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Course: Design
Group of courses: Languages and Cultural Studies, Art and Design


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Course objectives:

Students in all areas of design should be taught clearly and strongly the significance of the category gender in the context of women's and gender studies. This must include the historical, socio-cultural, economic and ecological dimensions, as well as the technical dimension. They should learn to recognise the theoretical, conceptual, empirical, design-related and practical implications of these issues, so that they can incorporate them actively and creatively into their theoretical and practical work. This applies to all areas of design, as the way one teaches (as a lecturer) or learns (as a student) how to incorporate these factors the approaches, theories and methods, the idea of gender as an essential category and gender equality as a natural ingredient in the design process does not differ according to specialisation. The only difference is from the content perspective, i.e. in which design subjects women's and gender studies are taught.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Here we can only present general content, in a structural way. This is due to the particular nature of the subject Design: in most colleges and universities "Design" is used as an umbrella term for various different degree courses (one exception is the Köln International School of Design the author's own institution which offers a general "project degree" that explicitly rules out specialisation in one particular area). These courses are in Visual Communication, Product Design, Media Design, Transportation Design or Design Theory.

The topics outlined below should therefore be understood as examples of essential content that must be included, rather than an exhaustive list. Design is still a relatively young academic discipline. This makes it particularly dynamic and subject to constant change (with new technology, materials, production processes, etc.). The topics covered are very wide-ranging. However, women's and gender studies have to date only had a marginal impact on Design courses. 

Gender relations are not equal in society. This is seen in the area of design on all levels:

  1. Design courses at university/college level and the design profession itself are very segregated in terms of gender. Social gender constructions are reflected in "special skills" attributed to different genders. This means that there are hardly any female designers working in the automotive industry or the production of industrial goods. The few that do work in these areas are mainly in positions where their so-called "feminine skills" are called upon, and that means not technical or design fields.
  2. The different areas of design have gender associations for both teaching staff and students. Thus product and industrial design are dominated by men, for example, while fashion design attracts a lot of women. The same goes for Visual Communication (at least as far as students are concerned).
  3. This gender difference is also found for the consumers of design, where it influences their purchase decisions and the forms of usage.

This makes it essential that the perspective of gender relations is dealt with clearly in the teaching content on all three levels theory, research and methodology and in the design process.


  • (Inter)cultural theories of women's and gender studies, with a particular focus on the (few) design approaches. This should also include current debates in sociology, psychology and ethnography/anthropology. These theories are essential for a basic understanding of the (gender-constructed) subject/object relationship and the interface between people (woman/man) and object. Without them it is impossible to develop an understanding of the emotional, cultural and economic preconditions for the design process.
  • Theories of everyday culture as gender-culture, focus on design-related issues: private and public space and its gender-based use; living forms; object culture; symbolic systems and systems of signs; body language; designing the body through posture and movement; clothing as a second skin; body design as a "dressing" of the body (control, identification, branding, etc.); virtual bodies (cyborgs, characters, etc.); sexual body images, such as androgyny, unisex, macho, girlie, etc.)
  • History revisited: a systematic analysis of developments and movements in design, and design institutions, from the standpoint of gender (arts & crafts, art nouveau, Deutscher Werkbund, Bauhaus, fascism, streamline, Ulm Design School, radical design, pop, ecological design, street art, global vs. culture-specific design, universal design, etc.).

Design studies

  • Usage studies (studies on gender differences in the use of material and non-material products, and public and semi-public spaces)
  • Usability/feasibility studies (application/interface between gender and objects/signs)
  • Object studies ("biography of things")
  • Communication and advertising: gender-sensitive perception and impact studies
  • Service design (what services are used in different situations in life, and what services are lacking?)
  • Designer training/evaluation (the gender distribution in different areas of design and the possibility of achieving a better gender balance)

These areas of research should, as far as possible, take internationality/interculturality into account, where differences occur particularly in the way the sexes relate to each other. Qualitative methods are more important here. Design studies based on qualitative observations have proved very valuable. Their results should include graphic visualisations and information graphics as well as text.

Design process

  • The specific nature of design resides in the fact that theoretical and empirical work must be combined with the design process itself a feature shared only with architecture. Design practice reflects certain gender-related conditions. Designers' experience of different areas of design, spaces, products, signs and so-called "skills" differs in content and intensity according to gender. Gender justice means taking these differences into account and valuing them equally. However, it also means compensating for or better still, correcting this lack of experience by means of appropriately designed curricula. This could be achieved by offering extra "service" courses, for example.

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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

Gender is a fundamental component of our culture. There can be no gender-less or gender-neutral reality. For this reason, any measures or projects should take into account the different lives, experiences and interests of men and women. The same goes for design courses. This means that gender is not an optional subject that can be taught as an add-on or extra topic. Gender cuts across and is part of all topics. Accordingly, it should be integrated into in all subjects and projects. If this cannot be implemented immediately, we recommend creating a number of study modules and making them a compulsory part of basic and main courses. These should include:

  • The module "Everyday Culture and the Construction of Gender" as a theoretical basis
  • 1-3 modules from the area "Usage and Gender" as an empirical basis
  • The module "Approaches to Problem Formulation and Solving" (taking into account potential gender differences).

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Degree Stage:

As mentioned above, gender should ideally be made a basic component of classes, with additional projects for greater focus. It is essential that the content outlined above is made compulsory at Bachelor's level, and as a separate research module at Master's level. We recommend making students sensitive to gender inequalities and implementing gender mainstreaming right from the start of their courses (This can be done via an introductory/orientation course in the first or second semester, with examples of good practice from joint projects as encouragement.)