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Graphic Design Roundup #51: Gender and Design

Recently updated on November 3rd, 2011 at 02:11 am

“Girls like dolls and pink. Boys like fire trucks and red.” To the average pre-schooler, the differences are obvious. This just goes to show that gender does matter in design.

The ways in which gender is taken into account during the design process is important because it is estimated that women control 85% of spending. At the same time, only 71% of women feel they are addressed specifically when it comes to marketing beauty and cleaning products.

This gap is an indicator that the design profession hasn’t quite mastered how to accurately unravel the issue.  Psychologists tell us that gender motivates most human behaviors. Recently, cultural and political sensitivities prevent these differences from being discussed or inferred.

Numerous factors need to be taken into consideration:

  • different hormones impact the reactions of men and women differently
  • male and female bodies scientifically differ in complex and meaningful ways
  • the brains of men and women process information differently
  • ladies and gentlemen talk differently about their product experiences

If Women Are 85% Of The Consumer Market, How Do You Reach Them?

Targeting the female audience calls for a considerate, nuanced approach.

A recent Dos Equis ad issues the warning, “Approach women like you do wild animals, with caution and a soothing voice.”

It’s no secret that finesse with the opposite sex is regarded with respect and admiration.

When charged with the task of designing for a specific gender, men generally assume expertise on male consumers, and women usually claim proficiency for addressing female consumers.

Acknowledging gender is one of many ways to better understand people. This opens the door for marketing campaigns that are more engaging and therefore, more effective.

Is designing for women different?

Designers can create communications for women openly and overtly, developing visuals “for her” only. Common examples of this would be ads for women’s razors or high heels. This practice is known as “visible design,” because the target gender is visible to the viewer.

However, companies want to create campaigns that appeal to both men and women. Products that appeal to a wide audience such as cameras or cars are typical. Too often, the female perspective in these categories is hard to find. As a result, women consumers are overlooked.

In what is known as “transparent design,” the gender story is present though invisible, cloaked under the belief that “good design suits all.”

Visible design “gone wrong” can result in alienating women who don’t believe that separate solutions that are appropriate. Transparent design “gone awry” may ignore the differences altogether under the misconception that men and women are the same. The outcome is a design that appeals to an audience of none.

Achieving a balance yields marketing campaigns that earn the trust and loyalty of women, an audience responsible for 85% of consumer spending. Companies must learn to genuinely addressing gender through design.

Men and Women Can Love the Same Design for Different Reasons

Transparent design attempts to please everyone, but recognizing gender distinction is essential to developing a marketing campaign that resonates with both men and women.

Marketing campaigns risk falling short with women when designers imagine that men and women share the same values.

The ideal solution is to create an experience that works for everyone, while connecting in relevant ways to men and women.

Designers must use form to color to attract attention and convey a message. But men and women interpret these subtle techniques differently

Women empathize; they react to the way the communication makes them feel.
Men tend to be drawn to messages that reflect a systematic or rational line of reasoning.

Here’s a practical example from the automobile industry. The Mini Cooper is a vehicle that really appeals to both sexes. Men appreciate the Mini Cooper for its rally-car roots, sports-car handling, and powerful engine. Women love the Mini Cooper because it is friendly and fun to drive, like a charismatic sidekick.

The ability to endow an object with a personality is a key method of transparent design, because it helps satisfy the natural preferences of both genders.

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