It’s time to tackle gender tropes in typography

featured-post
category - design
category - gender
category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - media & technology
type - opinion
Opinion
Designer Beatrice Caciotti and LS:N Global’s creative foresight analyst Savannah Scott discuss how to tackle the prevalence of gendering in the design sector

With identities more fluid than ever, global industries have responded to a need for greater inclusivity and neutrality, from fashion and retail, to banking and the workplace. Yet gendered tropes remain pervasive in design and typography, potentially exacerbated by the fact that, in the the UK alone, the design industry is 78% male (source: Design Council).

With a gender imbalance defining the sector’s workforce, it figures that design outputs are also at risk of being off-balance. One area ripe for disruption is typography. This important tool for communication has historically relied on clichés, such as pinkification, in a bid to help brands target specific consumer groups.

Beatrice Caciotti, an art director and web developer with a love for type, first noticed gender stereotyping in her early days in the design field. ‘Visual communication is still full of gender stereotypes,’ she tells LS:N Global. ‘You can easily notice this on most logos for children's toys. Brands like Barbie, My Little Pony and Hello Kitty relish in using the same twirly, curly fonts to target young girls. At the opposite end of the scale, you’ve got ‘masculine’ brands such as GI Joe, He-Man, and Transformers exclusively using bold and squared sans serif lettering.’

Wanting to address and challenge such cases, Beatrice created the Bumpy Typeface project. ‘Designing a variable font seemed the most reasonable thing to do to keep as much distance as I could from gender binaries,’ she explains. ‘Afterall, what makes a typeface gendered? Why should we consider a script or rounded font feminine or a bold and edgy one masculine?

Caciotti believes that typefaces become gendered because we use them repetitively in the same context, making them synonymous with certain identities or groups. The main purpose of Bumpy was to acknowledge that femininity and masculinity are culturally restrictive attributes, making consumers and designers aware of how difficult it can be to remain unbiased in a heavily stereotyped society,’ she explains.

Published by:

17 January 2022

Author: Savannah Scott and Beatrice Caciotti

Image: Bumpy Typeface by Beatrice Caciotti, Italy

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Bumpy Typeface by Beatrice Caciotti, Italy

When designing the typeface, Caciotti experimented to create letters ‘as a metaphor for individuals within society.’ To do so, she imagined capturing two opposing attitudes inside one typeface; one that adapts to societal expectations, while the other refuses to conform. She notes: 'The decision to design a font family is a conscious one. One that acts against the limiting logics and discriminants of gender binaries.’

Reflecting on her hopes for the future of the design sector, Caciotti says: It’s deeply important that we change the way we approach typefaces, as these outdated tropes divide people into two specific and very opposite groups.’ She also explains that flipping the script isn’t the answer either. ‘Designing a font that simply and only flips the typical associations means adopting the corrupted perspective of the stereotype itself: if you’re not pink, you’re blue and vice versa. But what if you feel purple?’

As we shift into a society that shuns traditional gender roles, the creative industry will need to rewrite outdated design processes. Brands and designers need to ask themselves why they are attaching the physical attributes of gender to branding, colour, architecture and advertising. Instead, the creative sector must step up to create truly representational products and messaging that reflects diverse global communities. Visual communications have long been used as a tool to shape our social narratives, making it the perfect stage to advocate gender equality.

Beatrice Caciotti is an art director and web designer specialising in typography and collage.

‘The main purpose of Bumpy was to acknowledge that femininity and masculinity are culturally restrictive attributes’

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