Social Design Dialogues: Beyond the Bathroom Sign

This post was contributed by Raquel Raney, Student IIDA, and Brennan Broome, Student IIDA, co-presidents of the IIDA Florida International University Campus Center.

At Bespeak’s inaugural talk, “Non-Compliant Bodies and Social Equity in Public and Private Space,” participants looked to open up a dialogue about inclusive restroom design for all-gender public facilities. The topic, as of recently, has gained widespread media coverage, sparking discussion and debate within the field of politics, and is a subject often overlooked within the design of the built environment. What we learned at Bespeak was that the issue of inclusive design has a much further reach than gender alone and can solve a whole spectrum of demographic design problems. Designing all gender facilities doesn’t only benefit transgender populations, but also people of all ages, abilities, and religions who require special needs and assistance.

The tendency with bathroom design and space planning is to give it the least thought ­­­– tucked away in far off corners of buildings – with the only goal being to comply with code. This not only creates safety concerns, it establishes restrooms as places of disgust and possible shame. By creating thoughtful, functional spaces, designers and architects can play a vital role in moving forward towards a more open and inclusive design of restrooms, potentially changing the way people think of and use these spaces.

For us as young designers, the discussion opened up a new approach to our design practice – one that is lacking in the traditional design education. It opened our eyes to the diversity of the people this profession reaches and the potential effects one’s decisions can have on whole populations of people. It became clear to us that the design process cannot be done alone. It requires a cross-disciplinary approach to tackle the issue of inclusivity in the built environment. From conception to creation, bringing together a diverse group of practitioners and individuals — from architects, interior designers, and graphic designers, to psychologists, business owners, and of course, end-users — is vital in fostering a productive discourse that leads to practical, real-life solutions.

With our backgrounds in graphic design, symbols and iconography have become a point of interest in creating a much needed, universal vocabulary around the subject of diversity design. The current system promotes the requirement of marginalized identification that needs to be rethought to include those that exist outside of the gender binary. Although it is not a simple task, important issues like these raised at Bespeak have inspired us to broaden our scope to create meaningful work that promotes health and well-being and improves safety and security in public spaces –ultimately, creating a better designed environment for everyone.

Raquel Raney, Student IIDA, and Brennan Broome, Student IIDA, are both master’s degree candidates of interior architecture at Florida International University. The pair run Raneytown, a full-service branding and creative studio based in Miami, Florida. Merging backgrounds in art and design, Raneytown delivers distinctively creative and collaborative design solutions across a range of disciplines and mediums.

One thought on “Social Design Dialogues: Beyond the Bathroom Sign

  1. www.Don Edlin Design Inc .com says:

    Being a sensitive practitioner of Interior Architecture/Design, I’m perfectly comfortable as I openly relay the one time that I found myself in the awkward situation where I had no choice but to enter the “Women’s” public toilet area (the Mens Room was closed for repairs). First Knocking, and then softly calling thru the slightly ajar door, and then just loudly announcing . . . “Hello in there, a man is about to enter!” It was only once and I recruited the first female who rushed out to stand guard for the minute or two until I rushed out.

    So I am well aware of the embarrassing stigma one might experience standing in front of that restroom door, or that other restroom door. Now, fortunately, most restroom areas in airports and train stations have “Family Restrooms” for the parents with little ones in tow, however, there is that silly stigma when needing to use that Family Restroom without the prerequisite of a little kid accompanying you. Even though you know you won’t be arrested, it just feel s wrong!

    As in most precarious gender situations, I believe the designer’s remedy to the newest gender inclusivity challenge is . . . “K.I.S.S.”.

    So, please refer to the vision of just about every construction site you have passed by. There will always be a line of “Port-o-Potties” for the indiscriminate use of all in need of some privacy when Nature calls.

    A Restroom area with doors identified as “Individual”, and then some larger ones identified “Family”, and even larger ones identified as “Handicapped”.

    Each cubicle with a toilet/urinal, sink and hand dryer, and those id’d as Family with a secure fold down platform.


    I know you are wonderfully innovative and will indeed agree to . . . Keep It Simple “Student” !!

    ps: Way back in the crazy 80’s I owned a large design studio and I had the distinct honor to teach Graduate students at Pratt and FIT, and provide design seminars to many of the major architecture firms in and around NYC. A very exciting time to be in love with “Design”.


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