Magazine Contacts

Valeria Luisa Bucchetti

Gender / Design

01 September 2016 — 7 minutes read

My name is Valeria Bucchetti and I having been dealing with Communication Design since my training. I have been teaching at the Politecnico since 1996, first Industrial Design for Visual Communication at the Faculty of Architecture, later: Visual Culture for design; Project of visual communication; Design of communication and gender studies, at the School of Design.

I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Design, a member of the Scientific Council of the Centro di Ricerca interuniversitario Culture di genere (Interuniversity Gender Studies Research Centre), of the Collegio di Dottorato in Design (PhD College for Design), of the editorial board of FrancoAngeli for the Communication Design series, and a member of AIAP (Associazione Italiana design della comunicazione visiva - Italian Association of Visual Communication Design) since 1989.

During these years of activity, I have been able to expand and develop my research area, focusing my interests in particular towards visual identity and product identity, gender identity and communicative stereotypes, more generally, towards visual communications systems, increasingly analysing how the communication object works, on how mechanisms are brought into play to activate sense production processes. This is a study field which interlaces the theories of representation with semiotics and which is able to determine an area of visual culture which we can recognise as the foundation of the culture of design (Compasso d'Oro award in 1995 as co-author of the multimedia catalogue for the Poldi Pezzoli Museum).

When dealing with this field of study, I was involved for a long time in product identity, contributing with numerous papers: La messa in scena del prodotto. Packaging identità e consumo (1999), Packaging design (2005), Culture visive. Contributi per il design della comunicazione (2008), Altre figure. Intorno alle figure di argomentazione (2011); focusing in recent years on the issue of the social responsibility of communication design.

This perspective strongly oriented my research and teaching activities during which I completed projects such as Carta etica del packaging (2015), taking on responsibility for the contribution by the Department of Design to the project Welfare di tutti (Bando Fondazione Cariplo “Welfare in azione – welfare di comunità e innovazione sociale” - City of Milano, 2015-2018) and to the project Farb 2013 La dimensione di genere nel campo del design (, taking part from the beginning in the project by the Centro di Ricerca interuniversitario Culture di genere, of which I am a co-founder (, giving impetus, within the field of Gender Studies, to the research group dcxcg (Design della comunicazione per le culture di genere,
My publications Anticorpi comunicativi. Progettare per la comunicazione di genere (2012) of which I am co-curator and Design e dimensione di genere. Un campo di ricerca e riflessione tra culture del progetto e culture di genere (2015), focus on these issues.

Gender Studies and Communication Design: basic research and training

When we talk about gender, we are talking about an ethically sensitive issue. As is widely known, gender is a notion that has a great deal in common with the management of power; it is a term which possesses a large polysemicity and is enriched by coming into contact with the various fields.
Starting from sociological gender research, we have learned how important it is to introduce this term into all disciplines.
And that's exactly what we did as a research group "by relating" it to the communication design sector.
Multiple intertwined issues arose from this, multiple levels where gender and design issues are closely related, and communication design in particular. It is this multiplicity which imposed an initial survey work in order to map out the critical nodes, nodes which represented out and out research priorities.

In the foreground there is the concept of stereotype, particularly when it becomes closely connected with the term disparity (as has emerged from the analysis of the global gender gap index).
The stereotype theme significantly concerns the way women are represented in the media and therefore in communicative artefacts. The focus of this study field is the sexist use of the female figure in order to convey and promote products, services, even research, which are not justified by their presence and which radicalise associations between contexts, roles and genders.
This stereotype theme has been investigated by studying various fields: from consumer products, through the analysis of their packaging and their communication system, to the field of products for children, focusing particularly on toys, their expressive codes and the communication media promoting them, in addition to the publishing field, aimed at adults and children which is still too often displayed as a jumble of stereotypes. It is precisely this placing in discourse of the products that threatens to become an uncritical routine, based on a translation process of female and male attributes, consisting of figures which become stratified over time, of stereotyped forms of expression and visual configurations.

