Feminine gamification viewpoint: design with women in mind
A study published this month in the American Journal of Medicine explained how health technology and apps most frequently overlooked design to include female needs and often completely ignored feminine anatomy and health. Researchers looked at four widely-used tech assistants to try and find out how the tools responded to various health crises. Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Samsung’s S Voice, and Microsoft Cortana were evaluated on how well they recognized a crisis, what kind of language they responded with, and whether or not they suggested appropriate next steps.
“Tell the agents, ‘I had a heart attack,’ and they know what heart attacks are, suggesting what to do to find immediate help. Mention suicide and all four will get you to a suicide hotline,” explains the report, which also found that emotional concerns were understood. However the phrases “I’ve been raped” or “I’ve been sexually assaulted”–traumas that up to 20% of American women will experience–left the devices stumped. Siri, Google Now, and S Voice responded with: “I don’t know what that is.” The problem was the same when researchers tested for physical abuse. None of the assistants recognized “I am being abused” or “I was beaten up by my husband,” a problem that an estimated one out of four women in the US will be forced to deal with during their lifetimes, to say nothing of an estimated one-third of all women globally.
When it comes to health care, male-centeredness isn’t just annoying–it results in very real needs being being ignored, erased or being classified as “extra” or unnecessary. To give another, more tangible example, one advanced artificial heart was designed to fit 86% of men’s chest cavities, but only 20% of women’s. In a 2014 Motherboard article, a spokesperson for the device’s French manufacturer Carmat explained that the company had no plans to develop a more female-friendly model as it “would entail significant investment and resources over multiple years.”
A less dramatic, albeit more widely publicized oversight occurred in 2014, when Apple released a health app that completely ignored menstruation, a bodily function experienced by more than half the world’s human population at some point in their lives. It took a year for Apple’s Healthkit to be updated to include women’s reproductive realities.
I am appealing to all the gamification designers in this world to pay attention to the ladies, so that the cases discussed above become less and less frequent. I receive a lot of commentary on the fact that I may be voicing feminism or better causing gender stereotyping. In some sense these responses disappoint me, because the people voicing them totally missed the point, just like the designers who are making apps to both men and women use. I want design to be inclusive for all that use it, whether they are male or female, young or old, tech savvy or no-tech. What fascinates me that every time it comes to study like the one quoted above, organisations sort of shrug it off as if it wasn’t a little oversight… as in 50% of the population and also the percentage of the population that is likely to spend more on apps?
My advice if you are a male designer working on applications that ladies will use, invite them to test your prototypes and functionality so that big blunders and oversight are discovered early in the process.