“I’m too tall. I’m too short. I’m too fat. I’m too thin. I’m left-handed.” All too often we utter these and similar phrases to excuse ourselves when our heads bump against light fixtures, our inability to reach tall shelves, our struggle to find comfortable clothes, and our awkward fumbling of products and packaging clearly not designed with us in mind.
In Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places, Kathryn H. Anthony, a professor at the University of Illinois, breaks down different categories of products and architecture into several articles of well-known or frustrating designs. Most notably, she discusses the dangers poor product design pose to small children and – something that every American can commiserate with, especially those who identify as female – poor bathroom design and parity.
“At best, the products, spaces, and places [designers] created may annoy you, making you feel as if you don’t fit the mold. At worst, they may injure or even kill you” (17).
Anthony finishes each section with a few passages on lesser-known innovations currently being used or tested in various areas of the globe to solve the issues she raises. These passages are the true strength of the book and will hopefully serve as inspiration for anyone involved or interested in architecture or product design, so that one day our products, homes, buildings, and everything in between will be made to fit everyone regardless of gender, age, and body type.
Sarah Hutchins is an English Instructor and freelance writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She earned a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University and a Bachelors of Arts in English from Portland State University. Her sagging bookshelves suffer from a peculiar fate: for each book read and removed, three or four magically appear in its stead. The books that find a permanent home on these same shelves are typically classics, French literature, philosophical novels and essays, and magic realism.
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