Designing for Inclusivity: A Primer on Gender-Neutral Product Design | Emily Tuteur | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Designing for Inclusivity: A Primer on Gender-Neutral Product Design

teacher avatar Emily Tuteur, Director of Product Design, littleBits

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why design gender-neutral products?


    • 3.

      Brainstorming Your Concept


    • 4.

      Approaching Color


    • 5.

      Communicating Within Your Product


    • 6.

      Marketing Your Product


    • 7.



    • 8.

      What's Next?


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

The heartbeat of all great design is empathy—and understanding the process of gender-neutral product design is a crucial skill for all designers!

At a time when technology connects us more than ever, prioritizing inclusivity in your product design approach is crucial. You want your products to be accessible, usable, and inspirational to all users. This is the core of great design.

This 25-minute class is a helpful introduction to key ideas, frameworks, and best practices for creating physical products that are gender inclusive.

Lessons are taught by Emily Tuteur, Director of Product Design at littleBits, a company creating gender-neutral products to spur kids to embrace STEM, technology, and invention. Using examples from littleBits's own products and processes, you'll explore:

  • Why gender-neutral product design is so important
  • Tactics for brainstorming a gender-neutral product concept
  • Best practices for approaching color & communication
  • Key considerations for marketing & product launch

This class is perfect for digital and product designers; parents and teachers who are helping K-12 kids make decisions about gender-neutral technology use; and everyone curious about the powerful intersection of design, technology, and inclusivity.

It's time to create products that can empower everyone. Let's begin!

Images: littleBits x Skillshare

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Emily Tuteur

Director of Product Design, littleBits


Emily Tuteur is an industrial designer and the Director of Product Design at littleBits, the award-winning platform of electronic blocks that empowers everyone to create inventions, large and small. As a founding member of littleBits, Emilyhas been involved in the design and creation of 13 kits, most recently leading the team that designed the Droid Inventor Kit, The Toy Association's 2018 Creative Toy of the Year. Prior to littleBits, Emily worked with the internationally renowned light and interactive sculptor, Jen Lewin.

Emily hold a master's degree in industrial design from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and a bachelor's degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado, Boulder.


