Pictogram humans 16.10.14

  • The waist area, head and legs have been modified to create a more ambiguous shape

  • The waist area, head and legs have been modified to create a more ambiguous shape

  • The waist area, head and legs have been modified to create a more ambiguous shape

  • The waist area, head and legs have been modified to create a more ambiguous shape

  • The waist area, head and legs have been modified to create a more ambiguous shape

In the world of signage, it is men who hail cabs, check in at airports and slide on slippery floors, while women only ever go to the toilet. Isn't it time we made things less gender-specific?

There is nothing wrong with the pictogram for man. It's an elegant solution and it responds well to the need for a quick, clear way of communicating a man performing an activity: hailing a cab, buying a ticket, departing and arriving, going up the lifts, sliding on a slippery floor, being hit in the head with a barrier gate.

But why is it a man? Written language can be neutral in gender: one can write friend, player, worker, colleague or, as I just did, one. Pictograms, on the other hand, are bound to a gender because of how they represent a body.

The female symbol actually goes beyond the body, making use of a dress to define her. The male figure is very much the standard and chosen to portray activities that are not gender-specific, whereas the female figure is mostly restricted to female toilets or pregnancy-related communication.

One interesting exception, but no more flattering, is the pictogram for check-in at airports, where the woman is behind the desk handing a ticket to the traveller, a man. We asked ourselves if it was possible to design a neutral symbol, that is at the same time both and neither male or female: a pictogram for person.

It's a complicated task because it relies so much on visual perception and interpretation. We are not conditioned to read a silhouette without a dress as a woman, unless there's the addition of curves that make it impossible to read as a man.

Our design is an attempt to hit upon a middle ground, modifying the waist area, head and legs to create an ambiguous shape. The shoulders are narrower and the arms are at a slight angle in a remnant of the female dress. The design is more detailed than the average pictogram, but it's still simple enough to work.

As with typography, one small edit on a curve can make the balance shift one way or the other. We're still asking ourselves whether it is a successful alternative, but as an exercise in using graphic design to speculate on social issues, it has been useful already.

 

Words and images

Julia

quotes story

We are not conditioned to read a silhouette without a dress as a woman, unless there's the addition of curves that make it impossible to read as a man

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