Gendered experiments: my conclusion to designing gender-neutral

NOTE: In order to make communication easier, in this blog post I will refer to stereotypically perceived male design attributes of the components of a corporate identity (image, logo, graphics, logo and colours) as “male” and typically female assigned as “female”. As this bases on stereotypes it in no way suggests that this is always the case and that design attributes can be categorised in such a way. Society nowadays is so diverse and ultimately the division into male and female is not possible. However as it was my aim to find these “grey areas” between stereotypically male and female design to be able to pinpoint where gender-neutral design starts, I will use these stereotypical assignments I researched in semester 1.

My aim for the semester was to test gendered design and what characteristics make a design more targeted towards a certain gender. I was hoping to see if there is a generalised formula you can utilise if you want to adapt branding/ design to be considered gender-neutral. I wanted to keep a certain aspect to base the design on and decided to keep the imagery static while step by step changing other gendered characteristics like typography, graphics, logo and colours.

After having experimented with different layouts and different industries using gendered characteristics, the outcome can be found in the specific blog posts. Here is the detailed analysis.

Experiments in fashion

MALES. What I already expected before starting to work with designs for fashion imagery was that there would be differences between the different styles and their perceived gender. Street style on the one hand is usually perceived very male, however in the last few years has started to shift to often being unisex. Therefore I wanted to see if this change has impacted the way we design for this style industry. I also wanted to take a closer look at other styles like business which is still very classic and therefore more targeted towards males or “preppy” where the male fashion is often already quite feminised. In general, I was also aware that choosing imagery that only portrayed men, would influence the perceived gender already a lot.

I have to say I was quite surprised by the outcome of the fashion experiments. In the areas, like street style where I expected the transition to be easier, I feel like the step-by-step targeting towards women did not completely work but on the other hand, the imagery related to business was more successful. I do believe the “moods” of the images here had quite a large impact on the design as a whole, so perhaps using imagery with both genders would make this easier. As already stated throughout the different experiments, I felt like the images, typography and colours had the most impact in the end, so I started to focus on those.

FEMALES. Here I also structured the experiments into categories and expected some areas like street style to be easier to make perceived male and high fashion to be the 2nd. Accessories (sunglasses, beauty, scarves) I expected to be the hardest as this is an industry typically targeted towards women.

In general, it was a lot harder to change female designs to male, as expected. From the research in the first semester it was clear that male stereotypes of being perceived less strong aka. female was associated with failure as a man, so this transition not working does not surprise me. In the areas like street style, however I feel like it was easier.

Experiments in other industries

As touched upon before I wanted to analyse if people effect the way we perceive a gender in design. For that I chose the categories product (drinks) and interior design as both are very diverse and rather gender-neutral. Here I could really closely analyse the impact of different components of a corporate identity.

For both product and interior design, I feel like the transition to the opposite gender worked. As assumed before the lack of people and therefore gender-neutrality probably helped with that. Here I think the colours were the biggest impact on the design and usually were, in my opinion, the point of transition. In general, these industries provided a lot of space for interpretation and gave me room to experiment quite a lot.

Conclusion

In general, it can be said that changing the perceived gender is not as easy as it seems to be. A lot of factors also play a role that are not taken into consideration between the components of a corporate identity like the mood of the imagery, the presence of people or the often associated gender with an industry (like cars, sports, beauty, etc.). As assumed, turning male into female designs was much easier due to the societal issues with masculinity vs femininity and the female “disadvantage”. However some industries where a change is on track, like in street style, it is not as big of an obstacle. I do believe however, that I have not as hoped discovered clear “grey areas” which indicate gender-neutrality and can give an indication on how many female vs male characteristics equal gender-neutral design. I believe it has much more to do with a lot of other factors that have be considered individually when wanting to design gender-neutral. Some factors do have a larger impact than others, like colour, image or typography but in the end, unfortunately there is no “one rule fits all” solution to gender-neutrality in design.

Other experiments: product & interior

After experimenting with graphic design in fashion, I wanted to see what kind of differences may occur within other industries. I decided to focus on the industries: product (drinks) and interior design as these are considered quite gender neutral. I wanted to see if giving these gendered characteristics will impact the perceived gender and if changing to the opposite will do the same.

Experiment 1: Product design (male to female)

Experiment 2: Product design (female to male)

Experiment 3: Interior design (male to female)

Experiment 4: Interior design (female to male)

Thoughts

I am quite surprised by the outcome as I believe changing the gendered characteristics actually had an impact on the design. Even in smaller considered changes like typography, you could already see the difference and slight tendencies towards the opposite considered gender. However, between the industries I do not see as much of a difference in the impact which is also surprising. This shows that there may be differences in industries if you compare the outcome of the fashion industry. A deeper analysis however will follow in the conclusion blog post.

First experiments: female fashion

After experimenting on male imagery, I wanted to do the same for females. I categorised into 3: accessories focussed, high fashion and street style. Step by step I changed different components from the corporate design to make it fit more into male stereotypes.

Experiment 1: Accessories

Experiment 2: High fashion

Experiment 3: Street style

Thoughts

For the very stereotypically female images like the accessories industry, it is hard to add male characteristics to change the perceived target group. For other industries like high fashion and street style, altering was easier. Again, the characteristics like colour and typography made the most impact in my opinion and I am quite happy with the results. I would like to analyse next how other characteristics in different more neutral market industries like product design or interior design can affect the design and its perceived gender stereotype.