See full profile

Level: Beginner

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: Hi. My name is Emily Tuteur and I'm the Director of Product Design at littleBits. We invented electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets that allow kids to turn their ideas into inventions. It's amazing to see the things that our users are creating, It's constantly surprising and it's amazing to see how kids are thinking about changing the world. One of the things that's really important to us at littleBits is that our products are approachable and universal to everyone, which means making them gender-neutral. For we really care that our products are gender-neutral because we're trying to make sure that everyone can become an inventor, and that includes both girls and boys. In today's class, we're going to talk about different techniques that you can take to make your products gender-neutral. We'll look at concept, color, communication and marketing. I would love for you to share in the project gallery any products that you think do gender-neutrality really well, and in addition, I think one of the exercises that would be interesting is to re-imagine a gendered product as a gender-neutral, gender-inclusive product. I love to see a gender-neutral product design out in the world. I think that it's super important that products become more inclusive and more personal to people, and I think that that's something that people really care about. I'm excited that you've joined this class. Let's get started. 2. Why design gender-neutral products?: Let's start by talking about what we mean when we say gender neutral product design. Gender neutral product design is designing so that you're not biasing towards one gender or another. They are also not specifically calling a gender out, but that you're thinking about the product universally so that everyone can be included. Gendered products can force identities and shape how you see the world and where you see yourself fitting in. If you think about the toy aisle in department store, you'll see that there's a very clear divide of gender. Products that are designed for boys have a very specific aesthetic,, and they also tend to be a little more aggressive, maybe there's more weapons. Whereas products that are designed for girls have themes from the 1950s, often so like salons or kitchens, that sort of thing, and they also have their own aesthetic which tends to be more on the pink side. So, kids actually have a lot of different interests when we tell them that a certain set of products is for boys, versus a certain set of products is for girls. That may not actually be what they're interested in. It's just what we're telling them that they're interested in. A gender neutral product let's kids discover their interests and imprint their personality onto that product and turn it into whatever they want. So, you can see a very gendered product design outside of the toy section. You can see it in for example the drug store, if you go to the razors section, razors are for both men and women or whoever, but they specifically design them to be gendered. Women's razors are pink and have completely different messaging, and men's razors which are practically the same thing, look very different and are marketed towards men. There's another example of this that kind of caused an outrage, which was Lady Doritos, which were Doritos that were designed to have a low crunch because women were afraid to chew loudly in public, and this actually caused a big outrage in the media. It's super problematic when we start to gender products that we use that are actually universal. If we think about the Doritos, it's telling women that they actually shouldn't chew loudly. Not only does the segregation of toys or products affect how kids see themselves and what their interests are, but it also has longer term effects on their careers. STEM is, Science Technology Engineering and Math. But at littleBits we also like to insert the A to make it STEAM, which includes Art. A lot of companies are looking to get women into STEM and STEAM, but they're actually looking too late. This is actually a big initiative within universities to get more women in technology fields. If you look at middle schools, there was actually a big drop off in interest with girl in STEM and STEAM around that age. So, we find that it's actually really important to create gender neutral products for kids as young as eight so that we can harness their interests early and not bias one way or another. In today's class, I'll talk about littleBits, the bits themselves. I'll also talk about some of the kits that we make, so some of the physical pieces that go into our kit, and how we think about designing them, as well as some of our app experiences. There are a couple other products that I'll mention in this class that are really thinking about gender neutral product design and hold it in their values, they also are geared towards kids. So, one is Tiny Bop. There's an app that lets kids explore scientific concepts. There's also Toca Boca, which is a company that creates a series of apps that are focused on digital play with kids. Next, we're going to dive in to some techniques that you can use to make your products more gender neutral, and we'll start with concepting. 3. Brainstorming Your Concept: Designing gender-neutral product starts at the beginning with the concept. The concept is the main idea behind your product and how you tell the story of what it is. There are a few different approaches you can take in thinking about the concept and making your products gender-neutral. The first one is intentionally countering historic perspectives of what is for boys or what is for girls. One example is engineering. Engineering is typically seen as a masculine field and it's also seen as not creative and also very exclusive. LittleBits really wants to challenge this norm and what we've done with technologies actually made it really easy and approachable. So, we make these electronic building blocks and rather than the traditional green circuit board that looks pretty intimidating, we've made our circuit boards white and then we've linked them with these candy colored connectors which are both fun but they also serve a purpose in