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Defined by Design

The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places

Kathryn H. Anthony, Eric Schmidt (Foreword by)


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This wide-ranging overview of design in everyday life demonstrates how design shapes our lives in ways most of us would never imagine. The author, a leading expert in social and psychological issues in design, uncovers the gender, age, and body biases inherent in the designs of common products and living spaces that we all routinely use. From the schools our children attend and the buildings we work in to ill-fitting clothes and one-size-fits-all seating in public transportation, restaurants, and movie theaters, we are surrounded by an artificial environment that can affect our comfort, our self-image, and even our health.

Anthony points out the flaws and disadvantages of certain fashions, children's toys, high-tech gadgets, packaging, public transportation, public restrooms, neighborhood layouts, classrooms, workplaces, hospitals, and more. In an increasingly diverse populace where many body types, age groups, and cultures interact, she argues that it's time our environments caught up.

This fascinating book--full of aha moments--will teach readers to recognize the hidden biases in certain products and places and to work for more intelligent and healthy design in all areas of life.

Praise For Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places

“An eye-opening, comprehensive account of how the design of everyday objects impacts our lives and our health—from cell phones to car seats, from shoes to restrooms, from homes to healthcare. Kathryn H. Anthony has written an immensely readable book that will cause you to look more closely at what you use, buy, and encounter each day, and to become more informed and critical consumers.”
— Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emerita, Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of California, Berkeley
“How do items designed for ‘normal’ people—usually an average-sized white male—work for everyone else? In this original and provocative work, Kathryn H. Anthony questions dozens of products used regularly in the course of work and leisure. She wonders who designed the glass and transparent floors in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, which allow visitors to look up and under the skirts of women and girls; or who designed the hard, plastic packaging that cuts the hands of many. Anthony demonstrates how the design of many objects promotes rather than inhibits human inequality—and, remarkably, she also proposes some solutions. Her message to readers: Take power back into the hands of consumers and demand changes!”
— Diane Ghirardo, Distinguished Professor, University of Southern California School of Architecture
Defined by Design analyzes how and where Americans struggle with bad design every day. Whether you are tall or short, young or old, male or female, able or disabled, Anthony advocates smarter, healthier, user-friendly design at every scale—from the body to the room, the building, and the city. Her book is recommended reading for industrial designers, architects, planners, and public officials.”
— Dolores Hayden, professor of architecture and urbanism, Yale University, and author of Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life
“Anthony’s book changes how we look at our everyday world, from killer furniture and footwear injuries to airless schools and uncomfortable restaurants. She shows how the design of things makes our lives easier—or harder—and why one size doesn’t fit all.”
— Despina Stratigakos, professor of architecture, University at Buffalo
“Finally, someone other than me, a small woman, understands that one size doesn’t fit all. Anthony gives a comprehensive look at gender, body, and age biases built into all types of consumer products and buildings, describing the harm that they cause. She goes even further by challenging us with a call to action, supporting products and legislation that are gender, body, and age neutral. A thoughtful read for those pursuing product and architecture development.”
— Beth Brykman, author of The Best of Both Worlds: How Mothers Can Find Full-Time Satisfaction in Part-Time Work
“Poorly designed places and objects disadvantage us in myriad but often invisible ways.  Design deficiencies of restrooms, vehicles, offices, and healthcare and learning environments take a toll on our mental and physical well-being—even more so for vulnerable groups like women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. Kathryn Anthony is an internationally renowned scholar in environmental psychology and design research. Her book illuminates the countless ways that people are constrained by poor design. It will go a long way toward raising awareness of these issues among architects, urban planners, lay citizens, and elected officials. The findings. . . are based on rigorous research and have immediate relevance for improving the relationships between people’s physical surroundings and the quality of their everyday lives.”
— Dan Stokols, PhD, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, School of Social Ecology, University of California–Irvine
“Based on keen insight and concrete evidence, Defined by Design opens our eyes to the fit/misfit design of things and spaces that we encounter in our daily lives. With many illustrative examples, it is so lucid and clear that every reader will be able to understand the concept of ‘affordance’—a fundamental linkage between human behavior and the environment—which is important both for experts to design better and for laymen to use better.”
— Ryuzo Ohno, DEng/Arch, Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Institute of Technology
“Lethal cribs, painful shoes, lecture podiums that eclipse wheelchair users—we are surrounded by things that just don’t work for us. This book exhorts us to wake up and push back on thoughtless, ineffectual, and dangerous design. Read it and take action!”
— Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of the Attention and the Coming Dark Age

Prometheus Books, 9781633882836, 320pp.

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

About the Author

Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph.D., has been teaching in architecture and design and serving on design juries for over thirty years. She is professor and past chair of the Design Program Faculty at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also serves on the faculty of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of Landscape Architecture. She is the author of over 100 publications including the award-winning book, Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession. She holds the lifetime title of Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Her research and publications have received awards from the ACSA, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). Dr. Anthony has been a spokesperson about design issues on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, National Public Radio (NPR),, the Chicago Tribune, the Economist, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times,, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. She has testified before the US Congress about gender issues in design.