How to Add Feminist Approaches into Design Courses

By Sharra Vostral and Deana McDonagh.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The universal male has been the dominant model within the design process. However, male is not universal, and in fact men possess racial, gendered and political identities. This paper addresses the illusion of ‘neutrality’ and offers proactive design pedagogy to enable feminist design approaches, leading to more appropriate design outcomes for wider communities.

The authors designed an upper-level undergraduate course that blended industrial design and feminist theory to make gender visible within the design process. What became evident is that women have had to accommodate technology, products and their environments, and the instructors asked students to design the material objects to embrace women.

There has been a degree of lip service given to integrating female voices within new product development (e.g. Volvo car prototype, pink washing), but it is extremely timely to introduce a course that actively and tangibly ensures design outcomes that acknowledge female users and non-users. Product opportunities are being missed when designers succumb to outdated stereotypes. By encompassing a multiplicity of women’s identities as users, the material landscape can better meet the needs of many different women. The application of empathic design approaches yields innovative outcomes by demanding that students deploy a rigorous analysis of the task/user/environment model in their design processes to create woman-friendly objects.

Keywords: Design Pedagogy, Design Process, Empathy, Feminism, Feminist, Feminist Research Approaches, Feminist Theory, Gender, Identity, Industrial Design, Pedagogy, Women

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.113-128. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.856MB).

Dr. Sharra Vostral

Associate Professor, Gender and Women's Studies, History, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Champaign, Illinois, USA

Sharra Vostral is an Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research centers upon the history of technology in relation to gender and women’s bodies and the ways in which material artifacts functioned in people’s everyday lives. Her book, Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) examines the social and technological history of sanitary napkins and tampons through the lens of passing, and the effects of technology upon women’s experiences of menstruation. She has co-edited a volume entitled Feminist Technology (University of Illinois Press, 2010), a collection of essays that explores the possibilities of using feminist approaches to design new technologies that benefit women. Her current research explores Toxic Shock Syndrome and its relationship to tampon use during the early 1980s. Her teaching interests include gender and technoculture, U.S. gender history, and the social history of material culture in the twentieth century. Sharra Vostral received her PhD in History from Washington University in St. Louis, and holds an MA in American Studies from St. Louis University. She completed her BA at the University of Michigan with honors in Comparative Religion.

Dr. Deana McDonagh

Associate Professor of Industrial Design, (1) School of Art + Design, (2) Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, (3) Gender and Women's Studies, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Champaign, Illinois, USA

Deana McDonagh is an Associate Professor in Industrial Design within the School of Art + Design, a faculty member at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and an affiliate in Gender & Women’s Studies (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Her research concentrates on the emotional domain of product development and the creation of empathy between the designer and user. She has co-edited Focus Groups: Supporting Effective Product Development (2002), Design and Emotion: The Experience of Everyday Things (2002), and IMPACT: The Synergy of Design, Business and Technology (2005). More recently she edited REALIZE: Design Means Business (2006). Her PhD was awarded from Loughborough University (UK) and focused upon developing empathic design research methods to support more effective innovative product development through intuitive design outcomes. She concentrates on enhancing quality of life for elders and people with special needs through more effective product solutions.


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