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IT’S A START(UP): The Gender-Neutral Design Challenge

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CafeFAQ | About Our gender-neutral design and its ethos

When we set out to create images for our niche company, CafeFAQ, we thought we had designed the perfect thing: a cup of (presumably) hot coffee with steam floating above it in the form of a question mark. Even though design is not our speciality, we felt pretty good about it. It was maybe a bit obvious, we thought, but would get across the idea of questions floating around without answers. And we liked the reference to coffee, cafes, writers bent over their cappuccinos in cafes–that kind of thing. 

Forging ahead

During this time, we began to truly understand in a very real way that the process of trying out and deciding on images that truly get across a company’s business ethos can be subtle and complex. As we said before, we are not designers, but we do have a clear sense of our company’s design and style, and that gave us enough confidence (or really, hubris) to try to do our own design research. Designers will hopefully forgive us for forging ahead like this without a design spec or anything remotely formal like that.

Ethos, spirit, values, hopes, and dreams

When we think of companies and values and how they interrelate and are intertwined, we think of the word “ethos” and its cousins like spirit, values, hopes, and dreams. The Oxford Languages site defines “ethos” as “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” Being gender-neutral (as close as we can) is one our company’s values.

There are a vast number of questions out there in the world without their matching answers, like lonesome socks or container lids. We wanted to emphasize the interconnectedness of things and that there can be–hopefully with the use of our company–happy matchups of questions and answers, and companies matched to the right writers, editors and creatives, and so much more.

Looking to icon design

At CafeFAQ, we are fans of clean, black-and-white graphic design, so The Noun Project, a site which aggregates icons and symbols from designers around the world, is a veritable feast for us. We looked at that site and other design sites everywhere on the Web that promotes beautifully-designed icons or icon-like designs. A search for “FAQ” turned up lots of images with questions and few answers. Our concept searches for “people question” resulted in pages of floating question marks and a bunch of 3-d thought bubbles, and some (obviously) gendered men and women floating in mazes of confusion.

The dreaded checklist

Humanish, gender-nonspecific

We wanted something else for our company: connection, questions WITH matching answers, and a clear sense of resolution, like a mystery solved or a “case closed.” We were sure wanted the human connection: a generic human and non-gender specific image that wasn’t too “stick-like.” After several tries and going through many pages of designs over days, we found an icon on The Noun Project of two basic-looking folks with interlocking puzzle pieces above their heads.

We then re-worked the folks and re-designed them to be as gender-neutral as possible. We felt our design said to the world: We are a business with a human touch, but not specifically which gender or type of human. We hoped that it was respectful and aware, which is what CafeFAQ is trying to say.

Perfection is the enemy

We know it’s not perfect and it doesn’t work perfectly for the folks who don’t even identify as folks, but it’s a start. We hope that our images get across the things we believe in, as people and as a company.

CafeFAQ is not an affiliate of The Noun Project or favpng.