understanding how the system works. LittleBits are also super easy to use, we've designed them so that you can snap them together with magnets. So, they only work one way, so you can't do it the wrong way. So, if I try to snap these together they'll actually repel and then if I snap them together the right way, I create a circuit in seconds. These are all aspects of littleBits that make them super approachable, they're super easy to get into if you're brand new and they're also visually inviting. Toca Boca does a great job of taking traditionally gendered themes and turning them into very inclusive spaces. One example of an app that they have is called the Toca Boca hair salon which salons are typically associated with females but they've actually made this app super inviting where you're cutting hair of all sorts of different characters, some of them are super androgynous, some of them are part human or they look part lion and it makes it a really fun experience for anyone. The next approach is to look for concepts that are not inherently gendered. For example, if you look at games or music, neither of those concepts are inherently gendered and at littleBits we actually have kits that are devoted to those themes, so we have the littleBits code kit which focuses on letting kids learn to invent through gaming. We also have kits that focus on music and letting kids invent their own DIY instruments. Another example is Tinybop. They design apps that let kids explore and discover scientific concepts like the human body, coral reefs are simple machines and they take these concepts and they represent them with a very vibrant and colorful aesthetic that invites all kids to play and discover and learn. When brainstorming, what our team typically does is we'll throw out a bunch of ideas and then we'll discuss and reflect, which ones feel more gendered and which ones feel a little more neutral, and then we'll typically focus on the ones that feel less biased towards one gender or the other. So, oftentimes when we're thinking about whether a concept is neutral or not. We'll talk to some of our marketing team to understand if these types of products or concepts are selling more in a boys isle or girls isle, we do with a lot of research there. Then I think there's also just like a gut level of what feels central and and not skewed in one way or the other. Customization is really big for us at littleBits, we find that when kids invent and customize that they become more invested in what they're building and really personalize and come up with much more interesting inventions rather than if we had prescribed something to them. The littleBits Avengers Hero inventor kit let's kids invent their own unique superpowers and superhero identity, so they actually start off with what is a blank gauntlet, so it's blank wearable that they can customize with bits so they can invent their own unique custom circuit interactions to create their own unique superpowers and then they can also customize the look and feel of the gauntlet and make it into any superhero that they want. We try to build as much customization into every aspect of our product as possible. So, we started out with the plastic, so the plastics themselves that you mount the bits on are neutral colors. So, they're white and they're clear. The gauntlet cover itself has slots cut out of it so that kids can add whatever custom materials from their households that they want. So, they're sized specifically for cardboard and string so you can attach egg curtains or two liter bottles to it. Another thing that we thought about was stickers. So stickers, we both provide different colored stickers. We have gold stickers which we know all kids like because they say it's the color of winning and then we also provide white stickers that kids can customize, so they can draw their own patterns, they can paint on them, they can gridify, they can do whatever they want and then we also have a coding canvas. So, this lets kids add extra behaviors onto their circuit and tell their circuit exactly what to do so they can invent their own superpowers. So, stepping away from littleBits, if we think about a product that we use in our everyday lives, we can think about our smartphone. Our smartphone is insanely customizable from everything, from the background to the color scheme, to the sounds that play out, to even the physical case that you put around your phone. If you're trying to think about ways to customize your product, think about what's absolutely core and then leave the rest of the decisions up to the user. The last approach that we'll talk about is talking to users to get feedback on your concept. When coming up with activities for the Droid Inventor Kit, we did a ton of testing with both kids and parents. So, we asked them which concepts they were most interested in and if there were concepts that it seemed like geared more towards boys or more towards girls, then we would either remove those concepts or we would kind of take them and rethink them and show them to kids again to get a sense of whether we're kind of narrowing in on that kind of gender neutral intersection. Tinybop has an app called Robot Factory and when they were testing their concept with kids, they found that a lot of kids were actually calling the robot a he, so they actually took that concept back and kind of rethought it and added some more appendages and colors and things that weren't necessarily traditional to what people think as male for a robot. We get feedback from our users in a lot of ways, so on one hand our marketing team runs a series of tests with parents. So, sometimes they'll post concepts on, different ideas or box mockups to get a sense of what parents are thinking and if they lean towards agenda or not. We actually do weekly focus groups with kids. So, we bring four to five kids into our office every week and we'll show them concepts, so we'll have sketches that they can take a look at and we'll ask them questions about what is their favorite, what don't they like and why. The feedback is a huge part of how we design our products, so if we had a user testing session and we showed some activities and only boys liked them, then we would actually probably not do some of those activities or we'd rethink them. So, user feedback is huge for us. Coming up with a concept is just the beginning but if you nail that concept and you feel like it is truly gender-neutral, it will make some of the decisions down the line much easier. So, we're going to talk about some of those techniques in the next steps. 