Porter Novelli

The technology and social media space is by and large male-dominated,  so it was refreshing at SXSW to sit in on a session that turned the tables and put women front and centre in the discussion.

In Designing Experiences for Women, presenters Jessica Ivins, senior experience designer at Happy Cog, and Brad Nunnally, a user experience designer at Perficient, asked the audience to look beyond the “shrink it and pink it” mindset, whereby products or websites are splashed with the colour pink, and – whisper it – content is dumbed down to theoretically appeal more strongly to women.

Their argument, which astonishingly still needs to be made in 2012, is that women want online experiences that are intuitive, don’t insult their intelligence and are strong on function not frills. And judging by the high proportion of women at the session (unusual at male-dominated SXSW), the theme had struck a chord with attendees.

Nunnally shared three tips for advertising and websites that will help resonate with real women:

1)      Show women outside the home

2)      Show women in roles other than mother

3)      Don’t show women doing yoga (this got a big laugh of recognition from the crowd).

He went on to talk about his experience of designing a network for women diagnosed with breast cancer. His research showed that as well as wanting information on the condition and treatment options, a tipping point occurs when women will also want to share information and personal experience with others. Typically women also will feel guilty at becoming a burden on others. Nunnally, a mid-20s man, said he created a mental picture of a 45-year-old woman who became the person he was developing for. He also looked at sites where others had shared their own stories, and thought about issues such as how he would tell friends and families, and make treatment options.

Ivins explored the idea of visible design- when you know a product is aimed at men or women – versus transparent design – where a product appeals to both sexes but is skewed more at one without being telegraphed. A great example, she said is the Gillette Venus razor (disclosure: Gillette is a Porter Novelli client), which has sold well because it was backed by a lot of research, it does what it does very well and is crucially designed for shaving legs, not faces.

Nunnally then talked about why women are less tolerant of bad design. While men will try and conquer a product, like a new TV, women will say the product is to blame, and are often too busy with other tasks to stick with it.

When marketing to women the pair agreed it is important to emphasise benefits over features and specs – women want to know whether something will save time, what task it will do – and also want to know how a product will help others in her life.

Ivins called out the Wii as a great example and a universally popular product, as it appeals to women but also their kids, spouse and can even be played by the  in-laws.

The final thought for the audience was not to stereotype your audience, but  take the time to understand them. Ultimately, if you get this wrong you are losing revenue opportunities.