Design & Technology’s look at Invisible Women
Year 10 students in Design and Technology have been learning about ergonomics and anthropometrics in design, focussing on the necessity for challenging the lack of data on women. Here they write about how the data gap (as detailed in Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez) still to this day adversely impacts women and why it is so important that this is addressed.
It shocks me that the bias in creating products goes so far as to affect the lives of women. Because women are overlooked and ignored in creating products, they become unusable, uncomfortable or even deadly. This is shocking to me, as most products indirectly exclude and harm women. ‘Standard’ shaped products like masks and eye protection only fit the standard of a cis man, and the products are even difficult to use for cis men of different ethnicities. This shows that the world and its products are not actually designed and created in an inclusive way. This becomes even more deadly when safety products are tested to only fit cis men. Women are 47% more likely to be injured in a serious car crash, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, due to the way that seatbelts and airbags are designed.
In the future companies need to provide products that work for women just as well as men. Safety precautions should take into consideration the differences between male and female bodies. For example, it should be made law that car manufacturers have to do safety tests with crash dummies that accurately represent both the average woman and one that is pregnant. It has to become the norm for women to be involved in research groups for products in order to avoid a repetition of the Apple’s mistake with their health tracker, which could have easily been avoided by having female input. I think the main problems that we currently face come from the fact that as a society we still maintain the idea that men do the physical things such as driving and doing manual labour. We cannot start changing all products to fit women because then the same problem arises but for men. The only solution I can see for things like tools and PPE is to design separate products for women. We already know that the industry can do this as it has been commonplace in clothing and children's toys for decades. However, it is important that we do not go down the same route as those departments. Just because you are designing a smaller hammer for a woman that does not mean it needs to be pink. It is vital that the difference between the gendered products are not based on aesthetic but instead on who they work for.
The data gap is the lack of data in products that account for women, as many products focus on caucasian males to develop their product, from iphone size to voice recognition in cars. A woman is 47% more likely to be injured in a car crash, for the simple reason the developers and designers will overlook women’s statistics and focus on making cars more comfortable and safe for men, and treat women as ‘smaller versions’ of men, even though we have completely different makeup to men. I was most shocked that the police stab and bullet proof vests were not properly equipped for women, as the vests main goal is to protect the users from being dangerously harmed, so you would think that they would do significant research on everyone who would wear it. To move forward, I think that all products need to test thoroughly for all of their customers, and make sure that their products are accessible and actually serve their purpose, if that means getting a new accurate female dummy, or making smaller bricks that can fit in female hands.
Though the bias in voice recognition software, phone size, job kitting and the rest of it is hardly less shocking, the lack of proper safety tests for women in cars is shocking. The fact that they never have a ‘female’ crash-test dummies in the driving seat, that the only ‘female’ crash-test dummies used are scaled down men dummies, and that the sitting position most women must take up to reach the pedals is passed off as ‘out of position’, is horrifying and makes driving for women so much more dangerous. It really shows that while people often think as sexism as a problem of the past, it’s still happening right under our very noses.
The gender data gap is the vast majority of data that we have and use to design solutions is based upon the ergonomics and anthropometrics of the male body and the typical male life pattern. The shocking thing is that women can die just because the safety tests of products were designed on a male body or dummie. An example of this is that in a car crash women are 17% more likely to die and 47% more likely to experience serious injury more than men. This is because the seatbelt is not right for women and also the fact that the driver's seat would be closer to the front than if a male was driving because women are on average shorter than men. Another example is PPE equipment used in the police force such as bullet proof vests. 700 women have reported that they don't fit well so can lead to them taking it off and putting themselves at risk. Also 1 woman said that she had to get breast reduction surgery because of the fitting and harm the vest was causing her.
My thoughts as to how future developments in the manufactured world should be addressed - I think that future developments in the manufactured world should include standard sizes for female users when designing products such as working tools or PPE. Product sizes tend to be adapted to Male users, including construction site equipment, which can lead to female injury from strain. Only 5% of women said that their PEE never hampered their work, and the unsuitable sizes have led to injury and even death when female users have been unprotected due to their different measurements in comparison to men, making this disproportionate representation of women in data life threatening. Therefore, female measurements should be represented and recognised when designing products for everyone, or female specific products should be introduced that are adapted to female measurements and needs.
Technology also needs to accommodate a wider range of speech in voice recognition technology, which is intended to decrease distractions and increase safety on the roads, but can have the opposite effect for many women who are not represented in the technology. In addition, technology should include a wider range of data for women or be inclusive of women’s priorities and experiences to cater towards their needs, since one of the most common fitness monitors that underestimated steps during housework by up to 74%.
Female crash dummies that are proportionate to female measurements, and not just scaled down versions of male crash dummies, should be used when testing car safety. The lack of female representation in safety tests has contributed to women being 47% more likely to be seriously injured in car accidents and 17% more likely to die. Women should not be ‘out of position’ drivers in their own cars, as the car should be geared towards female anthropomorphics and include female data. For example, female crash dummies should represent female muscle mass distribution, bone density and vertebrae spacing, which is unique to women’s bodies and crucial when it comes to injury rates. Therefore, it should also be a legal requirement to test car safety using female dummies. Cars could also be made safer for pregnant women, where car crashes are the main cause of foetal death related to maternal trauma. A seat belt suitable for pregnant women should be developed to ensure their safety and their baby’s safety.
These adverse risks towards women can all be avoided through female input on these products to point out inaccuracies or inequalities, and including female measurements in products to make them safer and easier to use for both genders.