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The design of environments, spaces and objects shapes societies in profound, yet often subtle, unconscious ways. Design can also exclude, for example when an object cannot be understood or used for reasons of age, size, ability or disability. But this discrimination can be avoided.

By Barbara Hickl, hicklvesting.

The Werkelküche is a gender-open action playground for children.
Avoid discrimination from the very beginning: The Werkelküche is a gender-open action playground for children. © Christine Oehme, Berlin University of the Arts, Germany

The younger generations in particular are sensitive to structural exclusion mechanisms, want to break through stereotypical thinking and dismantle discrimination. Two designs of the international Design Newcomer Award ein&zwanzig of the German Design Council illustrate how design can play an active part in this socio-cultural change.

Christine Oehme formulates with her work Werkelküche that gender specifics are not subject to any “natural” laws, but rather are acquired and trained: from earliest childhood. Her gender-open toy combines a workbench and a kitchen. The children can decide for themselves in which way they want to use it. In Haptics of Cooking, Boey Wang addresses the question of which design-related adversities blind or visually impaired people face when cooking. His kitchen utensils, which can also be used without sight, help to raise awareness of deep-seated discrimination and to initiate a change in thinking.

The curved worktop can be a sink and a ski slope
The curved worktop can be a sink and a ski slope. © Christine Oehme, Berlin University of the Arts, Germany

Werkelküche (“crafts kitchen”, children’s toy) – Christine Oehme, Germany

Boys are wild and talented at handicrafts, girls dutifully help out around the house – “These binary opposites between the sexes are already reflected in children’s worlds and thus manifest the image of stereotypical gender roles at an early age,” says Christine Oehme (Berlin University of the Arts). Her design of the Werkelküche wants to do away with such stereotyping. The Werkelküche sees itself as a gender-open action playground for children, because toys are an important instrument for learning gender-specific characteristics at an early age. To this end, it combines formal and aesthetic features of children’s kitchens and workbenches.

The wooden construction has two large, frontal panels with a perforated grid. Various objects and tools can be attached here to change the way the Werkelküche is read. The curved worktop can be interpreted as a sink or used as a ramp. A water tap can be transformed into a screw clamp with a handle. The compartments on the side can playfully be used as an oven, but also offer storage space. The Werkelküche is open to many uses and does not want to pre-determine children, but rather offer them free development opportunities for their creativity. The colour scheme of the design – untreated wood for the construction and olive green for the panels – also deliberately rejects gender-specific attribution.

Haptics of Cooking (Kitchen Tools) – Boey Wang, China

With Haptics of Cooking, Boey Wang (Design Academy Eindhoven) has designed kitchen tools based purely on haptic experiences. The young product designer has not only designed the set for the visually impaired, but also wants to enable all people to experience cooking without sight and to convey a feeling for haptic navigation and information processing. In this way, the distance between people who have good vision, reduced vision or no vision is reduced.

Only from the perspective of seeing, these tools might seem useless
"Seeing" is not only visual

Only from a visual perspective these tools might seem useless, but perception is not only visual. © Boey Wang, Design Academy Eindhoven, Netherlands

The chopping board has a particularly wide and deep edge so that the chopped ingredients do not fall off and can be easily picked up by hand. The knife is designed so that it can be held with the whole hand on one long side. This effectively reduces the risk of injury. The tactile measuring cups have holes on the side – what sounds dysfunctional is a great help for those who receive information by touch. By closing the holes with your fingers, you learn when the liquid has reached a certain level. The pot lid is made of wood, a material that conducts heat less well than metal, thus avoiding burns. The deep groove makes it easy to grip the entire edge of the lid. All this not only helps people with visual impairments to cook – it also looks good.

More about the designers

The Werkelküche by Christine Oehme

Haptics of Cooking by Boey Wang

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ein&zwanzig Award: International newcomer award

The ein&zwanzig Award of the German Design Council is aimed at design students and graduates with trend-setting work in the fields of furniture, home accessories, lighting, floor coverings, wallpaper, textiles and lifestyle. An international jury of experts selects 21 outstanding works from the submissions, one of which receives the “Best of Best” award.
Registration deadline is on 18 February 2022.

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