4. Approaching Color: Color can be very powerful in communicating the intended audience of a product. As consumers, we've been conditioned from a very young age to associate certain color pallets with certain identity profiles. Pink for girls, or blue for boys is a good example of this. There are a few things for you to keep in mind when trying to keep your colors gender-neutral for your product. First thing you can think about is your brand color. So, think about colors or color combinations that don't typically side with a gender. At littleBits, our brand color is purple. Our accent colors are blue, pink, orange, and green. These are actually the colors that we use on the bits themselves to indicate the color-coding system for our product. In this context, blue and pink actually take on a very different meaning. So, it's not blue for boys or pink for girls, but it's actually part of the system that helps you understand how to use a technology product. Some colors can be polarizing, like blue or pink. But that doesn't mean that they're bad or that you shouldn't use them altogether. In print and digital, we actually use the color pink a lot. But you'll see it as a thoughtful splash of color versus pink washing over the whole page. Our graphic designers think about color in terms of ratio. So, a lot of times, actually our background is white, and then we will add splashes of color to accent that. But in general we have a little bit more of a blank canvas. Using splashes of color allows the user's eye to track towards whatever color that is. And if it's just a small piece of what you're looking at, it's not necessarily gendering that page or that piece of material. Another thing that you can think about is indicating a balance between colors. So, for us when we show pink on a page, there's often other splashes of colors there too. So, using a series of colors in combination with each other. The next thing to think about is how color plays with context. If your product concept typically has a stereotype associated with it, think about the colors that you would want to use. So, with the talk about a hair salon, you wouldn't want to use pink for that, and they actually use all sorts of different colors to make sure that different characters and identities are represented. Using the color, pink can definitely feed the stereotypes. So, for example, if we took the littleBits call to action buttons, and we put them into the Toca Boca app, then it would have pink buttons, and that actually might not be a good thing for that app because we're specifically trying to not target just females. When thinking about color, it's helpful to think about multiple different colors, and how they interplay with one another. I would say, test it out with users, show them different color palettes, and try to get a sense of whether it feels like there's a gender represented in that palette. Next step, we'll be talking about how you can craft communication to remain gender-neutral. 5. Communicating Within Your Product: The way that you communicate with the user of your product, can inherently imply who your product is geared towards. So, we're going to talk about the communication within your product. So, whether you're delivering instructions or there's some character that speaking to your user. One thing that we always do in our app and printed experiences is to let the kid be themselves. So, the kid is the inventor, we don't define their role for them. So, while we have Star Wars and Marvel products, we're never telling a kid that they are Rey or that they are Han Solo. If you're featuring characters in your app, make sure that you're using a variety of characters that represent all different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, genders, just so that everyone feels like there's a place for them in the app. A couple examples are in The Avengers Hero Inventor app, we actually feature many different Avengers characters. We specifically focused on making sure that female characters were represented, and speaking to you throughout the experience. Same with our Droid Inventor app, Rey is actually the mentor for that app, she's also an inventor herself. Then, the last one that I'll mention is that in a lot of our education products, we've actually created our own characters, so they're actually these little geometric people that don't represent one gender or the other, but showcase humanoid qualities of inventing. When creating characters for your product, try to seek a balance within your characters, and also think about if there's any way that you can challenge any gender norms that exist already. Toca Boca, uses a lot of characters in their apps as well, and they specifically tried to challenge gender norms. For example, in their cars app, they feature what looks like a more masculine character and one that looks more feminine, but they've actually switched the expected voices of the masculine characters more giggly, whereas the feminine character sounds more adventurous. In your product, you'll want to use language that's very friendly and inviting, and not aggressive at all. In our Avengers Hero Inventor app, you'll see that there are a lot of questions and prompts that are less prescriptive, that ask you what hero you want to be or how do you want to create a character? Another thing that you can think about is using encouragement and your communication. You'll want to create a space where your users feel comfortable. In our Droid Inventor Kit, you'll actually see throughout the experience that Rey, messages you about how it's okay to fail, and you can try again. We found that girls are actually a little more afraid of failure, and so that was really important for us to build into that app experience, to make sure that they also feel comfortable inventing. The last thing to think about is actually including some content around inclusivity in your product. So, in our Base Inventor Kit, we actually have a whole section about inclusivity, where kids are building inventions that are meant to help people, and to help think about how other people live in the world, and have the experience in different things. Using inclusivity in your product while maybe it's not specifically focused on gender, in our Base Inventor Kit it's not, but it can help people become more empathetic human beings in general. Communication is super important in conveying what your product does and what the concept is. If your language is aggressive or not inviting to the users that can actually, even if you have a product concept that's very neutral, the language can take away from that. Up next, we're going to talk about marketing. 