First experiments: male fashion

To stay within the topic of fashion branding, I decided to firstly experiment within the fashion graphic design industry. I structured the experiments based on different fashion styles as I think different styles are more likely and some less likely to be considered “more” or “less male/female. Based on “male” considered images, I changed components within typography, logos, graphics and lastly colours to showcase the process of adding more and more stereotypically considered female components of design. Here is the outcome:

Experiment 1: Street style

Experiment 2: Business style

Experiment 3: Preppy style

Thoughts

As I assumed I feel it’s quite hard to make male dominated pictures “more female” only through changing characteristics such as typography and graphics. Even after completely changing colours of the design, I think the designs still are quite male dominated through the imagery. This makes me assume that imagery has a very high impact within gendered design. Colours as well as typography however, also have quite a large impact, whereas graphics and logo have less. As assumed in fashion styles like “preppy” it was easier to regender the design and make it more stereotypically female, whereas street style and business style was harder. The outcome to me actually feels more feminine despite the “male” imagery. I am excited to see if the female imagery shows a similar outcome, as previous research suggested.

My plan for the experiment on gender neutral branding

As mentioned within my last blog post, I plan to experiment with the boundaries between stereotypically assigned female and male design, where exactly these boundaries lie and where gender neutrality could be perceived.

Next steps

1. Plan:

  • Set up experiment parameters
  • Set up areas to experiment within

2. Experiment

  • Research & produce pictures
  • Research typography, logos, etc.
  • Design advertising with mix of male/female characteristics

3. Conclusion 

For that, I want to begin with setting some parameters within the research and define which areas I want to experiment within. This will give me a brief overview of how the experiment can be conducted. Then, I will produce material for the experiment through photography, researching online, downloading fonts, etc. Next, I can use the materials I collected and start composing designs with different elements to experiment with the use of “female” vs “male design”. After a number of examples are done, I will ask participants to choose if they consider the design more male or female or even gender neutral. 

1. Plan

Firstly, I want to give the experiment some sort of structure so I can somewhat compare my findings in the end to come to a conclusion, even though it is an experiment and changes could occur throughout. To stay within the topic of branding, I would like to use the components of the corporate identity: logo, typography, colours, graphics and imagery, with images being the focal point of the experiment. For photography, I will not have any limitations to the subject but will rather see which industries and imagery inspire me to use within this testing. 

2. Experiment

After researching and taking pictures, I will combine the stereotypically male vs female images with one, two, three or four components of the opposite gender. For example: I will use a “female” image with stereotypical attributes such as friends, flowers, shopping, etc. and combine those with male characteristics within logo, colours, graphics and typography. Here the question then lies if even replacing one component like colour will already make the design perceived male or only after 2, 3 or even all others. Also it will be interesting to see if some components will have a stronger influence than others and when the in-between stage lies, so a design can be gender neutral.

3. Conclusion

After the experiment I hope to be able to come to some sort of conclusion. I will summarise my findings and what was interesting and start to categorise the results. I am excited to see what this experiment brings.

Unisex fashion branding as an experiment?- my thought process on finding a topic

Last semester, I was able to research into many aspects of unisex and gender-neutral design within different design sectors while specifically focussing on the fashion industry and branding. I gained a lot of insight on significant factors to consider before developing a corporate identity and what external obstacles as well as internal strategic decisions need to be considered to fully enable a successful execution. After this very theoretical period of research, this semester the task was given to use an experimental approach within our fields of gained expertise and use our creativity and curiousness to discover different aspects in a more hands on methodology. 

My struggle of finding the right topic

I have to admit, at first I was very unsure as to how I could apply an experimental perspective on a quite strategic and intentional practice which comes with developing a brand identity. With every establishment of a corporate identity incl. imagery, logo, colours, graphics and typography, comes very thought-out, well considered research and then ultimately the design. With only little room for experimentation in the trial and design phase, it took some restructuring of my thoughts till I ended up with an experiment I deemed useful within my field of research. 

My previous research basically resulted in what 4 years of Marketing Bachelor study taught me: it all depends on the target group. I was unsure if an experimentation could emerge from that, by looking into different target groups as well as even different cultures where unisex fashion and other products are much more present and “normal”. Not being 100% certain on the topic and wanting to be more experimental than researching for another semester, within another one of the countless brainstorming sessions, a fellow student of mine mentioned a topic that inspired me to develop the experiment I will now be focussing on the coming few weeks. She, in basic terms, asked: what makes a design female, male or gender-neutral? Even though this was the topic I researched last semester theoretically in detail, while coming up with experiments I seemed to have lost the bigger picture. With only a simple nudge into this direction, I came up with an idea.

The experiment for the upcoming weeks

My topic for this semester will be: where is the boundary between a design being stereotypically assigned female or male? If one component of a brand identity is “male” and the rest “female”, does society then deem the design male or female? Or is this maybe even the key to gender-neutral design? Mixing different societally considered male and female components together? And if yes, how should the ration be? 

