Now that the potty wars have ended up in federal courts, it’s clear transgender access to bathrooms won’t be resolved soon. But in the meantime, can we at least decide on a better bathroom sign?
We challenged eight graphic designers we admire to come up with their own sign of the future — inclusive, original and, most importantly, clear — and their submissions appear below. We’re also opening up the challenge for everyone: You can submit your own idea, using the form at the bottom of this story. We’ll showcase the best submissions next week, and let readers vote on the best candidates.
An array of possibilities already have surfaced — often popularized on social media — and adopted by eager businesses. An early, popular option features a hybrid of the male and female pictograms, and has become popular with some companies in North Carolina, as a protest to a controversial state law that requires people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. It’s not a brand-new image — one resembling it was used nearly a decade ago in a Thai school, according to the book “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing,” edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren.
Avery Dickerson uses a version of the icon as a logo for Deconstruct, his gender-neutral clothing line in Greensboro, N.C., and applies it to a restroom sign with the language “all gender.” He started making the signs and giving them to whomever asks. A similar version of the icon gaining popularity just uses the word “whichever” — which doesn’t sit well with Dickerson.
“I think it’s offensive,” says Dickerson, a trans man. That word suggests there are only two choices, he says, “very much the binary option of gender, instead of a spectrum.” (Also: not grammatical, as whichever is defined as modifying a thing, not a person.)
But the image itself has its critics. Comedian and blogger Sam Killermann slammed it for suggesting a half-man, half-woman person, “a disconcerting representation of ‘gender neutral.’ ” He worked with the company MyDoorSign to develop a more straightforward option — showing only a toilet and the words “all gender bathroom” — which MyDoorSign offered to colleges for free.
That may prove useful since many universities and private institutions have required the use of gender-inclusive signs. And the International Code Council, a group whose design and building code rules are followed uniformly by U.S. cities and states, recently passed guidelines that “require all single-user toilet facilities” — bathrooms meant for only one person — “to be labeled for use by either sex (gender-neutral)” by 2018.
So regardless of President Obama’s new guidelines for public schools, advising that students be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their identity — or of North Carolina’s new law, which has been copied by other states — a lot of new restrooms will need to flush traditional pictograms in favor of a more neutral sign of the times.
Will it look like one of these?
Design by Mattias Mackler
Mackler: If we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible, then we should put our focus on the bathroom itself, not the person using it. People typically go either standing up or sitting down. If you fall into one (or both) of those categories, congratulations — you are welcome.
The second option is a little more cheeky, having the people demonstrate the acts more clearly. Potentially we can get back to a time where that symbol stands for “human” and not only for a male.
Design by Ebin Lee
Lee: My train of thought for this image comes from the shapes and forms found within the bathroom signs. Gender or gender presentation shouldn’t matter when it comes to who gets to go in what bathroom. I think this is a reason a sign for a bathroom can/could be very decorative and direct. Everyone needs and can use a “toilet/urinal.” Dissecting the shapes within the bathroom signs and using them as a design reduces them to “genderless” decorative shapes.
Design by Melinda Beck
Beck: Poop Equality: because the toilet does not discriminate.
Design by Rusty Cook
Cook: My proposition for the future of the icon is that we remove gender from bathroom iconography altogether. The singular gender-neutral bathroom logo should be a toilet, focusing on the function of the room, not who can or should use it.
For existing gendered bathrooms, I propose a system of icons that includes a urinal, sink and baby-changing table so individuals can choose the bathroom that serves their needs.
Design by Robyn Kanner
Kanner: The current chatter around this “issue” is about ensuring non-trans people are comfortable and safe using the public restroom when I believe the focus needs to be the other way around. If designers want to contribute to changing the conversation, they need to understand that merely changing iconography will not protect trans lives, which, with stronger visibility, are at an even greater risk. This is bigger than a new icon; this is real life.
Design by Jennifer Daniel
Daniel: Trans people disproportionally face more violence than non-trans people; meanwhile, the biggest threat I face in a bathroom is committing to a toilet stall, only to realize there is no toilet paper. Peeing in a public restroom shouldn’t feel threatening; it shouldn’t be an act of defiance. The threat is real; but not for who you think.
Design by Matt Chase
Chase: I wanted to avoid any photographic reference to men or women, which in turn takes gender — and the potential confusion of having to decide to which room you belong — out of the equation altogether. Furthermore, indicating the room as having a “toilet” rather than calling it a “bathroom” re-frames our perception of what a restroom is, putting the focus on the function of the room, rather than the social dynamic.
Design by Oliver Munday
Munday: With the discourse surrounding gender and identity continuing to evolve, I wanted to shift focus from the persons using the utility to the utility itself. The simple toilet pictogram assimilates another piece of universal iconography: the symbol for equality.