Designing for good is designing for equality
by Sofia Peracchi [3 min read]
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8th to honour women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. Nonetheless, gender equality is unfortunately still considered an objective rather than a prerogative, as it should be. We are still centuries away from achieving this goal (UN, 2022), which is why Namahn wanted to take this day as an opportunity to discuss this issue and discuss how designers can play a crucial role in promoting gender equality and empowering women. To do so, we talked with Marie Mervaillie, one of our senior designers, who has been working in both her company and private time on projects designed to promote equality.
Marie was one of the designers involved in a project for Amnesty International. This non-governmental organisation asked Namahn to perform qualitative research on existing stereotypes regarding sexual violence, especially focusing on misconceptions shared by teenage boys. Marie explained that the project presented multiple challenges linked to both the target group and the sensitive topic it entailed: as designers, they had to find strategies that would level with the youngsters while also creating a safe space in which a discussion could thrive.
The Namahn team organised four different focus groups, in which they employed several exercises designed to engage with the participants while also ensuring a comfortable environment in which to share personal points of view. They encouraged the usage of fake scenarios to protect the participants’ privacy, and they shared a set of rules to ensure that no further explanation was required to motivate the statements the young boys and girls chose to share.
Marie explained how the methodology they applied to the research allowed them to deaden the possible detachment due to age differences or the gap between the research team and the participants. The methods and activities also ensured a good understanding of the target group and its points of view. Amnesty International Belgium Francophone used the insights and knowledge gathered during the project to adjust the content and tone of their campaign, which was very positively welcome by the general public.
It is crucial to financing design projects aimed at tackling urgent social issues like gender inequality, but sometimes not enough effort and budget is dedicated to it. That is why Marie highlighted the importance of volunteer work and how collective personal efforts can truly lead to change within society, starting directly from small communities.
A few years ago, Marie started working on the project Roue libre, led by CLTB (Community Land Trust Brussels) and financed by Brussels Mobility. The project aims to empower CLBT inhabitants through lessons in which they can learn how to bike in Brussels while also actively participating in the organisation of collective activities. Marie designed and structured these lessons not only to bike together but also to learn about city code and bike maintenance from experienced biker coaches and other participants. The way the lessons are structured encourages collaboration, as people feel more and more empowered by sharing progress with others and collectively improving their skills and knowledge.
Even though the project was not explicitly targeted to women, Marie noticed how the majority of the participants are female. Many of the participants in the lessons are first or second-generation immigrants who have families to attend to. They are often busy, not used to city streets, and frustrated by public transportation. Learning how to use a bike enabled many women not only to save time during their daily commute and spend it on activities they would rather do but also to find and share support within a local community designed to lift each other up.
Through the use of the tools at our disposal, we, as designers, have the power and responsibility to design products and services that are not only inclusive to all users but encourage the breaking of barriers against equality. It is essential to share the work we do within our networks, but also with the public, in order to learn from each other and build good practices that can lead to the change we would like to see in society, also for the generations to come. Let’s take International Women’s Day as a day to celebrate what we achieved but also to remind ourselves of the importance of continuing to work towards a more equitable future.