Featured Book: Designing Motherhood

Unfolding the histories and real-world uses of designs that have defined the arc of human reproduction, revealing the complicated fight for reproductive justice that hangs in the balance

While birth often brings great joy, making babies is a knotty enterprise. The designed objects that surround people when it comes to menstruation, birth control, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood vary as oddly, messily, and dramatically as the stereotypes suggest. 

Designing Motherhood

With Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births, authors Michelle Millar Fisher and Amber Winick strive to illustrate the crucial roles design and material culture play throughout the arc of human reproduction. They explore more than eighty designs—iconic, conceptual, titillating, emotionally charged, or just plain strange—that have defined the relationships between people and babies during the past century.

Fisher, a curator and architecture and design historian, and Winick, a writer and design historian, unfold the compelling design histories and real-world uses of these objects. The authors investigate the baby carrier, from the Snugli to BabyBjörn, and the (re)discovery of the varied traditions of baby wearing; the tie-waist skirt, famously worn by a pregnant Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, and essential for camouflaging and slowly normalizing a public pregnancy; the home pregnancy kit, and its threat to the authority of male gynecologists; and more.

“This book sprung from our shared curiosity about why the material culture that defines our reproductive lives was so hidden,” Fisher and Winick wrote in a piece for Publishers Weekly Soapbox. “Such objects, spaces, and ideas should be among the most well-considered design solutions; designers should aspire to work on them.” The objects and spaces in question range from contraceptives, breast pumps, and menstrual cups to labor and delivery wards, and at-home abortion kits. Each object, they argue, tells a story.

With 225 color illustrations and images in the book—including historical ads, found photos, and drawings—and accompanying public programs, design curricula, and even a museum exhibit co-curated by Fisher, Winick, and design historian Juliana Rowen Barton at the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, it is safe to argue that the authors are giving these objects the attention they have long-deserved.


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