Gender Icons

Recently, I was asked to create a set of icons that represented age and gender. I started with the classic AIGA restroom symbols.

The age brackets were pretty standard: 0-12, 13-19, 20-37, 38-63 & 64+. Assuming the AIGA icons represent the 20-37 year old group, the task was to rework them until they represented each of the other age categories. Every icon needed to work within the set, but also on it's own. For example, a smaller version of the standard icons wouldn't do a good job representing a child. You'd probably get the idea if you saw it next to an adult icon, but separately it just looks small. Anyway, I came up with a fairly functional set. 

This project got me thinking about those original AIGA restroom symbols. They work really well in a world where gender is binary and iconography can leverage classic stereotypes. Increasingly, this isn't true. The standard solution for depicting gender neutrality is to cut the classic symbols in half and stick them together. This modified symbol is often used for gender neutral restrooms.

Depicting gender neutrality is important, but maybe depicting the variation within each gender is important too. Especially where restrooms divide people into binary gender groups. A person with male genitals may identify as female. How can the sign on the door make her feel welcomed in a female restroom? The LGBT community has a symbol that represents transgender people. My first instinct was to try and blend the two. Combining this symbol with the AIGA stick figures could express inclusiveness & neutrality. When placed side by side the modified figures still depict gender neutrality, but without the Glen or Glenda connotations of the split & joined symbol. Separately, the figures lead people to choose the restroom that best matches their gender identity. 

These symbols are becoming awfully complex for bathroom signage. Not only that, the more complex and "inclusive" the symbols become, the more obvious it is that groups have been left out. To me, both versions feel antiquated. Like when you're liberal uncle starts talking about legalizing grass. If we're really going to adopt gender neutrality, maybe there's a better solution. A simpler solution. Maybe a pictogram isn't the right place to depict another human being's inner life.

Maybe the sign on the door should just represent what's on the other side.