Why not try to please all the people all the time? By and large, we should design for both men and women, and transparent design is the clear choice if a product is intended to be used by everyone. (As I discussed in my previous post, this differs from visible design, where physical differences or social needs suggest separate solutions.) But understanding gender differences may still be critical. Products and services fall short for women when designers presume that men and women share the same values. Magic happens when we blend everything we know about men and women to create an experience that works for everyone but that connects in relevant ways to each sex. In an industry that often struggles to find a female point of view, uncovering desires that are uniquely female helps us create that magical mix.
It’s our job as designers to help define a product — from character and form to color and materials. But men and women can interpret these attributes in different ways. Women tend to be attracted to products that show a personality. Women tend to empathize; they react to the way a product makes them feel. Men tend to be more drawn to products that reflect a system, as the British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen detailed in The Essential Difference (2004). One of the biggest design challenges is how to design products that appeal to both sexes without compromise.
Let’s look at how this dynamic plays out in the car industry. Women tend to favor the Volkswagen Beetle because it is cute and playful. Many men dismiss it for the exact same reasons. The Mini Cooper is one of the few cars that genuinely appeal to both sexes. Men love the Mini Cooper for its stunt car roots, sports-car handling, and powerful engine. Women also love the Mini Cooper, because it is friendly and fun to drive, like a charismatic sidekick. Of course, there are always people who break this mold, but this example teaches us that we sometimes want the same things, though often for different reasons. The ability to evoke personality is a key method of transparent design, because it helps us satisfy the natural preferences of both genders.
Stay tuned for more info in my next post on how to deliver a transparent design. In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on products that appeal to both men and women in different ways?