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Introducing Smart Design’s Femme Den Series On Gender And Design

Smart Design’s think tank presents an ongoing discussion of how gender should be included in good design.

Introducing Smart Design’s Femme Den Series On Gender And Design

[This is the introduction to a new series by Smart Design. For the first post, click here. — Ed.]

“Girls like dolls and pink. Boys like fire trucks and blue.” The differences were obvious to the five-year-old who recently informed me of these seemingly clear divisions between genders. As Smart Design spends more and more time studying gender similarities and differences, and how this knowledge should influence good design, all I could think was, It doesn’t seem so clear-cut to me.

Gender does matter in design. We haven’t yet mastered how to embrace it.

The Femme Den started thinking about gender and design five years ago as an expansion of Smart Design’s commitment to understanding people. Since starting that first public dialogue around this controversial topic, the conversation has gained momentum. Our initial five points for considering gender made its debut at the 2006 Universal Design Conference, in Kyoto, Japan. Over the years, we have been developing our perspective and deepening our insights through work with clients and sharing around the world. Several of us have spoken with the design and business communities, we were featured in the 2009 Masters of Design in Fast Company, and we did a short burst of blogging. We’ve heard our colleagues at IDEO and Continuum pick up on the theme, and we’ve seen greater attention paid to the topic at conferences (IDSA, TED Women). It begs the question: So why all the fuss about gender in design?

We’re beginning a new series of posts that will help lead the discussion on exploring the different ways in which gender impacts (or ought to impact) design. The “fuss” makes sense when you realize that women control 85% of the spending, yet 71% of women feel they are only considered for beauty and cleaning products. These simple statistics clearly indicate that gender does matter in design and our profession hasn’t yet mastered how to authentically embrace it. We think the emphasis must now shift to exactly how it matters and the ways of including it in good design, with a more nuanced and complex dialogue around this deeper exploration.

Gender motivates much of human behavior, but cultural sensitivities prevent these differences from being commonly discussed or explored. We will move beyond our sensitivities and dive head first into opening up this topic. The Femme Den started with the notion that because the design world is male-dominated, women’s values, needs, and desires were not being well understood and represented in products on the marketplace. Through our work, we’ve learned many factors that need to be taken into consideration: How different hormones impact the reactions of men and women differently, how our bodies scientifically differ in complex and meaningful ways, how our brains process information differently, and how men and women talk differently about their product experiences. But we’ve also learned that businesses have a lot to learn about how gender impacts men.

Understanding gender necessitates building expertise — knowledge that can then inform good design of products for both him and her. Gender is complex; it’s not simply understood by just being a man or woman. If you’re interested in how gender impacts design and how to include it in good design, please join us for the conversation.