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 Student Chapter.

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.