworking spaces" as a social category, my diploma thesis at KISD tried to clarify in what way the deterritorialization of the classic office space is a positive development.
To give an overview about the broad history of non-territorial office space concepts – which is no brand-new concept but has rather been used in various ways since computerization –, different evolution stages had to be clarified.In this context first steps towards "non-territorial" spatial structures were already made about 40 years ago in German IBM labour rooms. A group of engineers moved from small sectioned spaces into open ones with free, adaptive desks. In this thesis the approach relates to both: the places and spaces of the 1970s and 80s, as well as to the equipment and functional furniture of the 1990s.
Even today, besides coworking offices, there are several
3rd places like Starbucks, which enable users to set up laptops comfortably for a short time, thus addressing modern needs. By collecting insights about their costumer needs, the coffee giant took into account user types like "tourist", "commuter" and "resident" in its "re-ignite" project. As part of this project 750 stores were redesigned in terms of interior design, signage, furniture, materials and outdoor landscaping.

Space as social category

Furthermore, this approach devotes the essential aspects of interior design in the context of a borderless office space and primarily raises questions of identity, personalization, the application of gender concepts and of the area of tension between self-realization and heteronomy.
Following from these questions, the advantages and disadvantages of working in Coworking spaces were juxtaposed, which further represented the basis for the research and observation structure in three spaces in Cologne. Using both desktop research and photo documentation, those spaces were analyzed in terms of their membership, infrastructure, financing and spatial design. Finally, tendencies were formulated, in which the findings were subjected to a critical examination.

To identify factors for the creative problem-solving process, work space must be understood as a social category.
When designing
non-territorial work environments, the neglection of user behavior can lead to many blind spots in the design and ultimately in the room configuration.

Personalization in work environments
On the one hand, personalization of the individual workplace serves the need of setting boundaries for other employees and creates a familiar atmosphere; on the other hand, a lack of personalization affects users’ identification with the workplace (cf. Brunia 2008, pp. 1f.). This natural human need is in conflict with the fact that the workplaces of coworkers must be cleared at the end of the day. Ernst Pöppel and Markus Peschl have also postulated the human need to create a personal and safe space as a basis for satisfaction in work environments (see Philip 2012). According to Pöppel and Peschl, personalization is an intuitive behavior in conventional workspaces and is expressed by objects that are not always recognised as such by the coworkers themselves.

The observation in the Cologne spaces
reinforced these findings because coworkers were looking for additional ways to make their environment familiar and comfortable and to express their identity in the organization of the space, especially when the use of personal objects was not allowed. In those cases coworkers brought personal items or alternative tools to create a degree of privacy in public workspaces. When there was a low degree of identification with the coworking space, less objects were used on the desk and personalization was expressed via e.g. desktop backgrounds, cellphone cases but also with private objects such as coffee cups, small picture frames, game tokens, teapots ect.

Expressing Identities
Coworking spaces try to be gender-neutral , however, they are not designed
in a gender-sensitive way.

Normally the operator of the coworking space defines the design of the space. However, the observation showed that, with increasing identification, users personalization activities spread from the desk into the whole work environment. If work stations are ergonomically and psychologically adapted to peoples individual pursuits it is validated on a psychological basis that it increases user satisfaction and productivity. 

Women have a greater need  to create a personal space in their work environment than their male colleagues and they evaluate their jobs differently than men by using additional materials to be a private and create space

During the observation, women seemed to personalize their environment in a very aesthetic way and helped to create a " home-like " atmosphere by using plenty of decorative objects such as flowers or framed pictures and illustrations, as well as a variety of personal memorabilia.
Reflecting this behaviour, a worldwide study with the title “My Desk is my Castle” has found, amongst other things, that women tend to use more home-like objects on their desks than men: while women on average have 17 personal objects that have no actual connection to work, men only have 10 (cf. Brandes / Erlhoff 2011, p93). By referring to women’s use of photos of friends and family,
the study also pointed out that women are more prone to two-dimensional objects (see Brandes / Erlhoff 2011, p 103).
In addition, the researchers also noted that women tend to bring sweets for everyone like cookies, chocolate, candy ect. and placed those at the margins of their workplace so people could help themselves. Men, on the other hand, tend to display very many technical devices, laptops , iPads, iPhones, car keys ect. to present their pride and to underline their social status.

Spatial Coherence
The observation in the Cologne-based coworking spaces also showed that many objects relating directly to the space itself are used to meet the need of spatial demarcation: presention walls, books or plants, monitors arranged around the worker, monitors placed on stands or jackets draped over a chair’s backrest,. As mentioned above, women tend to improve the workplace in an aesthetic way but at the same time and in addition to fulfilling an emotional function, these objects are used to gain spatial privacy. In short: one’s own desk and the area around it are much more than just a pragmatic work station: they always reveal something about the owners themselves (cf. Fire / Erlhoff 2011, p 14).

20 March, 2014

Independent on Sunday will no longer review gender-specific books

Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex. A good read is just that. Ask any child, regardless of gender, says IoS literary editor.

10 March, 2014

“We are two strong women” – Designing Empowerment in a Pervasive Game

"Gender-aware design is important in computer games in general, and perhaps even more so in the design of pervasive games, as these are played in the ordinary world. As pervasive games blur the distinction between game and non-game situations, they influence the everyday lives of their players."

