Materialising gender

Monday, March 30th, 2009 | Design and research, General | 1 Comment

Some time ago I wrote a blogpost where I suggested that design (or more specifically the production of artefacts other than the traditional academic paper) can be used for intentionally communicating theoretical issues. I believe we to a certain degree can embed, present and visualise theory in artefacts by making use of specific resources for meaning-making, just like we do when we design. Of course, this raises questions of interpretation: to what degree is the “reader” able to understand what is to be communicated through the artefact? This is a huge theoretical question that I am not going to go into here. However, I will provide an example that I find interesting in terms of how designer skills and design production can help communicate a theoretical argument.

The example is from a master project in industrial design at Konstfack by Karin Ehrnberger, called ‘Materializing gender’. I saw this presented on the design conference NORDES in Stockholm in 2007, and was impressed by how the theoretical discussion was interwoven with a specific design project. The paper is unfortunately not available online, but a short description can be found here.

Drill and mixer

The aim of the paper was to investigate how products are ‘gender coded’, and bring attention to the lack of understanding of this phenomenon. This was partly done theoretically by drawing on gender studies, but also through experimental design production. Ehrnberger designed a hand mixer using the aesthetics of a drill, and a drill using the aesthetics of a hand mixer (images used with permission from the designer).

Even though these artifacts do not convey a unambiguous argument in themselves, they are to my mind highly successful in visualising and bringing attention to how gender is semiotically “encoded” in physical products. These artefacts do not reduce the need for theory and analysis, rather they demonstrate the importance for a thorough and theoretical inquiry. In addition, these products have the ability to evoke reactions from both researchers, designers, and users, and thereby increase the potential for knowledge dispersion.

In my research I intend to do something similar, that is to experiment with form of academic communication. Rather than keeping the design production and the academic text separate, I want to integrate them in a coherent whole. To put it simple: I will discuss and analyse navimation through a navimational interface. I have already done a small experiment and plan to take this further in some way or another. This is not easy to do in regards to both design and research, but I think there is a great potential for innovation in academic communication here.

Tags: , , , , ,