Photo by: Vanessa Carpenter.

Ladies and mens room mixup

Inkonst Malmö (November 2008)

This project took a critical design approach to challenging the social norms of gender specific toilets with the hidden motive of facilitating social interaction between the genders. Creating a social connection with a stranger in a night club is difficult. This is a paradox to us since socializing is a primary purpose of a night club. Social norms tell us to have a reason to initiate contact. As a result, people look for excuses to engage in social activity.

Awkward situations create the need, rather than the desire, to communicate. This can be used as an excuse for creating contact. Normally restrooms in public spaces are divided between genders. Only two signs, male and female, define the difference between these two rooms. These signs are treated with great respect; it would be controversial if a male entered the room with a sign of a female on the door. By switching the signs females would involuntary walk into a restroom filled with males and vice versa – they would unknowingly and unwillingly be victims of our design. This project explored how such confusion creates social interaction between the different genders and amongst individuals.

The system consisted of two LED signs mounted respectively on the female and male restroom door. The sign at the male door would show an icon of a male and the sign at the female door would show an of a female. When 5 people had entered either of the rooms the icons would switch so the sign at male door would show an icon of a female and vice versa. This would result in mixed genders in both restrooms in the intention of creating confusion and facilitate communication between the genders.

The intention was to spark intergender conversations between nightclub visitors. This was done by creating enough confusion for them to engage in conversation with each other about which restroom would be the right one to enter and, more specifically, spark conversations of why the restroom would be filled with the “wrong” gender when they entered.

The design was inspired by the implicit ways in which participants engaged with each other at nightclubs. Compared to other situations in everyday life, this struck us as odd. For example, the local basketball court has culturally understood norms of how to interact through the rules of the game. Similarly, folk dance has a long tradition of dance routines where social mingling is embedded in the dance. Throughout each dance, one has to switch partners until one has danced with everyone. The switching of the toilet signs served as an indirect approach to creating opportunities for participants to mingle and engage socially with each other.

###Credits Daniel Brynolf, Mads Hobye, Nicolas Padfield and Vanessa Carpenter.