Museum architecture can be confusing and museum fatigue is real. Well-designed wayfinding can ease frustration and make a museum visit much smoother. Wouldn't you rather spend your mental energy grappling with a new scientific concept or pondering the meaning of a work of art than struggle to find the café before it closes and your toddler has a meltdown? Museums have a reputation for being rulesy and many visitors already feel anxious coming through the door, let alone wandering around concerned they might get yelled at by a guard. Signage can help museum-goers understand what to expect and clear iconography can transcend language barriers. First time visitors, visitors with children, disabled visitors, and visitors who need urgent bathroom access all benefit from clear wayfinding and signage.
Typical signage for toilets, care rooms, and even elevators reinforce the woman/man gender binary and gender roles by using iconography that emphasizes the user rather than the facility. Even in all-gender toilet facilities the signage frequently includes an icon of a man and a woman, reinforcing a binary. We can avoid this by using signage that focuses on what's behind the door: in this case, a toilet. In the case of baby change or baby feeding rooms, typical signage uses an icon of a woman changing a baby's diaper or feeding the baby, reinforcing stereotypical gender roles and alienating men and gender nonconforming people who care for infants. We can avoid this by using icons that focus on the baby, the common denominator in all baby changing and feeding scenarios.
Some people describe this goal as "gender neutral" but I prefer "gender inclusive" because gender is often a big part of a person's identity. Instead of trying to neutralize gender, we need to create spaces that embrace gender and its many forms. This is why I advocate for terms like "all-gender" and "gender inclusive" instead of "gender neutral."
Of course signage is one part of a larger set of updates needed in museums. I use signage as an example of something that is very easy to change, a simple fix that doesn't cost a lot of money that can have an immediate, positive impact on museum visitors.
Here are some of my top recommendations for easy swaps you can make for a more gender inclusive visitor experience at your museum.
The best gender inclusive restroom signage puts focus on the facility not the user. The phrase "all-gender" implies more than two genders. It's also fewer letters than "gender inclusive restroom." Depending on your region, "toilet" may be a more appropriate term than "restroom."
2. Baby care
The best gender inclusive baby care signage puts emphasis on the baby, not the carer. Baby care stations should be welcoming and available to people of all genders and abilities. In addition to infant diaper changing stations, restroom facilities should also include adult changing stations for disabled visitors.
The best gender inclusive nursing signage does not gender the carer. Because parents of infants still face harassment and discrimination for nursing in public, it is important to explicitly welcome nursing using prominent signage. This will not only set the minds of visitors at ease, it will also remind hypervigilant staff of the museum's policy.
Though "breast" may not be a gendered term in the medical sense, some transgender men and some nonbinary parents who feed their babies with their bodies do not identify with the term "breastfeeding" so I recommend using the term "nursing." Not everyone will relate to the term "nursing" either. For more info on how some trans parents feed their babies, check out this article about chestfeeding.
Not all carers (or infants) are comfortable nursing in public, so dedicated private space should also be available. These should include bottle warmers and electrical outlets for pumping. I also recommend museums make exceptions for bottles in their "no drink" rules in galleries. For more on inclusive baby care rooms, see this interview I did with exhibit developer Paul Orselli.
The best gender inclusive elevator signage puts emphasis on the function of the elevator, not its riders. This swap could also help visitors avoid some awkwardness as the icon on the left is easily confused with a traditional restroom icon.
5. Menstrual supplies
The best gender inclusive signage about menstrual supplies puts emphasis on the product, not the user. "Pads and tampons" is straightforward and gender inclusive unlike "feminine hygiene." Dispensers and disposals should be available in all restrooms including men's toilets because some transgender men menstruate. Disposals can also be used for medical waste like colostomy bags.
These recommendations are not new designs. These options may not be as popular, but you can find many of them from your local sign supplier. If you want to use the icons in your own custom graphics, most can be found at the Noun Project.