How to keep women in the product design equation

It’s a glaringly obvious point to make, but overlooking a consumer segment that comprises around half the population is a very rash thing to do, regardless of whether or not there’s a recession on.

So companies that fail to take into account the needs of women are taking a needless risk and, according to Agnete Enga, New York-based senior product designer at US consultancy Smart Design, they need to do more than just paint their product pink to make amends.

‘You have to consider the whole experience, not just the product, but also the identity, the message, the packaging,’ says Enga, who claims that women influence 80 per cent of purchasing decisions in the US. ‘You have to focus on the emotional and physical differences between men and women.’

Norwegian-born Enga is giving a talk, called How to Please a Woman, at the DMI Design Management Europe conference in Milan on 2 April. She is one of the founder members of Femme Den, an internal Smart Design group founded three years ago which looks at how different genders approach design.

Enga highlights current design failures that are alienating female consumers. One area is in sports equipment. ‘Men’s and women’s bodies function very differently,’ she says, ‘but often sports companies think of women physically as just miniature men.

‘This can mean that sports protection equipment designed for men, who feel the impact in their muscles when they turn, can actually cause damage when used by women, who feel the impact in their joints.’

Enga cites the Oxo Good Grip hedge shears, a project Smart Design has worked on, as one product that has been redesigned with women’s physicality in mind. ‘Women don’t have as much physical strength, so it helps to make products lighter and to use effective innovations,’ she says.

‘With the Oxo shears we did a lot of research on how women use the tool and changed the handles from being big and chunky and the grip from being quite difficult.’

But Enga warns against going too far down the route of designing for a single gender, and alienating either male or female consumers. ‘When designing hardware and tools, for example, you shouldn’t make the tools too feminine – when women are doing DIY work they want to feel in control.’

As well as looking at the physical differences, Enga also advocates taking into account the emotional differences between men and women, which, she says, influence the way the different genders shop.

‘When they buy things, men tend to think of the product first – what it can do – whereas women think of the lifestyle, how the product can fit into their life.’

Smart Design’s HP Portable Photo Printer is, she says, a lifestyle-centred woman-friendly product. ‘It’s the first printer that is genuinely small and portable,’ she says. ‘Its photo-printing facilities also fit into the lifestyle of women, who tend to be the people in the family who take photographs.’

Enga also holds up Apple as an exemplar of a company that has very successful cross-gender appeal. ‘It’s an overused example,’ she says, ‘but Apple is a brand that focuses on the lifestyle aspects very well.

‘Apple stores, which are very lifestyle-centred, very friendly and have very good customer services, are also one of the few technology stores that women enjoy going to.’

Agnete Enga’s tips on how to design for women

• Consider physicality – women tend to have less physical strength than men and their bodies function in different ways

• Consider the brand image of the product – women tend to shop for products that will fit into their lifestyles, whereas men are more interested in the technical aspects

• Use good store design – women notice store atmosphere much more than men, so tactics such as widening aisles or making more attractive point-of-sale displays can help attract them

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