The Photographers Gallery | Inclusive toilet signage ?

I’m often asked what the latest thinking on gender-neutral toilet signage is and what I recommend in terms of pictograms. My answer is that to date its a bit of a hot potato.

The subject is constantly debated on SEGD Talk (the busy online member forum run by the Society of Experiential Graphic Design) and social media platforms for those involved in the field of wayfinding.  Despite years of research in the States and Canada the quest for an acceptable * symbol to define a gender neutral facility remains unfulfilled.

* acceptable = clear in meaning and causing no offence to any particular group

I collect examples of all toilet signs on my instagram diary and a friend sent me a link to images of toilet pictograms seen at The Photographers Gallery in London.  It turns out they were a recent addition to the buildings original wayfinding, which dates back to 2012, to co-incide with a series of exhibitions exploring the topic of gender.

I had the opportunity to go and view the signage first hand when I was in London for the Intersection of Dementia + Design course in May.  The symbols appear next to the male, female and accessible ones, which I understand were developed specifically for the gallery.  Different versions of a gender-neutral figure have been used for each of the toilets, which I really like, and I think graphically they are the nicest treatments I’ve seen.


Toilet signage at The Photographers Gallery, London incorporating gender-neutral symbols. Three different versions of the specially designed symbol are used in the scheme.

What was really disappointing was the lack of adherence to basic best practice to meet with DDA guidelines and reach the widest and most inclusive audience.

All of the door signs were fitted too high — I didn’t have my tape measure with me, but it was above my head height, wearing heals and at least 35% smaller that the minimum 100mm height recommended for pictograms. You can see from the image above the position and scale of the toilet sign in comparison to the door hinge.

During the dementia course we had been discussing the need for lobbying to ensure the needs of those living with the condition are integrated in as many building projects as possible — yet not working to basic fixing heights and sizes for all remains one of my consistent areas of frustration.  What a shame because the design and intent was so good.

The experience left me wondering who takes responsibility for making sure that signs are fixed at the correct heights and graphics are big enough — defined by the client as part of their brief ? the signage designer ? the signage supplier ? In my experience 99% of clients want to ensure that these basic boxes are ticked.

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