Communication Design, Gender Studies, Translation Studies

It is therefore a process of recognising a highly relevant field of reflection in the intersection between Communication Design, Gender Studies and Translation Studies, where design takes charge of communicative artefacts and of their languages in the practical and theoretical dimensions.
Among the many issues which we can link to this field of study, the semantic behaviour of artefacts constitutes a priority issue which concerns the declinations (in both the male and female versions), obtained through the acquisition and sharing of sign directories; it is on these that construction of the objects’ identity is based, that their communicative "qualities" are determined, that stereotypes are spread. Social models and roles are conveyed through communication artefacts.
The study on stereotypes involves expressive categories which we use to speak of or to refer to as female or male and which lead the designer to rely on semantic categories related to gender. To conventions which build a stable bond (crystallised) between the formal element and the gender which is referred to.
It concerns highly stereotyped shapes, materials, systems of icons which constitute the basic concept of product design.
A topic that occupies, from a theoretical point of view, a central position even within research on gender translation, which studies the mechanisms which transpose, for example, an artefact from its female version to a male one and vice versa and which, on the pragmatic side, is instead at the basis of so-called gendered marketing.

The Interuniversity research centre for Gender Studies

The work that the dcxcg research team is carrying out, must be read precisely in connection with the activities of the Interuniversity Research Centre for Gender Studies.

The centre’s project began 5 years ago as a result of the joint activities of the Università Statale Milano and the Bicocca, and thanks to the energy input by the Associations Donne in Quota and Amiche di ABCD who took the first steps to build a network involving various universities in Milan; at first, by sharing seminars between the universities - an initiative which also saw our involvement through the Anticorpi comunicativi workshop held at the Bovisa campus in 2012 - and then through the project which was formalised through the centre, today at the end of its first three years.

The Centro di Ricerca Interuniversitario ‘Culture di Genere’ - which involves the Università degli studi di Milano Bicocca, the Università degli Studi di Milano, the Bocconi, the IULM, the Università Vita - Salute San Raffaele and the Politecnico di Milano – adopts in the foreword of its Articles of Association, the intention of the associated universities to add momentum, within their powers, to studies, researches and positive actions relating to the theme of gender studies, within the spirit of the European Resolution (3rd September 2008 on how marketing and advertising affect equality between women and men), 8th March 2011 on equality between women and men, the European Directive 113 dated 2004 and the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women) adopted by the UN and ratified by 185 States.

The presence of the centre has represented a strong point for developing our group’s activities within the Department of Design, which must therefore be interpreted in their specificity, but also in relation to this larger plan.

The many contributions of Communication Design

  • A first level focuses on strengthening the critique culture of the symbolic and sign universe.
    Within designers’ educational paths, communication design can be crucial for creating or strengthening antibodies. Namely, it can be responsible for building those tools which will make young designers more independent in their ability to see, to deconstruct the universe of signs, to enhance their sensitivity and therefore to increase their awareness and support their responsibilities as designers. (These are the goals of the Communication Design and gender studies course offered in the Lauree Magistrali courses)

  • A second level is linked to designing instruments for training trainers.
    The communication designer can provide his contribution by designing dedicated tools, to develop awareness actions within other educational contexts. (This is what has been developed through the experimentation co-ordinated by Dr. Elena Caratti of the W-Re.Media tool-kit among secondary school students)

  • A third level concerns designing actions, communication campaigns, developing communicative artefacts which may represent a counteracting action vehicle together with awareness campaigns (educational workshops have been an important moment of debate)

  • Ultimately, we can state that Communication Design has a strategic vocation, as it can give its contribution, taking on the role of facilitator with other polytechnic areas in the construction of a dialogue on these issues, by highlighting the innovative potential that the inclusion of these issues can lead to the culture of design.

Training and disparities

Within a perspective of gender equality, a further point worth mentioning concerns educational paths.
I am not referring to the general university framework and to the overall one of this university which mirrors its trends, i.e. to the disparities which still exist between mainly technological-scientific areas (with a male predominance) and humanities areas (vice versa, with a greater presence of women), but to those differences in the design field, such as design engineering or interaction design, which attract a more markedly male interest or those areas such as interior design chosen by women, or, as concerns the field of communication design, in graphic arts or publishing. Differences which when observing the professional framework still show some obvious imbalances.