How Can Design Remedy Taboos?


Eden Lauffer

Research Manager, New York

No matter our age, there’s always something that makes us cringe. Depending on our background or geographic location, certain subjects make us feel sensitive or awkward – taboos. But culturally, social media has made the world feel smaller, normalizing some taboos. As we become more open to taboo topics, products emerge to remedy them.  

A key to this is thoughtful innovation. But we must think of innovation as stretching beyond just a great idea. Instead, frame it as an idea realized in a great way. Intelligent design breathes life into innovations. And beyond aesthetics, it’s applying design perspective that puts consumers at the center. Through design thinking, consumer needs and challenges (like taboos) are unearthed. When done successfully, these innovations then mitigate (or even shatter) taboos.  

Concealing Taboos

Hims Hard Mints // The Nue Co.

Think about the awkwardness of a tampon or condom falling out of your bag. How can products experiment with their packs and formats to conceal solutions for taboo moments? 

Hims has long been creating products to remedy taboo needs for men – from hair loss to depression. Now, they’re helping men solve for erectile dysfunction with Hard Mints, which do what they say…  

Posed as a premium brand, The Nue Co dabbles in mood health, gut health, and beyond. Besides their understated apothecary aesthetic, the brand experiments with serums that boost skin health and deliver pre, pro, and postbiotics topically.  

Giving Taboos Cool Factor

Gryt // Jupiter

With the rise of social media, we’re all familiar with products being “cool” because someone told us they are. In a taboo space filled with quiet, undetectable products, what can a really striking visual brand identity do for a brand?  

Puberty is awkward for everyone, a time ripe with taboo needs. Hot off the trail of pimple stickers as personal expression, Gryt uses bold, Gen Z aesthetics to make acne products feel like a zany, must have accessory.  

Uncomfortable enough as it is, dandruff shampoos come in loud, industrial looking bottles, further stigmatizing the category. But Jupiter enters the scene with clean, minimalist packs that feel premium and don’t dare call attention to the topic of flakes.  

Adapting for Taboos

Nike // Spanx Denim

As we open up more about taboos, we mitigate some of their stigma. How can brands wield their power to adapt existing products to address the needs these taboos create? 

After noticing the popularity of their Nike One shorts, Nike took the initiative to understand the needs of women athletes. Period leakage has always been a large hurdle for women in sports, identifying a need for product development.  

Thanks to the Kardashians and SKIMS, shapewear feels less taboo. As a more dated, “hush hush” brand in the space, Spanx is instead using the broken down taboo attached to shapewear to its advantage. Spanx Denim openly flaunts fashion and destigmatizes the need for shapewear.  

With social media creating a more candid attitude toward taboos, consumers are already doing half the work. This leaves brands the exciting opportunity to innovate, helping us tackle less savory needs and occasions. Let’s move beyond creating great ideas. Instead, let’s design those ideas in ways that resonate with the people they’ll touch. With design thinking in mind, we can transform the way taboos are viewed and addressed.  

If you’d like to discuss innovation and design thinking further, get in touch!