The Gender Neutral Icon Dilemma
Inspired by a lecture I attended by a Creative Director whose agency struggled to design a satisfactory Gender Neutral/Non-Binary bathroom icon for an architect's firm. I decided to attempt to resolve this topical issue myself.
Most contemporary attempts at resolving this design challenge are either a hybrid of male/female features, or abstractions that require explanation. This means that:
1 | The icon fails to communicate neutrality
2 | The icon's information is confusing and likely to be ignored
3 | The icon's appearance is ill considered and therefore awkward
Consider the examples below:
Analyse, Understand, Find a Solution
We can see from above in example (1) that little attempt has been made to reconsider the problem of accurate representation of a third gender and may be confusing to all genders as a result. From example (2) we can see that whilst excellent design principles have been applied, it may not be obvious that it represents a human once the icon is displayed out of context from the others (on a bathroom door). Analysis of both show that it is the body element on the icon that needs to be reconsidered so that it remains recognisable as a human body, whilst the circle that typically represents the head should be maintained for recognition consistency across all icons. The challenge therefore becomes the following:
How might we design a Gender Neutral icon that can be easily understood in context as well as in a standalone setting?
Having researched existing solutions and ideated for alternative designs, the proposed solution involves taking the internationally recognised symbol for infinity and allowing it to represent the body.
This answers the brief as the infinity symbol is both recognisable as a human body whilst it also captures the idea of multiple identities.