How Companies Can Woo Women With Design

As Gatherer Whitney pointed out yesterday, women ask for directions, men don’t. It’s one of many stereotypical gender differences from which we all have humorous (and not-so-humorous) stories to share. We can be as lost as ever, but stopping at the closest gas station to ask for directions is out of the question. We will get there...eventually.

Let’s explore this (stereotypical) behavior further. Men and women think and process information differently—affecting how we work, problem-solve, and socialize. Behavior relating to finding the route, a mate, or buying a product, ultimately comes down to our origins as Hunters and Gatherers. Males and females are different animals. Think about courtship:  Females, instinctively, want to be pursued. And just as instinctively, males pursue.

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Men want to path-find, it’s part of the hunting instinct. When shopping men tend to go linear and deep, researching a product in detail and then going in for the kill. Women go wide. They are gathering for both themselves and the tribe: Is it safe for my kids? How will it fit in my home? Will my dog eat it? While he tends to be more fascinated by the product itself, she is enticed by the sum of many things, including considerations beyond herself and her personal needs. 

Many things are about path-finding. You see this in consumer electronics. Video games are linear and again appealing to the hunting instinct. Smart phones come with deep menu structures, where the info you need is somewhere in there. With consumer electronics in general, there are a lot of options for failure. When a problem occurs, men and women often have different attitudes. A man is less likely to talk about problems they are experiencing with products, while a woman won’t shut up.

When a problem occurs with a newly acquired tech gadget, a man tends to have more patience. His instinct is to conquer and overcome. To be considered knowledgeable, competent and self-sufficient gives him a sense of self. Men have historically been the provider, the one who is supposed to know it all—"I got it baby, I got it." The concept of mastering a product is a big motivation, the beauty is in understanding the ins and outs of how it works.

This is of course important to women as well, but in general a woman expects to be courted. She is enticed by what a product can do for her. She considers technology a way of simplifying her life. Women are usually the main caretakers of home and family, often while working a full-time job. She is pressed for time, and therefore, tends to have less tolerance for time-consuming and poor product experiences. She wants a product to work well right from the start. A woman we know said it very well: "I don’t want technology to suck up my time, I want my kids to suck up my time."  It’s a matter of priority and patience. Women prioritize intuitiveness in products. Conquering a product provides little satisfaction. She would prefer to spend time doing the things she needs, or wants, to do.

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Companies need to learn how to court a woman. The bottom line is that she primarily decides what is being brought into her household. Products must look good, have outstanding performance, align with all her priorities, and meet her standard of excellence. In short, it has to be really well designed. The bonus is that if companies manage to please her, they most often get the man as well, since the solutions will be just as valuable to him. Therefore, we should consider women a filter for intuitive experiences for everyone. And remember—even though it is uncomfortable to ask for directions, you tend to end up in the right place.

Have you been courted by a product that really appealed to you?  What strikes a chord with you when you’re deciding what to buy?  

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Agnete Enga is a senior industrial designer at Smart where she creates innovative solutions for a wide range of industry needs. With high regard for the research and strategy process, she has applied her unique design approach in a variety of arenas including, entertainment, health, home and transportation. She is a founding member of the Femme Den, and has spoken around the world on design and gender. Her work has received several design awards and publications in multiple international design magazines. She is also featured in the film Objectified. She holds a bachelors in industrial design from Art Center College of Design.

The Femme Den is here to save good women from bad products. They started as an underground collective of international women at Smart Design, searching for answers in a world that was not designed for them. They've now grown to a leading team of design researchers, industrial designers, and engineers who are paving the way for a deeper understanding around design and gender. They speak around the world on the topic, working to stimulate positive change in the design and business communities.

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