Designing for ‘women’? You’re doing it wrong
Designing for women is a topic that many people have addressed and was recently brought to my mind when shopping for various sporting goods. I became frustrated by the selection for women in comparison to what was offered to men. Everything designed for women seemed to follow the ‘shrink it and pink it’ paradigm which is when products that may have first been designed for men are re-designed specifically for women by being made smaller and coloured pink.
Now, don’t get me wrong, pink is great! It’s just not a colour I personally choose to wear often. I ended up leaving the shop with nothing but a question: What started this “pink-it-and-shrink-it” mentality? It can be seen across products such as power tools, ear buds, sporting wear, and even pens, but do women use these products any differently than men?
This shopping experience got me thinking about designing for women in general and I wondered whether gender should really play a significant role in the design of products. At first I thought that maybe the ‘shrink it and pink it’ paradigm was the result of having a product development team that is predominately male; an assumption I had made about the sporting goods company. I did a bit of research to validate this assumption and found an example of a successful web-based product (Etsy) where approximately 80% of the users are female yet the engineering team was nearly 100% male. So is it really a problem when entirely male teams design and develop products geared specifically to women? Or perhaps the problem is the lack of good user research and applied user centre design.
Despite the fact that I would love to see more women in the technology workforce (at Akendi I’m fortunate enough to work with excellent people, more than half of which happen to be female), I don’t believe it really matters who is designing or developing a product from a strictly gender perspective. It’s more important for those product managers, designers, and developers to really understand who their primary users are.
Regardless of gender, developing great products is about applying good user centred design principles. Be sure to understand your users by:
- Conducting user research
- Creating personas
- Identifying primary scenarios of use
- And applying this understanding through the entire product development life cycle from beginning to end.
This way you can ensure you are designing the best product for your users.
And it’s not just the ‘pink it and shrink it’ stuff; when Dell unveiled Della – a website offering “tech Tips” just for women, it seemed to be a website built entirely on old stereotypes and not on actual user research. This site was taken down after overwhelming negative response from women and after Dell’s attempt to adjust the site was unsuccessful.
Now, having said all of this, I certainly don’t want this post to come across as though I believe the lack of women in technology is not a problem, but that this issue is one that requires more than a blog post to solve. I’m writing to remind or inform you that when designing products for your users (men or women), you should be sure to conduct research using a gender representative sample.
Perhaps the sporting goods companies did their research and found that most female users needed or wanted pink products and I’m an outlier. That would be great, as long as their research for creating women’s products involved real users out in the field.