I believe that in design, particularly advertising, there is an awareness and exploitation of these defined stereotypes which forces us, the viewers, to take these archetypes of women as truths and absolute depths and limits to their characters. The historical prevalence of archetypes of women is a theme that has been played off of in all forms of literature, film, and modern media. Stemming from classic literature, where women were most simply defined by the mother, the mistress, and the maiden, female characters have been developed to adhere to perimeters defining their appearance, persona, personality, and value. I think potential to find clarity and reason in this topic is valuable to the design community because I think it will help us understand why we communicate to and about women in ways that reference an archetype. This knowledge will help us as designers to find alternative ways of portraying women in advertising, as well as understand what the most effective way to appeal to the target’s deepest understanding of gender.
I ask you to consider: Will changing isolated features of a woman’s face affect the way her character is judged, as well as how she is visually perceived?
Process book cover. Hand painted and drilled acrylic covers with large rings for binding.
I am interested to see if I can find patterns, a clearly defined set of archetypes, and if I can find a transformation or growth in the classic models. I expect to submerge into a very large amount of literary research and pull away with a limited and carefully considered list of archetypes to develop tests for. These tests will be a selection of photographs of famous actresses, famous characters, and invented characters exhibiting characteristics of the defined archetypes. I plan to take these tests — which will be a combination of word association, descriptive exercises, and interactive exercises — and run them on a larger audience, both in a classroom environment and online. I expect to find very conclusive results from these studies which will lead me to my final product.
The first step in my research was gathering a collection of models all around the same age, and then photographing them mug-shot style. These photos would be later used to create a series of photo manipulations on the eyebrows, lips, eyes, and cheeks. These alterations were carefully defined in how they would be executed, and were linked to a hypothesis on how I anticipated my test body would react to the changes. Then, these manipulations were distributed in a series of eleven tests, both on paper and online. The results of these tests would provide insight into how aware we are of how we perceive and judge women.
Once I had spent a few weeks running what seemed like endless surveys, I started thinking about how I was going to present my data. I had originally anticipated some sort of digital interface which would allow the user to play with my manipulations on screen. However, I feared that this would lead to a user clicking a few buttons and then moving on without really realizing anything. From this came the notion of using transparency paper to overlay the manipulations on top of one another. This lead further still, to setting up light-box stations with envelopes of all of the models and their slides inside. This set-up was run as ethnographic research in two classrooms, and both experiences were videotaped. The light-box tests proved that the tangibility of moving slides with your hands kept my test users more interested, and in turn, they offered some fantastic insight into the changes they were seeing, and how they felt about it.
While establishing the light-box mode of testing was a huge leap forward, I still yearned for a physical object to represent the final ‘results’ And here was born the idea of 3-D Decoupages which could be mounted on the wall. These would essentially work like a stationery, self-contained light-box built from layers of acrylic with spacers and transparent slides nested between each layer.
Although many of my initial hypotheses about which models would be perceived as which archetype, I believe the course the project took is socially valuable to my peers. Let’s Face It’s approach as a physical experience in contrast to a digital interface forces the user to be aware of the effect they have on the images they see. This allows us to reconnect with the physical world instead of being blinded by a computer screen. Users in the Light Box Tests have exceeded my expectations of how deeply they would react to the models’ alterations both analytically and emotionally. Many of the users approached the tables as a fun experiment, and during the process, offered incredible insight and a keen awareness to the changes they were making, and why they felt as they did about the changes. Our own experiences and expectations are assigned to the people we encounter everyday. These projections dictate the personality attributes we assign to people we may not truly know. Let’s Face It gives us the opportunity to analyze and reflect on these assignments, and gives us the knowledge to more fairly assess the intent of the images of females presented to us in media and advertising.