Co.Design

Smart Design: How A Gadget Can Draw Women While Impressing Men

Good technology doesn't necessarily have to be overly complicated. Just look at the Flip video camera, whose intuitive UI appealed to women, while still impressing techie men.

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

Last week, I wrote about how to evoke personality through design to help satisfy the contradictory, natural preferences in each gender. Another method to designing transparently is to understand a woman's unique priorities regarding the people in her life. Women are motivated to spend time and effort on people. As the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen theorizes in his book The Essential Difference, their innate reward system, the way they feel good about themselves, their sense of accomplishment, is through human relationships. Like men, women rely on technology to connect with others. But all too often, technology acts as an obstacle rather than an enabler. Why?

So many products demand focused attention and a high level of engagement in order to access their benefits. With a few exceptions (including myself), women, unlike most men, are not intrinsically motivated to "crack the code." To put this in a larger perspective, the Consumer Electronics Association has found that only 1% of women thought manufacturers had them in mind when developing electronics. I believe that this entire industry is centered on men's innate reward system: making sense of systems, to once again cite Baron-Cohen. That's a pity, since companies in this industry and beyond have much to gain by satisfying the natural preferences of both genders.

Women, unlike most men, are not intrinsically motivated to "crack the code."

The Flip video camera is a great example of a product that does just that, by allowing users (especially women, who are often the family 'memory keepers?) to be highly efficient without being highly engaged in gadgetry. At the time Smart Design was collaborating on the design of the Flip, the industry standard was the "prosumer" video cameras that focused on multiple features, had a demanding setup, and required a steep learning curve. The Flip design focused on removing functionality and enabling fast and intuitive use — showcasing simplicity though the use of one large red "record' button — allowing people to capture the important moments in life faster and easier. Others might call this ?dumbing down," but I call it good design. The streamlined usability made the product an instant success among women without excluding men. The result of this vision was a spectacular market success, as Cisco bought Pure Digital Technologies, the makers of the Flip, for $590 million in 2009. Not bad for a startup with only a few products. The gender science at work behind the trend toward intuitive use is key to understanding the Flip's extraordinary achievement.

Understanding men's and women's natural preferences and priorities is an essential design tool. The choice between visible and transparent design requires an awareness of gender and a delicate, nuanced approach. Choosing wisely 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 consumer electronics space is ripe with opportunity. What's the next big idea?

For more information about design and gender, check us out at www.FemmeDen.com.

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3 Comments

  • Renee

    It seems like you're taking " The Essential Difference" as the bible of gender behavioral studies and I just don't think that's wise.

    I'm always cautious when "studies" just happen to reveal things that fall right on gender stereotypes, especially when there is valid criticism against those studies.