After finding my research topic, I am excited to see what the result of this research may be. For the next blog post I will start to plan how I can structure my experiment, and what the content for it will be.

Is gender-neutral/ unisex the right term considering society and its toxic masculinity?

One subject that really stood out to me while researching unisex clothing companies as well as gender-neutral branding and design is the fact that basically speaking:

gender-neutral & unisex = masculine

In both product design, where I analysed based on the design of smartwatches, and branding, to also target the male species a more masculine approach was chosen with only (if ever) a hint of feminine attributes. In the smartwatch analysis, it was hinted upon that the reason for this lies in the society’s view on masculinity and the fragility of men’s perceived masculinity, with the fear of being categorised as homosexual. Although this blog post is not specifically focused on design, I want to analyse further into this topic and why most men have this opinion, as I feel like it is key to differentiate while designing a brand identity for a unisex clothing brand. The results of this research can further help within the steps of the brand identity design and will provide a foundation on which a targeted and therefore sustainable brand can be established. 

NOTE: As the topic of stereotypically male and female characteristics in design does not provide a lot of literature, I chose the fashion industry to showcase the concept of male vs female characteristics as it provided a much larger database of resources. Also, to simplify writing this blog post, I will be referring to stereotypically assigned male clothing as men’s or male clothing and stereotypically assigned female clothing as women’s or female clothing.

History of fashion and gendered clothing

If you go back in time, clothing that are nowadays seen as feminine also played a huge role in men’s fashion in history. Gowns were often used as a sign of power and status and indicated the role within society, with examples like tunics in Ancient Rome and metal armour skirts in Medieval Rome. The concept of trousers we know today started around about 800 AD with bifurcated (=two legged) clothing, “as a way of linking physicality and aggression with new European concepts of […] manliness […]”.  Here the concept of trousers as a sign of power was introduced and slowly started finding foot in the fashion industry. This gradual development held up until the 20th century, where babies of both genders wore dresses until boys turned seven and were then clothed with shorts. 

Examples of fashion within Ancient Rome: tunics worn by men

The symbol of male clothing

From this century onwards the fashion for men has not changed significantly compared to women’s fashion, that experienced a revolution especially in the 60s where women fought to be able to wear trousers in professional settings. It is said women wanted this as a sign of empowerment and physical freedom, as men were seen as more powerful than their female counterpart. The boxy shapes of men’s wear give the illusion of a more male physique and along with back then typically male assigned characteristics like strength, authority and credibility. This shift has not yet sparked the opposite men wearing clothes characteristically designed for women, but for what reason? Here I stumbled upon an interesting quote:

A woman wearing men’s clothes has elevated her status to a man’s, but a man wearing women’s clothes has downgraded his status to a woman’s.

Lim, Julie. n.d. Gendered clothing. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.juliehyunheelim.com/gendered-clothing/.

When I heard this, I have to admit I was shocked but also somehow not surprised as it summarises the problem of inequality still remaining between men and women. Unfortunately, despite remaining efforts on both male and female sides, the woman is still seen as the weaker counterpart and therefore men that have already established their status and masculinity, do not feel the need or even vehemently avoid any characteristic that could be identified as female as it would downgrade his status as a human. On a side note: interestingly with babies however, male assigned characteristics like strength and authority do not play a significant role yet, so therefore baby clothing is often provided gender-neutral. 

If a man wears a dress, he doesn’t seem strong, he seems “feminine,” which is often tied to a weaker, submissive character. A man cannot dress in a gown without their sexuality being questioned. You must be gay, trans, or anything else but a straight man. Because a man who likes wearing a skirt undermines the display of male power. But if you’re gay, it’s different because gay men aren’t “real” men since “real” men aren’t feminine.

Lim, Julie. n.d. Gendered clothing. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.juliehyunheelim.com/gendered-clothing/.

I found this paragraph in the article on gendered clothing by Julie Lim also particularly insightful as it combines what we have found out in previous blog posts with the fear of being viewed as a different sexuality with the power shift and inequality we discovered in this week’s blog post. Also, it combines the observations I have made in my personal life with comments like “no I can’t wear this pink hoodie, people would think I’m gay” or “this shirt has too many flowers on it, I don’t want to send the wrong message to other men”. However, some heterosexual men are trying to change this opinion men have been conditioned to think by dressing in stereotypically female assigned clothing. A famous example is Mark Bryans, a straight, married American man living in Germany who prefers to wear skirts and heels to work. He is known to combine his top half in male clothing and bottom half in female, e.g. button down shirts with a tie paired with pencil skirts and heels. Examples like this are important and on the rise in the current fashion industry and have ignited a new development and shift of gender-neutrality within society especially with the younger generations, like Gen Z that are known to counterfeit norms.

Mark Byrans showcasing his daily outfits with fluid gender boundaries in fashion

Gender-neutrality just a marketing tactic?

Many companies however have introduced unisex or gender-neutral clothing into their repertoires but have failed to recognise the fact that gender-neutral should include both typically male and female assigned clothing. Critics have therefore sparked the claims that this development within fashion is only a marketing tactic to sell men’s clothing to women. There still needs to be a significant change in the thinking of society and the gender structures we have built for society and up until then unisex and gender-neutral clothing will probably all follow this principle. Individuals like Mark Byrans and inspiring other men may be a beginning in the right direction, but it is said that for if to be “normal” for men to wear dresses and skirts, men’s dresses need to be established as their own category rather than male dresses “masquerading” as women’s dresses.

