Anti-manspreading chair wins London design award

Laura Hampson

Manspreading is ‘the act of a man sitting, especially on public transport, with his legs spread wide apart, in a way that means that the people next to him have less space’, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary,

Luckily, for every woman who’s ever had to make herself smaller on the tube while sitting between two manspreaders, a British design graduate has come up with a solution.

Laila Laurel, a 3D Design & Craft graduate from the University of Brighton, has designed a pair of triangular chairs she hails as ‘a solution for manspreading’. The two chairs encourage men to sit with their legs closed, and women to sit with their legs open.

"My own experiences and the conversations I had with women around me of man-spreading inspired me to make these chairs. I was also hugely inspired by Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ where I read about the struggles and frustrations of women around the world pertaining to men infringing on their space," Laurel tells the Standard.

"I have made two chairs, one for the ‘woman’ (or those identifying as thus) that encourages the sitter to take up more space, and one for the ‘man’ that encourages them to take up less, and sit with their legs closed. They are made from Sycamore and Cherry and after making several different seat shapes I eventually settled on this design and made them. The shapes and words mirror each other for some visual continuity between the pair."

Laila's designs: women's chair (L) and men's chair (R) (Laila Laurel)

Laurel's designs have been a hit. The graduate won the Richard Seagar award and the Anna Maria Designs award at her graduate show for her broader project 'Feminism in the Third Dimension' as well as winning the Belmond award for emerging designers.

"The reaction of the people that I spoke to at New Designers and my Graduate show and from those that sat in the chair has been brilliant and interesting, and people seem to have found them funny and engaging which is all I could have hoped for," Laurel says.

Although the designer noted that the online world hasn't been as receptive to her designs. "The online backlash has been quite unpleasant, and I have received a lot of explicit messages nearly entirely from men who seem to be under the impression I am trying to castrate them and that I hate all men which honestly couldn’t be further from the truth.

"The reaction from my teachers and peers, many of whom were male, was really positive as they understood it was not a direct attack on them or an act of aggression but a fun design centred around the experiences of many women - including myself - around the world."

(Laila Laurel)

The judging panel from Belmond, the luxury hotel and leisure company said Laurel’s chair 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”.

As part of the prize, Laurel will receive a £1,000 bursary as well as a commission to design a product for Belmond.

(Laila Laurel)

Laurel hopes to continue advocating for gender equality with her future designs. She says: "I am excited to continue developing my critical design practice and to continue to address social issues - particularly regarding sexism and gender equality from this perspective. I have a few ideas for future projects that I am excited to begin work on, some even stemming from the considerable backlash I have received online after sharing this work."