Gender-awareness in game design: How deals game-design with the raising numbers of female players in pervasive games? We like to share Jon Back and Annika Waern's paper on gender-sensitive augmented reality games: 


19 February, 2014

Video by Hungarian artist Boggie

The Hungarian artist Boggie has created an absorbing music video that details a photoshop session on her face. While the also catchy song is playing, you can observe her changing from a natural beauty into a flawless female stereotype.


Sawtuha” is released by the German label Jakarta and is a result of a recording session with 9 female musicians from Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria who spend 2 weeks in a studio in Tunis with Oddisee and Olof Dreijer of The Knife. A protest against “corruption, despotism, patronisation and narrow-mindedness”. As Jakarta Records explains: “Sawtuha, is a vital encouraging testament of rebellion against the repression of democratic rights, gender inequality, and lack of inclusion”.

22 January, 2014

Monthly Column: "0-100. (Made to measure)": DAS HAUS imm Cologne 2014 - Reproducing Gender Stereotypes in Interior Design

After a troubled column-less December, we start the year with a review of Louise Campbell's Contriburion to the Cologne Furniture Fair imm 2014: 

"0-100. (Made to measure)": DAS HAUS - Reproducing Gender Stereotypes in Interior Design

The binarity of the exterior: grey texiles and wooden shindels

The Danish designer Louise Campbell is guest of honour at this year's international furniture fair "imm" in Cologne. Campbell designed a simulated home on 240m2 in the middle of hall 2.2. "The walk-in 'Das Haus – Interiors on Stage' installation follows the format’s successful premiere with London design studio Doshi Levien in 2012 and Venetian designer Luca Nichetto’s elegant interpretation at the imm cologne 2013."  It gives away her idea of scaling: an open room without fixed walls, instead there are textile hangings with an overly large bed – or rather a sleeping stage -– and minimized things like small desk. But it's not only the striking mixture of ‘small’ and ‘big’ nor the reference to Scandinavian formal structuralism: it is the division of the room into ‘male’ and ‘female’ that makes the visitor wonder about Campbell's intention behind her interpretation of a home. It was about time for the Cologne trade fair to come up with a single female designer for "DAS HAUS". While the publication "DAS HAUS 2014" refers to her female gaze on design (and the publication itself is designed using pale pink and light grey shades), the very first impression of "DAS HAUS" lacks masculinity in general. 

The punching ball is mirrored in the felt crib on the other side of the house.

From the outside, we see a combination of wooden shingles and a light grey textile wall hanging combined with lots of plants and this continues while walking in. Campbell's big space is open and yet divided; the left side is supposed to host masculinity: a desk, a boat, a boxing ball, a fishing rod and Jasper Morrison's Thinking Man's Chair (with it's measures written on it) find their counterparts on the right hand feminine side which is dominated by the big sleeping stage full of soft blankets and cushions in white and pink.  We see a hanging felt crib, paper lamps, hot water bottles in a knitted cover and bags and baskets again in pinkish shades. No boxing, exploring or working, but notions of nourishing and care-giving. All the artifacts imply either going out or staying in. Moreover, Campbell's own design can be found in the wallpapers: Hunting Scene on the left, Pretty on the right. 

Thinking. Man. Figures. Measurements. 

 The publication tells about "props symbolic of masculine logic and feminine philosophy (…) which co-mingle in its design agenda to express a fresh concept of spatial construction that offers insights into how we might live better."

Might we actually live better if designers not only keep on segregating gender but also reproducing a heteronym and dichotomous idea of gender? Wouldn't it have been far more innovative to try and find ways of designing a holistic gender-sensitive interior? Or at least to play with these stereotypes? The opportunity to implement ideas and to provide a space for diverse and multilayered consumers/individuals/inhabitants, who not only use, but also create, diverse and multilayered environments has been missed. Sadly, the installation lacks any kind of protest and thorough reflection.

“Personally I feel very much at home here,” says Louise Campbell of her “Haus”. “So where floral wallpaper in a kitchen would not naturally present itself at the top of my list, plenty of fine tools do. Even so, I’d much rather sleep in an imaginatively decorated space than in a bare white bedroom." The open subjectivity raises the question of whether female designers are doomed to be reduced to the femininity in their design, thus being nothing but "the other" according to Simone de Beauvoir's old but still relevant definition of femininity.

Finally, at the centre of the space, there is a dining table, "where both meet" together with Campbell's statement how "the products may perhaps seem feminine, but given a closer look, they are all based on material and function, reflecting utterly logical decisions." On a theoretical level, the possibility of "utterly logical decision" immediately raises serious questions and would be worth discussing: the concept of "DAS HAUS" does neither.

Not the table, but, at least, the wall in the kitchen-area presents a mix of masculine and feminine tools. It is dominated by a peck-board full of tools for all kinds of purposes and, unlike Bulthaup's B2 kitchen cabinet, the wall does not provide the opportunity to hide anything - a mix of kitchen utensils, textile items such as threads and yarn, with knives, saws and screwdrivers neatly arranged in specific groups. 

On the other hand, it is at least a bit refreshing and motivating to see an awareness of gender subjects emerging in such a commercial and business-related context. Still, the feeling of a missed opportunity due to a hesitation (or lack of ability) to go beyond established Western gender stereotypes lingers on after leaving "DAS HAUS".

Louise Campbell was born in Copenhagen in 1970. Being the daughter of a Danish father and an English mother, she grew up and was educated in both countries. After graduating from the London College of Furniture in 1992, she returned to Denmark and continued her studies in Industrial Design at Denmark’s Design School, from which she graduated in 1995. She set up her own studio in 1996 and has worked independently ever since.