So, should you differentiate between unisex clothing for toxic masculine target groups vs. non-toxic?

As this article clearly showed society nowadays is not ready for male clothing to fully involve female fashion yet as the mindset altogether has to change. This post showed a heavy focus on the fashion industry but provided a great insight into the psychological reasons why unisex is often more male dominated both in terms of fashion and graphic design. It can also be translated within other sectors of design, with observations showing that males do not want to purchase female hygiene products due to the design of the packaging with the colours, typo and graphical elements. When designing a CI for a unisex fashion brand, you need to clearly indicate if the brand is meant for the mass public or rather a niche target group. For the masses, gender-neutral characteristics that involve more masculine attributes may be preferred, however if you are looking to target a more niche sector of men that do not accept the boundaries of male and female fashion, also more typically assigned female graphic elements as well as colours, typography and imagery can be used. The companies analysed in one of the previous blog posts also show this within their corporate identity. The more classic brands that provide clothing for the masses and a more classic and therefore often older target group, stick within the gender-neutral colour palette, but brands like Collusion that target the Generation Z, that are more open to fluid gender roles utilise both typically male and female graphical elements. 


Literature

Edwards, Lydia. 2021. Friday essay: will the perfect men’s dress ever exist – and would men wear it? November 4. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-will-the-perfect-mens-dress-ever-exist-and-would-men-wear-it-170112.

Lim, Julie. n.d. Gendered clothing. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.juliehyunheelim.com/gendered-clothing/.

Riedl, Ann-Kathrin. 2021. Alle sprechen über geschlechtslose Mode, Mark Bryan lebt sie jeden Tag (auch im Büro). March 23. Accessed January 13, 2022. https://www.vogue.de/mode/artikel/mark-bryan-vogue-shooting.

Scrivener, Charlotte. 2021. Is gender-neutral clothing too masculine? December 24. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://glasgowguardian.co.uk/2021/12/24/is-gender-neutral-clothing-too-masculine/.

Creating a guide to your next unisex/ gender-neutral CI

After having a closer look at other unisex-clothing companies and quite different outcomes and interpretations, I would like to see how theory defines a gender-neutral corporate identity. Again, to simplify how this blog article is structured, the different elements will be analysed based the elements of a corporate identity: colours, typography, images and graphics and as an extra: language. The element logo is not included as it is mainly created with the use of either typography and graphics, only graphics or only typography.

In general, it is quite hard to find literature or scholarly articles about this topic as it is a fairly new development within the branding and marketing industry, so the main sources utilised are online articles. Added to that, gender stereotypes are often forbidden rules that designers follow, resulting in only a handful of sources that actually speak the unspoken. It should also be said that these guides and stereotypes are a generalisation of examinations and should not be taken for the norm. Mixed with the practical analysis we have conducted, it can however show possible next steps in the realisation of a gender-neutral fashion corporate identity.

Which colours are stereotypically assigned to which gender and which are typically gender-neutral?

When speaking of stereotypical colours, many of us have heard the sentence “blue is for boys, pink is for girls”. This starts from a young age with for example gender reveals using these two colours as indicators for the sex. Even though a lot of people and brands want to distance themselves from this gender stamp, it is still utilised in branding for specific genders. This also translates to neighbouring colours in the colour wheel, with green for boys and purple for girls. In general, it is often said that males prefer brighter, bolder colours compared to females gravitating more towards light and pastel shades. Interesting to see is the statistic that blue actually is the favourite colour for both genders in adult life, and orange and brown often the least. From these facts, many guidelines suggest white, greys, browns, yellows, greens and black as safe colours for use. When comparing this to the comparative analysis from the last blog post, you can see a lot of overlaps in the companies, except for the brand Collusion. They specifically used lighter, pastel colours incl. pink and purple symbolising femininity, as well as gender neutral colours green, yellow, white and black, but also stereotypical masculine colours like bright red. For future implementation it could be interesting to decide to either perhaps break the norms of gendered colours like Collusion or stick to gender-neutrality like other competitors.

Examples:

Stereotypical gender-based typography options

Typography stereotypes also originate from a young age, explaining to girls that a thin, round, curved, flowy handwriting is desirable. This derives from the gender norms of feminine character traits symbolising girls to be kind, quiet, shy, dainty and pursue hobbies such as ballet and art. The opposite in typography is geometric lines, serifs, geometric spacing and bold lines. These traits are often assigned to males and can similarly be translated to desired characteristics such as strong, assertive, sporty, and bold. To find a common ground and combine some elements from both genders, Helvetica is often mentioned to be the perfect example of gender-neutral typography due to its simplicity. It comes to no surprise that other unisex types are also derived from the classic library of fonts often also used in the web like Garamond, Roboto and ITC Bauhaus. The examples for unisex clothing brands from the previous post, also reflect on these “guidelines” by using non serif, more simple typefaces, whereas Collusion again plays with the norms and uses a stronger thickness. Even Human Nation occasionally utilises bolder but rounder fonts, playing with these male vs female characteristics.

