Personal, DesignPaul McAleer

Where Do I Go?

Personal, DesignPaul McAleer

A few nights ago I was at an event at a new space, one I had heard great things about. After the event was over I needed to duck into the restroom. I found the restrooms and was confronted with two doors. Both doors had full-sized images of skeletons. One had a black bar over its groin area. One had two black bars, one over its groin area and one over its chest area. There were no words, no other descriptions of which bathroom was which.

I ultimately found my way into a restroom. But it took me more than a moment to interpret the poor attempt at reinforcing binary gender. I mean, all I needed to do was pee, and here was a very specific statement. Considering how new this place was, I was more than a little surprised.

Earlier this year my then-employer moved to a new space that included a gym. The locker rooms had these signs.

Locker room sign: person with box between their legs. (Supposed to be “men”.)

Locker room sign: person with box between their legs. (Supposed to be “men”.)

Locker room sign: slightly narrower person with a mug handle at chest height. (Supposed to be “women”.)

Locker room sign: slightly narrower person with a mug handle at chest height. (Supposed to be “women”.)

Again, these signs were the only ones there. It took me a moment the first time I saw them because I had no idea what was being conveyed (honestly!) But once I saw these, I was a little miffed. I mean, again, I’m just trying to pee here and now I need to figure out a damn puzzle on how this designer decided to reinforce a binary gender.

The big problem with both of these examples is that they reinforce the idea that gender, presentation, and sex are one in the same. The skeleton example tosses in more binary norms on top of it.

These are, in short, horrible ways to “solve” the problem. I’m all for bathroom signage being cutesy and/or clever, but these aren’t – they’re both wrong and offensive.

What’s a better way to do it? Well, being clear with signage is best. Just say what’s inside: a toilet, a urinal, whatever. But if you want to be cute then you could follow the lead of the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company in Detroit and do something like this.

Restroom sign. “Stronger flush”.

Restroom sign. “Stronger flush”.

Restroom sign. “Better lighting”.

Restroom sign. “Better lighting”.