depatriarchise design is non-profit research-led platform working across different mediation formats, that examines the complicity of design in the reproduction of oppressive systems, focusing predominantly on patriarchy, using intersectional feminist analysis.
The platform is currently run by Berlin-based Anja Neidhardt and Basel-based Maya Ober.
depatriarchise design aims to share as many female voices as possible in the intersectional discussion around design patriarchy. Therefore you are encouraged to submit your texts, thoughts, drawings, photos, videos or any other materials, which discuss the broadly understood intersection of gender and design. depatriarchise design wants to challenge the Anglocentric discourse, therefore contributions written in languages other than English, are highly encouraged.
You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Platform Statement: Deconstructing Design Patriarchy
It is glamorous, abundant, and on every occasion, it underlines its omnipresence, creating an illusion of normality: design patriarchy. Male dominated prize recipients and juries, male-only exhibitions, male-centred articles – all form a status quo which is seldom questioned. Every “other” is marked, every “other” is defined through the framework of their otherness, be it gender, race, ethnicity, or class.
Design participates in amplifying the overall experience of oppressed groups (gender-based, sexuality-based, race/ethnicity-based, wealth-based, etc.) and plays an active role in their subordination as users, practitioners, theoreticians, and objects of representation. Structural and symbolic violence work interchangeably within the field in order to perpetuate what we call design patriarchy.
Design patriarchy is disguised. It made our visual landscape go through plastic surgery, mimicking the surrounding power relations and reflecting the norms, the standards, the priorities of the dominant bodies creating our material reality.
Design patriarchy is also meticulous; it forms part of a bigger cultural hegemony, imposing its narratives and perspectives, creating an inner system of oppression that reproduces itself constantly. Domineering design is involved in the creation of ideas, products, and tools fostering and reinforcing structural and symbolic violence.
It is clear that design patriarchy is a political issue. However, it is more than difficult to question it, not least because such discourse is often silenced and marginalised. This stems from the broadly accepted myth of design as apolitical. Design institutions and the design community are reluctant to include and discuss political content, creating a false impression that design as a discipline is somehow “neutral” or “objective.” But structural and symbolic violence is inherent in design, and through the creation of oppressive products, spaces, ideas, standards, it further perpetuates this oppression.
The male-centred, heterosexual, financially secure, able-bodied, and white norm is deeply rooted in Modernism. It is not only prevalent and defines standards within the field, but it also creates a hierarchical structure that facilitates violence. This distorted condition is often perceived as “natural,” and so the status-quo is not questioned. The notion, fortified by design institutions, that design should restrain itself from dealing with political questions, constitutes an oppressive tactic for silencing dissent and serves those privileged groups (such as star designers) that profit from this state of things.
However, at core of the star designer phenomenon is the emphasis on individualistic work. It strives to portray the history of design and architecture as a line of punctual successes of exceptional individuals (mostly white, middle-class men), rather than to highlight collectivity and collaborations between different groups. The obsession in the West with focusing on individuals is among the structural causes that undermine and erase women’s achievements and contributions. Women designers are largely invisible, and those who try to gain equality within patriarchy have to adapt themselves to the “norm.” Unless women designers do not epitomise the broadly accepted standards that equate design with a very specific visual, formal, and ideological language, they are neither valued nor recognised. Therefore, instead of demanding equality within these social and economic systems, which were set up for the benefit of men, typically white and wealthy, we should strive for liberation to create our own narratives outside of the patriarchal framework that at its core benefits from women’s exploitation and subjugation.
The exclusivity of the design profession stems from the male-centred standard; if we fail to meet it, we lose any recognition. At the same time, a notion is created which assumes that this norm is objective, neutral, and good. The Modernist mindset is highly valued, creating a hierarchical division across the field that is normalised and widely accepted as “natural” and “standard.” Design constantly tries to depoliticise itself, claiming that it serves the “universal, common good.” But how is this “common good” defined? How do designers address the needs of users? How do they interpret reality? Are designers a quasi-divine group, detached from the social constructs prevalent in our societies, such as those of gender, class, and race?
depatriarchise design explores and exposes the different aspects of design patriarchy. To what extent is design a direct expression of the ruling, privileged views in our society? In what way does design conserve and reproduce existing patriarchal, but also colonial, capitalist, and other oppressive structures? And how can a deconstruction of this system be approached?
Applying the feminist doctrine “the personal is political,” depatriarchise design turns the spotlight on the politics of design practice, especially focusing on gender, which in our opinion gives an intersectional quality to design research and enables us to challenge the unpolitical character of traditional design institutions and practices. Applying intersectional feminism in the context of design offers an opportunity for understanding and deconstructing the multidimensional basis on which design practices are complicit in perpetuating injustice and social, racial, and gender-based oppression. Following Paula Rust, we want to use our personal experiences as women within the design field to reflect on its political status quo.
depatriarchise design uses the New Rail Alphabet typeface which is a revival of the British Rail alphabet designed by Margaret Calvert of Kinneir Calvert Associates in the early Sixties.