Some specific characteristics for stereotypically female/male typefaces can be mentioned to further explain differences often found. Boldness is one indicator for gendered fonts- typically male targeted typefaces use boldness, whereas female fonts are more light. Serifs can also show which gendered target group is chosen due to male dominated typefaces utilising more stronger serifs like slab serifs to highlight geometry. As mentioned before ornamentation is also sometimes used as an indicator for gender: ornamental types used for women and male types contain hard edges.

Some sources state that typography and colour correlate with one another and a balance between these is important. Language usually assigns genders to words already, either through definite or indefinite articles like in the French or German language or through meaning, like in the word “ballerina” which is often combined with feminine attributes. If a more stereotypically masculine typography is utilised for such a word, this can cause an imbalance. However, wouldn’t it be fun to actively break these norms?

Example:

Is there actually a difference in gendered imagery and graphics ?

One rule one can obey when creating or choosing imagery for a company’s CI, is using women in female targeted products and men in male. Women are often portrayed having fun with friends, getting ready and men are seen doing sports. Especially in the fashion industry imagery and the portraying of women has become a heated discussion. Photoshop and other image altering software are used to change body characteristics or whole images resulting in an incorrect sense of body perception in many females. A development is being seen amongst the industry today with more and more brands either forgoing editing images or using disclaimers to try and change the negative impact it has had on society. Images used in CI in general should be always used with the target group in mind and what kind of experience should be conveyed. If a gender-neutral brand wants to portray being inclusive, then this should also be included in the imagery, featuring both genders as well as genderfluid or non-binary individuals. Gender stereotypes to group individuals should be avoided e.g. avatars that indicate a specific gender and if so, the intention should always be apparent. The gender-neutral and unisex brands presented in the last article, all make use of imagery to present their products through studio shots of the products by themselves or worn by models. The lookbook styled imagery however, is often neutral and shows diverse people showcasing the fashion. More vibrant brands like Collusion focus more on fun and colourful imagery and edits, portraying the different end of the spectrum.

Example:

Stereotypes in graphical means are also very apparent within graphic design. Websites for men often contain dark colours, bold fonts, harsh layouts and geometrical shapes and forms. This also reflects itself within graphics like icons, with men stereotypically having preferences for straight, pointed shapes, whereas female targeted icons are more rounded and smooth cornered. To create gender-neutral graphics often minimalist and outlined icons are created including both rounded and sharp edges. Other than that, there is not a lot of info on what gender-stereotypes exist within graphical means, but analysing the previously presented unisex fashion brands from the last blog post shows that there are not very apparent distinctions.

What language can I use to be gender-inclusive?

As a bonus, language should be included into the stereotypical guidelines of a gendered and gender-neutral design, as very distinctively, gendering through language plays a big role in these. Use of correct gender-neutral or gender sensible language is a big and also somewhat complex topic, so it will only be touched upon in this paragraph. As mentioned before, many words already have a gendered meaning, also often indirectly without us knowing, and these should therefore be avoided. Examples are words like “guys”, “ladies” or words like “cameraman” or “landlord”, which specifically indicate a gender. Starting in the website layout of a unisex brand, a distinction between male, female or other should not be indicated through categories for men and women but should rather be united to be considered unisex. Pronouns are also becoming a more outspoken topic. Companies like Instagram now enable to include pronouns within the bio and this should also be considered within the corporate identity. If company values are focused on a more personal approach, this should be kept in mind when addressing the target group through e.g. means of advertising. In grammar, there are also certain rules that hint towards a specific gender. Examples are sentences that include his as a reference word: “A CEO should use design to portray his values of the company”. Here replacing “his” with “their” can already make the sentence more inclusive. Examples like this should always be considered when trying to utilise gender-inclusive language. Another often unnoticed stereotype is within occupations or other stereotypes. Instead of saying “John and Mary both have full-time jobs; he helps her with the housework.”, a more equality-focused phrase would be “John and Mary both have full-time jobs; they share the housework”. Occupations like “cleaning lady” should also just be changed into “cleaner”.  

The content itself is advised to be concise when targeting men including keywords that highlight “solutions to problems” to the product advertised. Women-targeted ads however, should be more detailed and descriptive and provide help and the feeling of being understood. For gender neutral advertising, a mixture of these characteristics could be the balance between the two.

In general, a CI focusing on gender-neutral/ unisex clothing or products should use inclusivity and equality within their values. The design strategy and advertising strategy should always consider this aspect and question every component on its gender-inclusiveness. All websites shown in the comparative analysis from the last blog post integrate the non-categorisation between men and women, but only use the subcategories of dividing into clothing types and pages. In general the language is determined by the identity the company has chosen for itself, so there is no clear distinction between the language of a gender-neutral CI.

So should I only design in black, white and grey and use Helvetica for my gender-neutral branding?

In general, these stereotypes are only indicators and should only be used as such. Every brand can decide for themselves if and how they want to implement gender stereotypes into their corporate identity. Sometimes going against these norms can be effective and actually target the desired target group successfully than following certain guidelines. Especially as gender-neutrality only provides a limited amount of options to choose from in different components like colour, typography, images/graphics and language, stepping out of these norms may be an approach for a gender inclusive strategy that promotes gender equality by breaking these stereotypes. All in all, a corporate identity should be appealing to the target group and depends on what kind of customer you want to attract. A target group analysis can gain more insight into preferences in a much more effective way than listening to gendered design stereotypes or guides on gender-neutral design. 


