Designing "technology for women": a flowchart

Ars Technica's Casey Johnson has designed a handy checklist for people hoping to develop a "woman's" tech product without being sexist jerks. The first step is ensuring that there is, indeed, some need that is unique to women (an important step -- women don't need their own pens, Bic). And obviously, you can't just make a pink version or a version that has fewer features and declare it to be chick-ready. Johnson then counsels against avoiding merely making things more "design-y" and declaring it to be woman-friendly (guys like things that look good too).

The third sin of targeting a female demographic is making a product that is functionally worse than products in the same category (and then optionally applying either of the two problems above). Technology that is complicated or difficult to use is a man’s game, goes the theory. For women, it must be dumbed down to make it easier to use, or perhaps women simply don’t care if something has less functionality than the comparable “men’s products.”

Examples of this abound. Take smartphones targeted at women, or the mystifyingly bad ePad Femme tablet, released in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. HTC gave us the Rhyme, which was a worse smartphone than its contemporaries by most measures but which made up for that by having very fashionable purple accessories that women AND their Rhymes could wear together like a grown-up version of My Size Barbie. Microsoft has wisely not released its prototype bra that uses vital sensors, not for general health monitoring purposes, but to predict and prevent "emotional eating."

Flowchart: How not to design a "woman’s" tech product [Casey Johnston/Ars Technica]

(Image: Aurich Lawson/Ars Technica)

Notable Replies

  1. This is a tricky one. Look at bikes. Boys' bikes and girls' bikes are differentiated mostly by the testicle-damaging top tube, which is lowered to allow girls to fit their skirt in front of the seat. Boys seem to really really want that tube up high, because riding a bike designed for girls marks a boy as a sissy. Yet the boys would be in less pain if they rode girls' bikes.

    I have no idea what it means.

  2. That pink camo print on the guns is great... in case the shooter finds himself in a big vat of uncooked, mechanically-separated chicken meat.

  3. Let's open a can of worms here. GoldieBlox is a dumbed-down, prettified "engineering" toy that's about 0.00000001% as interesting for any kid as a old bin of Legos or an Erector set. To someone who's got a little girl who loves building stuff, it's insulting.

  4. The worst thing about the Komen pinkwashing is that money donated is used to lobby against any public funding for womens' health care and to sue other charities. I wish my marathon-running friends cared to learn more about what they support.

Continue the discussion

66 more replies