Constantin Boym, Industrial Design chair within the School of Design and founder of the award-winning design studio Boym Partners Inc., gives context around Target’s recent decision to eliminate separate gender-based signs from their toys, home, and entertainment departments.

How are toy designers addressing the increased public awareness of gender issues through design?

Larger brands like Barbie and Lego are moving away from outdated stereotypes, introducing more equal and integrated approaches to gender roles in toy design. Public campaigns launched on the web, such as “Let Toys Be Toys” in the U.K. and “No Gender December” in Australia, have increased awareness around gender issues. In the United States, President Obama made a point against gender stereotyping at a Toys for Tots event in December 2014. The climate is giving way to a more supportive environment where toy and game designers are abandoning traditional gender roles. 

Are there any faculty members at Pratt who are designing with gender identity in mind? Are any Industrial Design courses addressing these shifts within the course curriculum?

As the newly arrived chair of Industrial Design, I plan to respond to current cultural and societal shifts with changes in our educational approach. These changes will be integrated throughout the entire curriculum, from History of Industrial Design (highlighting the role of women designers) to gender study as an essential ingredient of design research and studio practices.  

How do you see the landscape of toy design changing given the Target announcement and other responses being made in light of these shifts?

Today, most stores' websites categorize their toys as being “for boys” or “for girls.” There exist no “common” options, even though there are obviously many toys that interest both genders in equal measure. Categorization by interest or by activity (do it yourself, collecting, role-play) could be a step in the right direction, without taking away choice. In the same way, abandoning pink aisles and blue aisles for a more complex and multi-colored presentation should move the industry towards the same goal. In this changing retail landscape, toy designers would be challenged to focus on creativity, inventiveness, and universal qualities that are characteristic, for instance, of iconic American toys such as Slinky, Potato Head, or Lincoln Logs from the past.