Laila Laurel
Ollie Johns
Rosie Tweedale
Sam Collins

2019 WINNER … Congratulations to Laila Laurel

From a contextual grounding within Fourth-wave Feminism, in my self-directed body of research this year I have used my perspective as a young female designer in order to identify, highlight and challenge sexism and inequality in our society through various aspect of my design practice; engaging and confronting my viewer through interaction and humour with a series of three dimensional objects, photography and moving image. I have explored feminist literature and theory, as well as examining online platforms such as Instagram and The Everyday Sexism Project in order to identify, highlight, and eventually offer solutions to instances of sexism, damaging stereotyping and instances of sexism and oppression in a playful and humorous yet not minimising way as experienced by myself and other women in our culture. In this project I was curious to explore how I could make objects that were funny, contextually driven, and a conceptual tool for social commentary, whilst also retaining functionality and aesthetic appeal.

To identify issues of sexism pertaining to the act of sitting experienced by women I explored various internet platforms, one of which being ‘The Everyday Sexism Project.’ This website set up by feminist and writer Laura Bates in 2012 enables women around the world to anonymously share their personal experiences of sexism.

This helped me to identify the phenomenon of ‘man-spreading,’ which is defined as:

‘the practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.’

During my commute to work by train, I observed many cases of this. One which stood out for me, was a woman having to sit sideways on her seat with her legs in the aisle due to a man stretching his all the way over into her foot-well.

Having experienced this myself many times on public transport and found it very frustrating, I decided this would be an interesting problem to explore. This research inspired me to create a pair seats; one for a man that encourages them to sit with their knees together, and one for a woman that encourages her to sit with her legs parted. I think these chairs do give a physicality to an issue which women face in quite a fun yet literal way which is my overall main objective in this project.

Despite social progression regarding gender equality, sexist prejudices regarding gender-specific stereotypes and appropriate tasks still exist; the ramifications of which are still a pertinent and integral issue in contemporary society and subsequently design, necessitating feminist intervention to challenge and change these conceptions.

Examining the physical spaces delineated by the patriarchy for women to inhabit is important to discern how it has shaped the stereotypical image of woman. In patriarchal ideology, perhaps one of the most prominent and pervasive of the conceptions of women’s rightful role, is their encumbering with all things ‘domestic,’ – this in physical terms manifesting as the home. Sexism has engendered a sexual division of labour, which describes the delegation of different tasks between males and females. This division is evident within women’s experiences or practices of design.

Because gender inequality and the subjugation of women in society is a mammoth topic, I set parameters regarding my contextualisation within feminist theory. Although I have employed both past and present feminist literature and theory, I have situated my project within Fourth-wave feminist which began in 2012, which is characterised by its utilization of the internet as a tool for social mobility in order to further it’s feminist agenda.

I have therefore used many different online platforms such as ‘The Everyday Sexism Project,’ Podcasts such as ‘The Guilty Feminist,’ and Instagram to identify issues that I could re-imagine or give physicality to through my material investigation.

Coming from a background of Fine Art, I found myself considering where the lines between objects afforded the definition of ‘Fine Art’ and ‘Design’ begin and end. Can an object be functional, as well as conceptual, silly, and fun? Due to being largely invested in more classical design such as chair making, I was interested to see how I could make objects that were both a tool for social commentary, whilst simultaneously retaining some functionality. This situated me within critical design, which uses design to ask questions or carry debate to the public and increase awareness on social, cultural, or ethical issues.

Since graduating, Laila has won the Belmond Award at New Designers in London, and will be commissioned to make a product for this hotel and leisure company. The Judges at Nee Designers said that Laila’s work was “a bold, purpose-driven design that explores the important role of design in informing space, a person’s behaviour and society issues of today.”

See Laila’s website and Instagram

Since graduation, Laila has set up a workshop with her partner in the middle of Brighton, from which she continues to make work and undertake commissions. Her Degree Show chairs highlighting the issue of “man-spreading” generated considerable media attention throughout the world. Laila is looking forward to taking part in exhibitions postponed because of Covid-19, including Artists Open Houses and The Brighton Design Show.