Literature

Cook, Lindsey. 2021. The Use of Extreme Photoshop in the Fashion Industry. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://lcwritingportfolio.wordpress.com/the-use-of-extreme-photoshop-in-the-fashion-industry/.

Darstaru, Ana. 2020. Design Stereotypes: What Defines Feminine Design or Masculine Design? May 20. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://www.creatopy.com/blog/masculine-design-feminine-design/.

Harlem World Magazine. 2020. Looking Beyond Blue And Pink: Choosing Gender-Neutral Colors For Your Toddlers. November 11. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://www.harlemworldmagazine.com/looking-beyond-blue-and-pink-choosing-gender-neutral-colors-for-your-toddlers/.

Johnson, Joshua. 2012. Leveraging Stereotypes in Design: Masculine vs. Feminine Typography. July 19. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://designshack.net/articles/typography/leveraging-stereotypes-in-design-masculine-vs-feminine-typography/.

Johnson, Richard. 2021. Gender Differences in Advertising Between Men and Women. September 3. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://www.optimonk.com/gender-targeting-the-differences-between-men-and-women/.

Murtell, Jennifer. 2019. The Rise of Gender-Neutral Branding. September 12. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://www.packagingstrategies.com/articles/95077-the-rise-of-gender-neutral-branding.

Patel, Neil. 2021. True Colors – Breakdown of Color Preferences by Gender. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://neilpatel.com/blog/gender-and-color/.

Querini, Vale. 2021. How to Design for Every Gender. August 3. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/design-for-every-gender/#microcopy-how-to-use-gender-inclusive-language.

UN Women. n.d. “Gender-inclusive language guidelines (English) Promoting gender equality through the use of language.”

Velarde, Orana. 2017. What Is Gender-Neutral Design? Here’s How and When to Use It. November 5. Accessed December 26, 2021. https://visme.co/blog/feminine-design-masculine-design/.

Unisex/ gender-neutral clothing companies – a comparative analysis

NOTE: Before we start, in order to not confuse the terms, I’d like to clarify that the English word for “corporate design”, when referring to the 4 elements of a corporate identity, is called “corporate identity”. Therefore, the English word “corporate identity” is the German word for “Corporate Design” and will be used throughout this article. With that only one element “Design” is meant, without including the other elements “Culture”, “Behaviour” and “Communication”. 
Source: IONOS. 2019. Corporate Identity. July 31. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://www.ionos.at/startupguide/unternehmensfuehrung/corporate-identity/.

After researching into gender-neutral design in different sectors like e.g. product design of smartwatches, taking a closer look into the fashion sector and their corporate identity can show the current situation of competitors in the market.  When searching for gender-neutral or unisex fashion brands, a handful of articles pop up introducing companies that offer clothing for all genders. Throughout this article I will analyse the different brands based on their corporate identity and their components of logo, colours, typefaces, images and graphical shapes.

For the comparative analysis I chose four companies: Olderbrother (https://olderbrother.us , Riley Studio (https://riley.studio), Collusion (https://www.collusion.com) and Human Nation (https://thehouseoflrc.com/pages/human-nation). On first glance when choosing the websites, it is surprising to say that all use a white background with a black typography-based logo. This is somewhat foreseeable as black and white are often seen as safe gender-neutral colours, however I did expect to see more variety. 

Left to right: Logos from brands Olderbrother, Riley Studio, Collusion & Human Nation

Logo comparison

OlderbrotherRiley StudioCollusionHuman Nation
Combination logo (wordmark & logomark)Wordmark logoWordmark logo
(Potentially also combination logo with “x” as logomark)
Wordmark logo
Sans serif typeface
 
Alternation of characters in the wordmark
 
Logomark: smiley face within circle where eyes, nose and mouth consist of letters “o”, “l” and “B” 
Sans serif typeface
 
Shorter “i” to create interest
 
For childrens’ sub brand: addition of “little” in front in a script typeface
Sans serif typeface
 
One written word incl. addition of “x” at end in smaller font size
 
Other styled decorative typefaces used on clothes
Sans serif typeface
 
incl. a play in typography with two “n” stretched out
 
Other styled decorative typefaces and variations used on clothes
Wordmark alone used as logomark
 
Wordmark: top of website
 
Logomark: bottom of website, loading screen, social media icon, products
 
Both: clothing tags
Use of one logo throughout website
 
On clothing labels sometimes only use of “riley”
 
Even on social media the one variation of the wordmark is only used
 
“RS” monogram logo used for website icon in tabs
Use of wordmark throughout, also prominently on clothes
 
Use of “x” as logomark, e.g. social media or website icon
Use of logo throughout, also on clothes
 
Sometimes only referred to as “human”
 
Animated wordmark on video visuals

Colour comparison

OlderbrotherRiley StudioCollusionHuman Nation
Neutral colours with hint of two pastel accent colours

Heavy use of black and white and sometimes grey
–> white background with black typography

Sporadic use of accent colours peach and mint green

White buttons with black outline, hover changes to black
Mint green: menu
Peach: background of header for one page
Only use of white, greys and black

Dark grey buttons with white typo
Dark grey footer

Light grey banner at top
Neutral and pastel colour palette with accent colour

Logo alternates: with dark background white, with light background black

Accent colour red for announcement and sale

Purple buttons with black typo for product categories

Light yellow buttons with black typo for filter options

Salmon colour for options e.g. load more, sort button

Coloured or light grey backgrounds with black typo
Neutral colour palette

Mostly white background with black typo or black background with white typo

Sometimes words are highlighted with box surrounding the opposite colour e.g. white with black typo and highlight black square with white typo

Coloured background with either black or white typo
Examples of colour use at bottom of page.

