Traditional bathroom signs can be found on almost every public restroom door, signifying which bathroom should use based on a person’s gender. For many transgender or non-conforming people, the signs force them into a distressing decision anytime they wish to use a public restroom. The designs of the conventional signs only offer two choices—male or female—which only adds to the idea of a binary gender system, further complicating the issue of public restroom use for anyone who identifies as “other.”
Recently, there has been significant progress for transgender rights, but the public restroom is still a space divided by the idea of binary genders. On a social and legislative scale, the war for gender-neutrality in the public space has been highly publicized and protested, and the issue has also stirred designers and architects to join in on the fight by designing gender-neutral bathrooms that provide a safe and private space for everybody.
As society continues to move away from the antiquated ideas of identifying people strictly based on sex, the icons adorned on bathroom doors are in serious need of an upgrade. That’s why Co.Design asked six different designers from four different design studios to create their own versions of gender-neutral bathroom symbols.
“To indicate an ‘all-gender’ restroom, the icon merges both a female and male form with simple lines and a minimalist design approach.”
“The first idea incorporates the human rights campaign logo in the body of the center icon to symbolize gender and transgender equality. The second idea incorporate typography, with the A and two LLs in the middle icon indicating that ‘all’ are welcome. And the third icon simply indicates a restroom is a restroom—it’s available to whomever needs to use it.”
“The shrug exudes the attitude of ‘whatever’—a bathroom is a bathroom, and all are welcome.”
“Deep down, no matter how you identify, we’re all just a bunch of bones inside. So why not lift the skin of the ubiquitous bathroom icons and reveal what’s in each and every one of us? I came at this from a logistical standpoint, asking myself, ‘What the hell do we do with all of these old signs?’ Well, maybe we don’t have to get rid of them after all. I designed this graphic to be used as an overlay on top of the existing signage, either with a stencil or sticker film.”
“As the process of racial desegregation unfolded in the United States, there was a clear need to update signage and re-educate the public. What’s remarkable is how few post-segregation signs needed to be created to facilitate this transition; it mostly consisted of removing signage that discourage integration. While race and gender are not interchangeable, there are definitely parallels to be drawn here. Public restroom signage appears to be one of the last pockets of our visual culture with overt ties to gender, and therefore, separation.
“The more we thought about this problem, the more obvious it became that any inclusive visual solution should focus more on what actually happens in a bathroom, rather than on who should be using it. We also recognized that this is a polarizing subject that elicits strong emotional responses. Therefore, we would recommend a slow signage migration, beginning with captioned signs that alert restroom-goers to the differences they can expect with gender neutral bathrooms. Eventually, the icon will be able to stand on its own.
“In other words: One loo, no matter who.”