6. Marketing Your Product: You can do everything within the app to make it gender-neutral, but, if the marketing itself does not also speak to that, you won't achieve your goal of having a gender neutral product. There are few things to think about when constructing your marketing. The first thing that you should think about is packaging. So, what do you actually want to show on the box? For us, we would never show a race car, or something that skewed one way or another. We would show something more neutral like a ferris wheel, or a bubble blower. Another thing that we like to do is make sure that we showcase customization because we know that that's something that users get excited about, and they know that they can put their own identity imprint on it. You can also show a range of features on your product. With the inventors here in Ventor Kit, we show a range of characters on the box. So, it makes it really clear that it's not for a specific gender. The next thing that you can do is run some tests to see how people interpret your product. With our kits, we always show packaging to parents, to get a sense of whether they think it's for a boy, or for a girl, and then we tailor the messaging accordingly. In your marketing materials around the box you want to make sure that your messaging feels inclusive. For us, we never want to use gender specific pronouns. What we do is, we actually use the term "Your kid." We also like to think about phrasing and descriptions. So, for example, we would never say, "Go into battle, or decorate," because both of those feel very gendered. We would more likely say something like, "Get creative." With casting for your marketing materials make sure that you're being inclusive. Look at race, gender, and background. For us, we always want to make sure that we're specifically speaking both a boy and a girl, and that we show them playing together. We make a conscious effort to make sure that we're showing girls in leading, and not secondary roles in our marketing. We want to show girls inspiring one another. We want to show them building, we want to show them inventing, and we want to make sure that they feel there's a place for them in this world of technology. For the Joint Inventor Kit, we created a marketing video that showcased a girl who discovered this underground world of droid builders. In the video she was immediately welcomed in, and she herself became a droid inventor. This video is super inspiring, but we actually did get some backlash on this video from the general public. People thought that we put too much emphasis on having a female in a leading role, and having diversity in that video, but we had a lot of people come to our defense as well. So, those conversations are actually documented under the YouTube video. We've consciously lift them up so that people can see that conversation as we think it's important. At littleBits, all of the things that we just talked about are non-negotiables for us in our marketing materials. We always want to make sure that we're featuring females, and that we're using gender inclusive language, and that we show diverse array of people in our products. When thinking about where to market your product, you want to be conscious of what sites you're posting on. For us, we look for more neutral sites. One site that we found to be neutral site for dads is Gender neutral sites for us focus on playful experiences for all kids. So, even though they may be talking to a dad, they're not prescribing, "Oh, your daughter should play with a barbie, or your son should play with a truck," but they're actually leaving it more open-ended. In terms of commercials we want to make sure that we're advertising during shows that are also gender neutral. So, if a show had mostly boy audience, we probably wouldn't want to advertise there. Similarly, if the characters depicted in a show were all female we wouldn't want to advertise there either. Marketing is super important in gender-neutral design. While maybe it's your last step in the product development, it's actually the first touch for your user, or for your consumer to want to make sure that you really put as much emphasis on your marketing as you do with the product. 7. Closing: Having an understanding of the process behind gender-neutral product design, I think is a really great skill for any designer to have. Designers are very empathetic field, and having an understanding of gender-neutral design is part of that. More and more, kids are using products and being marketed to in a way that's gender-neutral. I think it's really exciting, because kids will have more control over what their interests are and won't be marketed to in one specific way or another. It gives kids a chance to define what products they want and who they want to be. From this class, I hope you'll take a look at product design with fresh eyes, and see how you can make your products more inclusive. So, in the project gallery, it would be great if you could share any examples of products that do gender-neutrality really well, or I'd love for you to do an exercise where you re-imagine a product that's traditionally gendered, and make it gender-neutral. I'd love for you to think about some of the techniques that we talked about in this class, so maybe you want to revisit some of the colors of that product, perhaps some of the characters or language that's used, you might even want to re-imagine the concept itself. Thank you so much for taking this class, and I can't wait to see how you re-imagine some gendered products out there in the world. 8. What's Next?: