4th Year Graduating Projects

Gender and Design

”The exploration of gender in all capacities through products to express gender identity and implement the non-binary in design”

Gateway One

Prototype 1

Aim of this prototype was to test a hypothesis inspired by Judith Butler’s gender performativity theory in which she states that the repetitive performance acts forms what it means to be male/female. performance includes behaviours, decisions and desires which are associated with masculinity and femininity.

I was testing to see if a feminine/masculine repetitive ritual influences a persons gender identity. I focused on the feminine ritual performance of wearing a bra and was wondering if performing this repetitive feminine ritual for 3 days on a male test subject would influence his gender feelings for 3 days after the test.

A key aspect of a bra is to cover the nipple and I wanted to test this repetitive ritual to see if the wearer would feel more feminine. The prototype was made from adhesive tape so it would fit any size chest. The cover has a genderless form not resembling a traditional bra so the wearer would respond to the feelings of completing the ritualistic act not from the shape of the cover.

In order to test this prototype the subject wore the cover for 3 days and made notes on their gender feelings. I provided probe booklets which had prompts to help the wearer think about their gender feelings towards the ritualistic act they are taking part in. After the 3 days of wearing the cover they made notes about their gender feelings after the test too but didn’t wear the cover during this.

Observations from Prototype 1

•Connall became progressively more comfortable with wearing the cover over the three days. Uncomfortable in how he was perceived

•His behaviours were altered as he tried to make himself feel less uncomfortable.

•He noticed his chest area more while wearing the cover and this continued when not wearing the cover.

•“it does make me feel more effeminate”.

•Gender feelings were influenced but not for a prolonged amount of time and didn’t affect him while not wearing the chest cover.

•Test could have been made fairer by testing on more people and testing for a longer amount of time.

Prototype 2

After conducting the test for prototype one which aim was to test the ritualistic act of covering the nipple it can’t be ignored that form and the shape of the cover could also influence the wearers gender feelings too. 

I am testing if the form of prototype influences gender feelings when enacting a ritual and also testing if the form is more influential on gender feelings than acting out a ritual. My hypothesis is that a more traditional bra form will make the subject have more effeminate gender feelings due to the societal connotations around it compared to the prototype which was more non-traditional in its form.

I tested this prototype by conducting an interview to find out the feelings of the subject while wearing it. This was done in the form of a video interview (screen shots taken from the video). I asked questions about their gender feelings and their feelings in comparison to prototype one.

Observations from Prototype 2

•The form of a product used is possibly more influential on gender feelings than the actual ritualistic act it is used to conduct – gender also influenced through the interaction with a product. The interactions that can take place are influenced by the form of that object.

•Second prototype used for shorter time but more influential on gender feelings than prototype one. 

•I learnt that the length of time is insignificant when it comes to influence. 

What I learnt from Gateway one and how I used it in application to Gateway two

As I concluded that form and perception of that form is crucial in influencing gender feelings of the user, form is a key area that I am bringing forward to explore. Interaction with form is another area I will bring forward into gateway 2 as I discovered in prototype 2 interactions with a product influence gender feelings e.g. when the wearer lifted and readjusted that strap of the chest cover they felt more effeminate. Perception is another area that popped up more than once. Self-perception of the wearer of the cover and perception by other people looking at the wearer of the prototype.

Gateway Two

In my pervious project proposal I stated that I was mostly exploring the non-binary and this is the approach I took in Gateway one e.g. non-traditional genderless form for the chest cover. But through further research and observations of our society the concepts of sex and gender are intertwined, and heterosexuality as well as the binary is reinforced through social institutions to create social order and hierarchy. My point being is that as the binary is so ingrained in our society on all levels, I can’t simply ignore it!

My hopes is that through the exploration of the binary in various ways (perception, form and interaction) to create prototypes I can understand how gender exists in products and how this influences gender identity.

Perception Prototype

Gender identity is influenced by self-perception and perceptions others have. It is defined as a way of understanding and interpreting. Social perception uses the person, the behaviour of that person and the location to build up understanding. I used these three areas to test perception of self and outsiders perceptions.

Bra Prototype to test perception

Building on the prototypes I made in gateway one I altered and changed the form, meaning and purpose of the prototype. It is still linked to the nipple/chest cover by exploring a traditional feminine item and ritualistic act of wearing something across the chest, but this prototype doesn’t explore the act of covering the nipple. I removed the cups as I didn’t want the perception to be based off the idea of having breast as the shape of the cups would imply this but  I wanted the perception to be based off wearing a bra shaped form.

