Is designing for ladies niche or essential?

An article in the Guardian a few weeks ago triggered my question whether designing for ladies is still considered niche as opposed to essential? The article’s name “The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes” says a lot about the remaining content. I urge you to have a read. As it is International women’s day as I write this I felt it was a suitable topic, even I also feel there should be an International men’s day too to make it balanced, but that’s for another topic.

I was appalled, yet not surprised about the findings and examples in the article. I have also put the book on which the article was based on my reading list. I have been reading studies about differences across gender for a number of years. In fact, it is the very reason why I started Gamification Nation in 2012, to bring a feminine perspective to the world of workplace gamification so that half the working world wouldn’t be overlooked. It started with a personal feeling that some of the early designs in our industry were not really suitable for me, so I looked for more information.

My conclusion after reading the research and the goofs that come from having mainly male design and development teams is that we are still nowhere close to where we can be with even a small few tweaks. So here is my top three must-do’s to create more female inclusive design:

Must do number 1: Include women in your design and testing

Any designer (gamification or other) ought to by default be forced to have male only, female only and mixed test groups for their designs. And that is at a minimum. If you truly want to be inclusive you need to travel across the age spectrum, the ability spectrum and racial spectrum too.

Us ladies are a very picky lot, by including us from the start it will not only improve your product for use by ladies but also for men. I don’t say this because I am a woman. I say this because research in a 2.5 year study of interaction design for women made some interesting discoveries in this area. (link included above).

Must do number 2: Consider female appetite for competition

In gamification design specifically, knowing that ladies are much more judgemental about their abilities and set the bar a lot higher than guys before they enter in competition. Once they feel they have a chance on winning, they will be just as competitive as guys, but they need to be over 80% certain that they have a good chance, compared to about 30% for most males, who will enter to see how it goes.

Women are not necessarily less able, but just don’t opt-in to competition if they don’t need to. It is a learned behaviour and basically thanks to how we are brought up. Their performance in competition or outside is also very similar, for a man it is slightly better in a competitive environment according to a Stanford study. I wonder if this is why the world of work is so full of competition because by and large the design and structures have been set by men?

Must do number 3: Understand bias

Gender bias is all around us, whether we like it or not both men and women are subject to it. I have often highlighted under this very heading how we are all judging our world through our own lenses. How we are brought up, where we have lived and travelled to and our experiences throughout life will taint how we see things. If you then add to that that gender really also is a spectrum that we all balance on from feminine to masculine choices, behaviours and inclinations often based on the situation, it is important to understand that where you sit.

Yesterday I was listening to an interview around bias in leadership. I don’t recall the research source, but when I find it I will add it in here, but the interview took place on BBC world. It went along the lines that in some cases incapable men are promoted to be leaders because of gender and often women are not and would have made better leaders. At the same time as soon women step up as leaders a different judgement system is applied by both men and women. I found it fascinating. Also not surprising.

Bonus must do: Champion the women you see as role models

In history often women are written out of the picture despite the role they played. More and more stories come out about women playing critical roles in science, such as in World War Bletchley Park, NASA space missions etc. I am a member of quite a few business groups with both men and women and when I ask who are the females you follow in business, it tends to be mainly women who can answer this question.

Share your female role models as and when you spot them. We need to build a joint consciousness around this. Specify what exactly you find she bring to the party that is exemplary. One of my female heroes is Jessica Ennis-Hill, the British heptathlete. She excelled in her field and always looked graceful whilst both winning and losing.

I have many like her and nearly every walk of life. In the field of gamification I value my colleagues: Marigo Raftopolous, Belinda Jacobs and Monica Cornetti, who all keep trailblazing and they share what they believe in and enhance our field with research and conferences.

Who is your shero?

1 thought on “Is designing for ladies niche or essential?”

  1. An, I couldn’t agree more. It never ceases to amaze me what isn’t seen when only one gender is involved. We all bring bias to our views on things, but the fact that the assumption that a male perspective will naturally suffice to cover women’s perspective saddens me. I have been a feminist working to get better gender balance in all areas of work and life for over 50 years. So little has changed at a fundamental level (and feels like it’s going backwards lately) and I am sad that we still have to point out the need for both men AND women to be consulted in the development of anything!

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