Typography comparison

OlderbrotherRiley StudioCollusionHuman Nation
Sans serif typefaceSans serif typefaceSans serif typefaceSans serif typeface
Different weights for headings, body, footer, prices

Bold for headings, navigation bar
Semibold for subheadings, buttons, product names
Regular for footer, page links, body
Light for prices

Play with typography like in logo –> “shop” as a square, also animated

Smaller font size in general, bigger for headings
Different weights for headings, buttons, navigation bar
 
Semibold for headings
Bold for sub navigation categories
Regular for page links, banner, prices
Light for navigation headings, body

Font size according to hierarchy: body smaller, subheading bigger, headings big
Full caps only used, except long body e.g. in “about” section

Animated banner to the left in accent colour

Use of semibold, bold and heavy fonts

Semibold for body
Bold for subheadings
Heavy for headings

Use of big font size
ither use of two fonts or two different width typefaces
 
Use of caps in logo
Otherwise use of all small letters, no caps (except add to cart button) other buttons small, small letters even at beginning of sentences
 
Use of both bold and light fonts for headings (sometimes at the same time)
 
Bold for parts of heading, product names, prices, navigation bar
Regular for body, banner, cart & login, page links
Light for parts of heading
Examples of use of typography at bottom of page.

Image comparison

OlderbrotherRiley StudioCollusionHuman Nation
Product imagery very clean, white background, studio cropped images of products wornProduct imagery clean, white background, also images on models with more of a clean lookbook feelProduct imagery studio images, bright colours, loud, colourful, collage styleProduct images model studio images, neutral backgrounds 
Lookbook images 
neutral imagery, low contrast, clean poses of models, more artistic
 
Also, imagery not featuring the clothes to set the mood

Also use of still imagery with single movements
Lookbook images, “about” images, neutral images, artistic product imagery without models, neutral poses of modelsLookbook images colourful, vibrant, edited, added graphics, effects, fun backgroundsFocus on studio images with or without props, some images outdoor, product images outdoor
Examples of image use at bottom of page.

Graphic comparison

OlderbrotherRiley StudioCollusionHuman Nation
White space, images placed with borders, typo smaller or none –> pictures talk for themselves, minimalistic
 
Use of icons for explanation of process, fine line thickness, similar style as logomark
 
Graphic logo in middle of screen while loading –> animated (turns) 
Use of white space, no large font size, use of coloured rectangular buttons, rectangular footer with infos at bottom in grey, not a lot of use of graphics
 
Icons (only outline) for search and shopping cart,
 
Banner at top in light grey
 
Use of typographic circle “we create from waste”
Retro, loud colourful use of graphics, Street style reflects style of clothing, colourful buttons/ rectangular shapes to highlight certain info e.g. headings, etc, asymmetric shapes, use of textures, cut-outs, outlines (around elements of images)Use of neutral colour rectangles for signaling new section, typography highlighted with rectangular background underneath text, 
 
Use of typography to create graphic shapes à swirly lines reading “respect, care, love”
 
Use of round buttons with icons for search, cart, login, country selection
Examples of use of graphical means at bottom of page.

Summary

The analysis shows that there are different approaches to gender-neutral design. In general, it can be summarised that the corporate identity reflects the style of clothing. Brands like Olderbrother and Riley Studio that sell classic, neutral clothing also make use of these means in their corporate identity whereas Collusion that has more tailored clothing to Millennials/Gen Z generations, so a younger target group, make use of more street styled graphical means as well as imagery and colours. Interesting to see is that brands that are considered more classic utilise more classic gender-neutral colours such as grey, beige, white, black. In comparison to that, younger brands break the stereotypes of gendered colours by also using gender assigned colours such as lilac or pastel pink. This perhaps reflects the movement described in previous blog posts, where gender boundaries are becoming more fluid and therefore younger generations are more likely to accept different gender boundaries.

Examples logo, typo, image & graphics:

Olderbrothers
Riley Studio
Collusion
Human Nation

Literature

Collusion. n.d. Collusion Homepage. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://www.collusion.com.

IONOS. 2019. Corporate Identity. July 31. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://www.ionos.at/startupguide/unternehmensfuehrung/corporate-identity/.

Olderbrother. n.d. Olderbrother Homepage. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://olderbrother.us.

Riley Studio. n.d. Riley Studio Homepage. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://riley.studio.

The House of LRC. n.d. Human Nation Homepage. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://thehouseoflrc.com/pages/human-nation.