I moved away from tape as a material as I wanted the prototype to be more refined but also needed it to be worn by multiple people for testing. The prototype is to be worn over clothes in different social settings to test on different people to see how it alters behaviour, self-perception and outsider’s perception of the wearer of the prototype. 

Aims and Hypothesis of Social perception test

My aim is to test the perceptions of the wearer and observe outsiders perceptions of the wearer. Looking at social perception as a concept my aim is to see the influence that the person, location and behaviour has on the perception of the wearer. The final aim is to see if the perception of the wearer is altered depending on their gender.

My hypothesis is that when someone with a feminine gender identity wears the bra prototype, they won’t have major alterations to the perception of themselves and their behaviours won’t alter massively. Whereas someone who is masculine gender identifying, when wearing the bra prototype will be perceived by outsiders and themselves as being more effeminate. Their behaviours will alter for example embarrassment and hiding the cover or to compensate for the bra they change their body language to appear even more masculine.


•Get a person to wear the prototype in a public location

•Make notes on the wearers behaviours while wearing the prototype- does their behaviour and body language change?

•Ask the wearer about the perception of themselves- what do they notice while wearing the prototype?

•Observe outsiders reactions to the wearer in the prototype- visual observation

Observations from the tests

Upon conducting these 2 tests I observed that Location didn’t influence perception of the user greatly as they both broke social norms by bringing the bra into a public setting and I feel the Perception of the user would be the same in most public settings. Due to this breaking of a social norm both genders were viewed as odd as the received strange looks and double takes. I did notice that the behaviour of verity showed that she was more comfortable while wearing the prototype than Cameron. This could have been due to the fact that she wears a bra normally and a bra is associated with her gender identity. Both of the wearer’s behaviours were altered as they became nervous and conscious of others perceiving them, I assume this is because it is not the social norm for either gender to wear a bra on the outside of their clothes.

In this test the perception of outsider’s views were only observational as I made notes of people looking/staring at the wearers. No verbal opinions of outsider’s perceptions were taken which is something that is explored in the next test of the prototype as I felt it wasn’t enough just to note down if the wearer was looked at strangely. 

Outsider Perception test- Aim and Hypothesis

This test of the bra prototype is solely looking at the perception of outsiders. 

My aims are to gain insight into outsiders’ perception and to see if gender is an influencing factor in this.

My hypothesis is that outsiders will view both genders as odd as they are breaking a social norm but for different reasons depending on if they are masculine or feminine. 


To test my hypothesis, I being the person of feminine gender identity sat outside the ECA café waiting for strangers to ask me questions about the prototype I was wearing to gain insight into the perception of outsiders. A person of a masculine gender identity did the same thing but in Bristo square. 

During this process I made notes on the questions people asked us and the discussions we had. 

Questions/statements made by outsiders to the feminine wearer

•What are you wearing?

•Is that a bra?

•Why are you wearing that?

•Is it a fashion statement?

•Did you make it?

•Is it an accessory?

•Why is your bra on top of your shirt?

•Surely that bra has no function?

•Your bra should be under your shirt, love! 

Questions/statements made by outsiders to the masculine wearer

What are you wearing?

Why are you wearing that?

Mention of politics in discussion with wearer- political statement?

Are you gay?

Why are you wearing it over your shirt? 

What do you study? Intrigued if they were in the art school?

Do you want boobs?

Are you drunk?

Do you want to be a woman? 

Is there a purpose to you wearing this?

Observations from Outsider Perception test

I observed that Location influences who inhabits the space and therefore how the wearer is perceived. The location of the public settings in itself doesn’t influence the perception of the wearer but it’s the people who inhabit these different spaces and the questions they asked that influence the perception they have of the wearer. Different people inhabit different locations on campus for example more students at the ECA and more people of the general public at Bristo square.

For the feminine gendered person (me) the prototype was seen as an “accessory” and “fashion” compared to the masculine gendered person where the prototype was seen as a “political statement”. This is due to the fact that the bra as a clothing item is linked to the feminine gender

Outsiders pointed out to me when I wore the prototype that the “bra is on top of your shirt” and they went on to say that a bra is intimate and private and shouldn’t be on show, where as for the masculine wearer there was no follow up to that statement.

When worn by the masculine person it was seen more as an expression of their gender identity and sexuality with questions being asked such as “do you want to be a woman?” and “are you gay?”. The questions were sometimes put insensitively but they implied more that the bra was a form of expression in comparison to the feminine wearer who was viewed as making a mistake or a fashion statement. 

