On Creating Inclusive Environments: You Are Here

There have been many progressive strides over the past decade towards social equality in the LGBTQ+ community throughout the United States, such as marriage equality and open military service membership. However, there are still many more opportunities and experiences that our country can ameliorate. With this in mind, I strive to bring emphasis to our consumer habits and retail institutions which have seen little to no change in incorporating inclusivity, to the overall LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

After conducting my own intensive research, I discovered that the commonplace retail environment fails to serve certain marginalized communities. In a luxury that most of the population takes for granted, our “traditional” shopping experiences prioritize products and sales over people and experiences; institutions end up catering only to normative patrons, thus alienating those who do not conform to the gender binary or society’s standard of “normal.” My research also revealed that these individuals are disproportionally affected by physical violence, depression, suicidal thoughts, and homelessness.

I wanted to develop a program that could address both the physical and emotional needs through retail and consumer institutions, which remain some of our most outdated, yet easily accessible, public environments. My response? A retail center concept with a social justice mission that provides a personalized shopping experience for those stigmatized communities like the LGBTQ+, simply named You Are Here (YAH). YAH’s main goal is to align design with social responsibility and provide access to a gender-fluid, all-encompassing retail experience for those whose bodies and identities do not conform to a rigid societal binary. This space will function to both provide luxury and comfort to those who are typically denied access, and will also address those who are suffering from housing and economic insecurities.

Selecting a Site

To find an appropriate site location, I researched where these demographics were largely populated. Surprisingly, I was unable to find substantial information on the location of the Boston LGBTQ+ community (and others like it). I shifted focus to resources instead, selecting Downtown Crossing due to its homeless shelters and LGBTQ+ services located along the Red and Orange train lines. This site is also prominent for entertainment, tourism, and shopping.

Making it Personal

To provide a personalized shopping experience that also hosts opportunities for community engagement and education, the program was broken down into three types:

  1. Welcome Center: Helps patrons find what they need throughout the space. It differs from the traditional retail format, as the entire experience is personalized for everyone based off their physical and emotional shopping needs.
  2. Retail Center: Provides full-priced merchandise for purchase. In order to maintain the gender fluidity of the space, this program will refrain from using terminology that is strongly associated with gender such as “dresses” or “skirt,” and instead use more generic terminology.
  3. Donation Center: Consists of donated and thrifted items to either be purchased at a low cost or free-for-all cost.

Speaking Through Color

I explored Color Theory to best evoke feelings and emotions through wayfinding, which meant that material selection was also imperative. Color-tinted glass creates awe-inspiring moments unique to every program; with these glass walls everyone can be seen and enjoy the space at the same level while nurturing acceptance, pride, and inclusion. Some examples:

  1. Donation Center: Blue symbolizes confidence and calm. I wanted those who were housing insecure and homeless to enter the space and feel welcome and empowered.
  2. Retail Clothing: Purple symbolizes dignity, independence, creativity, and magic.
  3. Welcome Center: Yellow is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. It helps customers find clothing that is personalized and brings ultimate joy and acceptance to their lives.



Moving Forward

My program also includes a public café that can serve as a meeting space for various communities, gender neutral bathrooms, a tailoring suite for utmost customization, and overlapping kaleidoscope walls that help draw people further into the space and create a sense of welcoming. The environments that we share are perhaps our biggest influence on our lived experiences, and already we’ve seen significant positive impacts when design professionals prioritize wellness-focused practices for corporate spaces, such as the WELL Standard, ergonomics, and resimercial design. Thus, why can’t we share the same mindset of wellness and inclusivity with our social and public spaces, such as retail? It’s time to use our end-users as our guides in design: They are here, they exist, and they matter.