Women Are 85% Of The Consumer Market. But How Do You Reach Them?

"Approach women like you do wild animals, with caution and a soothing voice." I have to agree. Targeting a female audience requires a delicate, nuanced approach.

[This is the first post in a series by Smart Design. Click here to read the introduction. — Ed.]

The tagline of a Dos Equis ad reads, "Approach women like you do wild animals, with caution and a soothing voice." I have to agree. Targeting a female audience requires a delicate, nuanced approach. Whether we live on the African plain or Manhattan, finesse with the opposite sex is regarded with respect and admiration.

Are designers ignoring sex?

I think about sex just as much as anyone, yet with less focus on good vibrations and more on good design. But sometimes I am alone in my particular focus on the sexes. Maybe that's because everyone thinks they have some level of expertise on the subject. After all, we are all either one sex or the other. When it comes to designing for a specific gender, men can presume expertise on male consumers, and women can presume expertise on female consumers. We imagine we know all the answers. But that's wrong. There is so much to learn, with huge benefits for designers. Understanding gender is one of many ways to understand people better, which in turn, helps us design better stuff for them to use.

How is designing for women any different?

We started the Femme Den, a think tank on design and gender, because we witnessed too much guesswork when it came to appealing to women. So many of our clients have admitted having limited success with women consumers, which comes from a narrow understanding of who women really are. Their common challenge is figuring out the "when" and the "how" to design products for a female user.

Many of our clients admit having limited success with women consumers.

From where we sit, there are two ways to go about it. We can design for women openly and overtly, creating solutions for her only, like women's razors or high heels. We call this "visible design," because the gender story is visible to the user. Yet, most often, companies want to design products for both men and women, such as cameras or cars. But the female perspective in the product design industry can be hard to find, and as a result, women consumers can get left out. To appeal to both, you have to design for both, simultaneously meeting women's unique needs. This is what we call 'transparent design,' because the gender story is vital yet invisible, veiled under the simple notion of ?good design for all."

Yet the choice between visible and transparent design requires an awareness of gender and a delicate, nuanced approach. Visible design "gone bad" can mean alienating women who don't want separate solutions that imply being female means being different. Transparent design 'gone bad' can mean underestimating our differences and designing under the misconception that men and women are the same, resulting in limited appeal. Getting it right means gaining the trust and loyalty of women, the world's largest economic power making up to 85% of consumer purchases in the "she-conomy." For our clients, it means millions of dollars in their pockets and winning products in the market.

The Femme Den agenda is to lead the dialogue about what works with women and what doesn't, with the underlying goal of understanding people better. Companies have so much to gain from genuinely addressing gender through good design. The trick is to choose the approach wisely and to proceed with caution.

Stay tuned for my next post on when to choose visible design.

Add New Comment


  • Justin

    I would love to hear about when to choose any strategy at all.

    It's important to consider whether or not your product actually needs consideration for female users. Universal and Gender-based design can be a wonderful thing (oxo, for example), but certain products aren't meant for everyone. The fact that they aren't is what makes them authentic and successful.

  • PixInk Design

    Marketing to women is finally coming of age thanks to female shoppers’ burgeoning wallet power. Pinkcoating and other “one brand fits all” approaches to marketing to women still abound. It makes me wonder if creative directors are in fact, practicing the one cardinal rule of marketing to women: “Assume nothing.”

    Whether product solutions for women consumers are created using visual or transparent design, the need to respect and reflect women consumers’ specific needs remains unchanged.

  • nicole

    "After all, we are all either one sex or the other."

    Really? THAT  mentality is what holds the design community back. Designing for one sex or the other is the crux of their failure (according to this article).

    As a woman, I am ashamed the author of this article is also a woman and has decidedly chosen to ignore any basic feminist ideals that should be, with any amount of common sense, be applied to the thesis of this article.

  • Renee

    "After all, we are all either one sex or the other."

    I have a serious problem with that quote because it completely erases intersexed individuals and some transfolk.

    That and there's the common hop-skip of jumping between gender and sex. I'm not a designer but I feel like gender would be a more appropriate subject to draw inspiration from than biological sex.

    Gender is a socially motivated expression of sex such as expected behaviors and social concepts like gendered colors and shapes. Biological sex is just a series of traits that have little to do with intrinsic or perceived behavior.

    Borrowing some findings from philosophy and sociology might help too. I don't like the idea behind that wild animals quote. It's objectifying and it missed the point.

    As if I'm some wild beast that needs to be soothed with chocolate and diamonds. I can see why some women are upset though, most things are marketed to men and things coded as feminine tend to get thrown under the bus for the sake of increasing male consumer practices.

    Like the commercials that make fun of guys drinking lattes. That only really works if you associate feminine things with lesser or non-desirable qualities. Which is hardly surprising given the long standing othering of women in society.

    Sorry for the random nature of my rant, it's hard to compress gender studies into one post.