But overall, both genders were viewed as odd as they both broke social norms by bringing a bra into the public space. For the feminine gendered person it was the act of wearing a private and intimate bra on show to the public and for the masculine gendered person it was the act of wearing and potentially identifying with an effeminate item of clothing.

Both show the subordination of femininity in our society as it is looked down upon to identify with being overtly feminine. 

What could be improved

Because I and the masculine participant attend the university we would run into people we knew while wearing the prototype and they would ask questions more freely which isn’t accurate and does produce bias.

Next time I would not choose places on campus around the uni n hopes that this would mean I would see less people I know.

On the other hand as they knew me and the other participant they would ask questions more freely and it is still someone’s perception whether they know us or not.


Moving forward I am interested in the idea of a collective experience for both feminine and masculine genders this collective experience can explore the idea that femininity and masculinity can exist in one person as a way to introduce non-binary into the design of products.

Form Prototype

As discovered in Gateway one, form influences gender feelings of a person using that product somewhat more than the actual act of doing.

I wanted explore gender through form by creating prototypes which are sculptural to prompt an emotional response in the user.

The aim is to better understand how gender physically presents itself in products.

The aim is to create forms with the idea of the “origin” of femininity and masculinity in mind.

Exploring this idea of “origin” forms.


Using language and words which are used to describe feminine and masculine aesthetics I created two lists splitting them up. The words that make up the lists come from descriptions of gendered products e.g. razors for men and women.

I took words from the list of feminine descriptors and made a prototype using them as a prompt then I did the same from the list of masculine descriptors.

I then chose random words from both lists to create prototypes more ambiguous in its form resembling masculinity and femininity.

From the previous bra prototype I made and tested I now want to explore femininity and masculinity existing cohesively. Through these set of prototypes I explore the binary but I also explore how femininity and masculinity can exist together in one form.

What I learnt

I felt like the forms that embody masculinity and femininity together were more complex and interesting than the forms that only resemble masculinity or femininity on their own. This links to the conclusion that I drew from the perception prototype that masculinity and femininity can coexist together in one person but in this case I explored this through form. I learnt that 3D printing is an effective way of producing accurate and complex forms that I could necessarily do by hand. Only down side of 3D printing is that it only prints in one material and only a couple colours so materiality and colour couldn’t be explored effectively in these prototypes.

What could be improved

I could have done more but due to time pressure 5 was all I could produce. By producing more I could explore other trigger words and different combinations of them to produce forms that resemble both masculinity and femininity.

Some words on my lists were linked to texture, materials and colour. These prototypes only explore form and shape, nothing else. So to improve on these prototypes I need to explore how materials and colour influence the perceived gender of an object. I would like to explore this in my next iterations. 3D printing allows complex shapes to be produced which is useful in exploring form but maybe next I could look at applying different materials to the 3D printed forms I made to explore materiality more deeply.

Interaction Prototype

Interaction with a product and its form influences gender feelings which I discovered in a gateway one through my test subject interacting with a chest cover with a traditional bra form and feeling more effeminate while wearing and interacting with it than a chest cover with a non-traditional shape.

My aim is to observe and ask questions regarding peoples interactions with the gender ‘origin’ prototypes I made previously.

I want to see what objects they are drawn to and why.

I want to see which form they identify with the most.

I want to ask what words they would use to describe each prototype and to see if gender is used in their description.

My hypothesis is that people will choose to interact with the prototypes that lean towards their gender identity e.g. feminine people will interact with feminine objects.

I don’t think gendered words will be used often to describe the forms and if they are used they will be one of the last words on the list and they couldn’t think of other words to describe that from. Gender weighted words will be used to describe the objects earlier on e.g. cute, soft, hard.


I have not completed this yet but this will be the method I plan on using.

Sit various people ( I am thinking four people, two men and two women) in front of the prototypes. Do nothing for the first minute and don’t prompt them to do anything as I want to see how they would naturally interact with the forms.

After that ask the a series of questions:

Why did you interact with that form?

What words would you use to describe this form? get them to write as many down as possible

Which form do you identify with and why?

Ask them to gender each object masculine, feminine, non-binary. Do this later as I don’t want the person knowing the test is centred round gender. I want the answers to be as authentic as possible.

I will ask questions that come to mind too as each person will interact with each object differently and to understand their actions more deeply I will need to ask more specifically catered questions to them.

I will record the sessions I have so I don’t miss anything that is said and so I can go back and dissect what people said further.


Test to be completed…