Exploration project beginning

So it’s the start of my exploration project, the basis for my final major project and I have decided that I want to look into the topic area of gender roles in toy design as I find this area so interesting and it ties in well with my dissertation too (During the 1980s and 1990s were males naturally attracted to video games or was it encouraged upon them through marketing?). For the past week I have been doing A LOT of desk research, reading through books, article, watching documentaries and looking in general about gender and the role it has in design. I have found so much on the nature vs nurture debate which I am going to compile together as my first initial insights.
One of the most interesting things I have watched has been this documentary –
Is your brain male or female?
It explores the nature vs nurture debate thoroughly showing all sorts of experiments on what makes the female and male mind different, I would definitely recommend it as a watch to anyone interested in this subject area.
Another quick task I have done myself was to look at a store and see how they split up toys on their website. The example I have shown below of this is “Hawkins Bazaar Gift Website”
From this I found several interesting points –

  • The “gender neutral” toys were very similar colour palettes to the boys toys
  • The girls toys consisted of a lot of pink and pastel colour palettes
  • There was one more personality option for the boys toys on the filters
  • The boys toys were associated with vehicles so have a scale and type of vehicle option on the filters
  • The geek personality trait had significantly more toys in the boys section than the girls sections
  • In the ‘Sooty’ and ‘Sweep’ puppets, the girl character was classed as just a girls toy however the boy character was classed as both a boys and girls toy
  • Horse related toys, dolls, tea sets/cooking, make up and knitting only for girls
  • Wider range of boys toys

Some other initial research I have done has been into a couple of campaigns, “Let Toys Be Toys” and “Pink Stinks.”
“Let Toys Be Toys campaign is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.”
“Pinkstinks is a campaign that targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. We believe that all children – girls and boys – are affected by the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. Our aim is to challenge and reverse this growing trend. We also promote media literacy, self-esteem, positive body image and female role models for kids.”
They both have lots of interesting information and have done some really good work in helping campaign against gender roles in children’s design.
One part that was particularly interesting was the opinions from parents and gender stereotypes in toys.
The final part of my initial research was just a quick google search of children’s Halloween costumes, I did this after reading – “A web search for Halloween costumes of scientists produces only boys wearing lab coats and goggles. A search for nursing costumes turns up girls in skirts with stethoscopes. Cats and cupcakes are also girls, while sharks and astronauts are boys.” in and article called Boys and Girls, Constrained by Toys and Costumes by Claire Cain Miller.
As you can see from the above quick google search gender stereotypes appear through Halloween costumes which just reinforces how split the design of children’s play things are.
Plan of next research
(initial notes on what research I planned on carrying out and the question I thought I might try and answer from initial insights)
To carry on my research into this topic I have managed to get an interview with an Evolutionary Psychologist, Dr Nick Neave which is hopefull happening soon, I am going to ask his professional opinion on whether he believes that our future choices of career/ambitions are hard wired into us or is it more based on the upbringing we have.
I think what I really want to explore in more depth is whether or not the toys we play with as a child affect our future careers and ambitions. One of the methods I am planning to undertake is a focus group with children aged from 2-5 (the age in which children start to choose toys based on gender differences), within this I am going to use typical male and female gender role toys and package them up with opposite masculine and feminine packaging and see how children react to each toy, whether they still think the toy is for a boy because its a “scientist” or whether the packaging is affecting their choice.
Below I have also created a survey to try and see if there is a correlation with toys that we played with as children and our future careers and education. (I would really appreciate anyone reading this to fill this in).
Gender roles in toy design
I also plan on carrying on research around the marketing and display of toys through advertisement and in stores to see how much of an influence this has on children’s and parents toy choice. To do this I plan on analysing store website layouts more, the actual layouts of toy stores and current advertisements on TV.

0 Responses

  1. Very thourough stuff Toni! Colours play a massive role in defining what gender toys are assigned to. Nerf guns for example, are mainly blue and orange. While the “girl version” is pink. Why not just make them neutral colours? Just because it’s blue won’t mean more sales, or would it?
    Maybe the business side of things may be an interesting angle to look? Perhaps there is an economic reason why certain toys are gender targeted?

    1. thanks 🙂 I think I am definitely going to look into the business angle too, from what I’ve seen so far the main reason a lot of companies ignore gender neutrality and aim towards different sexes is because at the end of the day it works and they make a lot of money from it!

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