THINK BACK TO the last time you went in search of a bathroom at the airport. Of the two available entrances, you picked one, without consciously thinking about how the respective pictograms depict the sexes—men with narrow hips and women in A-line dresses. The images are as expected and predictable as gravity, pulling you toward your gendered option.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re especially good designs. Since the 1930s, when Otto Neurath, an Austrian sociologist, developed the Isotype pictogram language we rely on so heavily, more and more women have started to wear pants much of the time. Some designers have taken a stab at correcting the female image, such as the recent “It Was Never a Dress”campaign, which uses a clever bit of color blocking to turn the dress into a superhero cape. Restaurants, too, love to use cutesy gender binaries like “guys” and “dolls.” That’s all fun, but the fact remains: When it comes to heavily trafficked public places, it’s very hard to deviate from the dress. Even in slick, newly designed offices, a triangle (an abstracted dress) typically connotes the woman’s room.
Enter SomeOne, a London branding studio, that has figured out a way to design around the skirt. Its pair of pictograms depicts stances, instead of outdated wardrobes. The man has a widened stance; the woman stands with her feet together. It’s an elegant solution that relies on the exact same graphic elements for both the man and the woman, but hints at male and female body types just enough so there’s no doubt about which is which. SomeOne’s initial design was for Eurostar’s train cabins, but the designers have since created similar versions for other clients like global payments company WorldPay.