Unisex, gender-neutral, ungendered? – Practices in design

Previously we had defined for ourselves what is meant by unisex, however oftentimes when using the expression other terms like “ungendered” and “gender-neutral” pop up. Is there a difference and if any, what differentiates them?

Unisex controversy: is unisex actually unisex?

When researching more into differences between unisex and gender-neutral you come across many articles questioning the integrity of unisex clothing. It is stated that often brands use the term to sound diverse but to only describe clothing that already exists for the different genders like t-shirts and jeans. Moreover, when fashion companies design new unisex clothing lines the fits are often tailored to females, to make more masculine and boxy shapes available for women but often not vice versa. Critics say that these fashion collections also do not include women with more curvy bodies but rather fit the more androgynous looking bodies anyway. Some sources state that exactly this is the difference between unisex and gender-neutral: unisex clothing describes fashion that uses boxy and oversized, masculine fashion to fit both men and slender women, whereas gender-neutral clothing incorporates interchanging fashion for both genders and all body types. The difference to the term ungendered lies in the two genders: gender neutral refers to both and ungendered to none. 

Unisex design world: an example of an experiment analysing gender patterns

When talking about unisex fashion design, it is interesting to analyse other design industries that have adapted unisex strategies to attract both genders. Packaging design being the most common, I want to analyse other industries and focus on where a unisex branding strategy and design was adapted. While researching I found an interesting article about gender and its influence on preferences in design for “digital health wearables” or in other words: smartwatches, by Esfahani and Sareh from the “International Journal on Interactive Design and Manufacturing” from 2021.

A study about gender patterns and the differences between the product design of smartwatches

The study conducted within the article included a participatory design session with two groups, one with 3 men and one with 3 women. They were first shown watches from different companies from FitBit, Fossil, Samsung and Apple and advertisements from these companies. The images are shown below.

Top: smartwatches targeted towards men, Bottom: smartwatches targeted towards women, From left to right: Fitbit, Fossil, Samsung and Apple

From left to right: Fitbit, Apple and Fossil

The most interesting findings are listed below:

Theme 1: Gendered aesthetics

  • All females interested in products targeted towards females
    • Associated specific colours with specific genders
    • Associated all gender-neutral products to be more masculine
      • Especially Apple Watch: masculine, although advertised as gender-neutral 
      •  Due to specific features: large square screens & wide straps in silver to be linked to males
    • In general: attitudes more open to the rules and norms of gender patterns
  • All males identified product language targeted towards males
    • Through stereotypical colours such as ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’
    • Classify particular colours as female or male and intentionally assign gender values to products
    • Dark colours: stereotypical colour for men –> comparison to cosmetic products targeted towards men –> prefer products attached with masculinity
    • Avoid products not meant for males
  • Both genders identified gendered colours: dark colours for males & bright colours for females
    • References from gender imperatives and fears of the norms of appropriate gender stereotypes  –> influences of advertising
  • All participants agreed that smartwatches looked more masculine

Theme 2: Masculinity

  • All male participants identified following attributes for male targeted advertisements:
    • minimal information, not long to read, more rigid, infographics to portray info –> less time to read 
      • observations from their gender identity & societal norms
      • attributes influenced and derived from the society and its expectations (e.g. pressure from peers & parents to behave within traditional gender roles)
    • often fear of being perceived as homosexual: main motives for young males to act within the stereotypes
My analysis of the results of the study

This study shows precisely what I conveyed above: unisex is a hard design concept to implement within the norms of society as especially for males any attributes that are in any way associated with females are seen as “homosexual” and not fitting within their gender identity. This fragile masculinity that relies on vehemently staying within these roles drives brands to counterfeit this by designing gender-neutral or unisex products more towards male design preferences within gender norms. As a result, females view these as targeted more towards men. This reflects the trends within fashion industry as well, where unisex fashion is often only masculine clothing, like oversized fashion targeted also towards females. 

A hypothesis I have formed is that gender neutral clothing in general perhaps has a different target group than the other categories of unisex products, as men that want to wear skirts and more feminine cuts are more secure in their masculinity and do not rely on staying within gender norms. This could also be due to the fact of being genderfluid or -queer or even agender. Therefore, it might be interesting to analyse which target group is interested in gender neutral fashion in general and to analyse other fashion companies and how they advertise to their target group.


Literature

DiffSense. n.d. The difference between Gender-neutral and Ungendered. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://diffsense.com/diff/gender-neutral/ungendered.

Esfahani, Bahar Khayamian, and Pooya Sareh. 2021. “Insights into the role of gender in aesthetic design: a participatory study on the design of digital health wearables.” International Journal on Interactive Design and Manufacturing 173-185.

Morgan, Ashley. 2019. “Why the Terms Unisex and Gender Neutral are not Fit for Purpose in Contemporary Clothing and Fashion Design.” Journal of Textile Science & Fashion Technology. 

Not.Jethro. 2020. Unisex vs Gender Neutral Fashion — What’s the difference? August 14. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://medium.com/@jethronepomuceno/unisex-vs-gender-neutral-fashion-whats-the-difference-a44512d9136e.

Reilly, Andrew, and Ben Barry. 2020. Crossing Gender Boundaries: Fashion to Create, Disrupt and Transcend. Bristol: intellect.