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Monday, Feb. 26, 2007 at 6:53 am

Do We Need More Female Web Designers?

By Holly Buchanan
February 26th, 2007

Courtesy of PlanetDesign.bizI was reading an article about the lack of women speakers at web conferences. Does gender diversity really matter? Isn’t a good speaker a good speaker? Why should it matter whether a speaker is male or female?

In web design, does gender really matter? Isn’t a good designer a good designer?

I specialize in marketing to women online. One questions I often get is, “If I’m targeting women, should I get a woman to design my website?”

My answer is always, “Hire the best web designer money can buy.” Really good web designers understand and design for their audience. Less skilled designers may default to what they know, or worse, what they like. That’s where you enter the danger zone. The further the designer is from your target audience, the harder they’ll have to work to put aside their own likes and biases.

I’ve read several studies on gender preference on the web. The University of Glamorgam got a lot of press on their study. While I think a lot of their findings may be overgeneralized, I do believe there is a real difference in what women and men prefer online.

At Future Now, our holistic process, Persuasion Architecture [click for whitepaper download], uses personas to plan online and multi-channel experiences from the customer’s perspective(s). But I still pull in male colleagues to “litmus test” my personas. For instance, we were working on a dating website and I found some of our client’s research on their male customers really hard to believe. But sure enough, my male colleagues said it was true. So, I went totally against my gut and put it in. Alas, I’m not a guy, and there are some things about guys I’ll just never understand.

But what I do understand are my own empathy limitations. Do you? I just have to laugh when I write about marketing messages targeting women and a guy comes up to me and says something like, “Women don’t think that. That’s not what they want, this is what they want.” Believe it or not, it happens all the time. These are “marketing experts,” ergo they know all. I spend a lot of time listening to 30-something guys tell me they understand what I want more than I do.

I have to wonder what might happen if I walked up to young male marketer targeting 18 year-old guys and said to him, “18 year-old guys don’t want that. That’s not how they think. This is what they really want.” He’d probably laugh me out of the room!

“This middle-aged woman thinks she knows more about 18 year-old guys than I do? Give me a break.” (Note: “middle-aged woman” would be his words, not mine.)

We all have biases based on our own experiences. One of the most important insights from the University of Glamorgam study is that each of the sexes preferred websites designed by their own sex. (Check out the discussion at molly.com for a great debate on the subject.)

Hire the best speaker, hire the best web designer, but broadening gender diversity can only help ensure all viewpoints and natural biases are represented. If you’re designing a website targeting women, make sure women are involved in the process. If you’re designing a website aimed at men, make sure men are in involved in the process. Check in with each other. Dialog is everything, and I bet you’ll all be better marketers and designers because of it.

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Comments (12)

  1. [...] Original post by Holly Buchanan and software by Elliott [...]

  2. Not a problem in my world. Almost all the people I work with are women. Our designer, senior IA, junior IA, web developer and others.

  3. Being female and an owner of several websites and more in the pipeline, I have experienced extreme gender bias on the Internet particularly in my comments to males about the overall designs of web sites and website templates available on the Internet. They almost all appear to be very masculine in design and not really suited to what I would prefer. Please note that all of the males I have spoken to have been extremely helpful when it came to giving assistance yet as soon as I mention that there appears to be this gender bias, they become extremely defensive, even my male friends and colleagues. Below is the type of response I tend to get from them

    “It’s a bunch of junk. I read the article and it didn’t say anything. I think it’s a bunch of people with research money that has nothing better to do with their time.

    I would appreciate if you could send me any further information or research regarding this topic and would like permission to re-print the above article or anything that you send me on my website at http://www.craftimpressions.com/articlefriendly/

    Look forward to your response.

  4. Marion,

    yes, you can certainly reprint the article as long as you credit us and include a link back.

    I write extensively on marketing to women online at
    http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com/

  5. [...] gender matter when it comes to web design? Does it matter whether a man or a woman designs your site? I am on the record as saying "hire the best web designer you can." But if you are [...]

  6. To whom it may concern,
    I said that in the interest of being politically correct.
    There should be no gender bias in anything. That is my opinion. Take it or leave it.
    Sincerely,
    Missy

  7. They almost all appear to be very masculine in design and not really suited to what I would prefer…

  8. nice information!!

  9. I appreciate your insights and the good information you have shared here. All points are significantly important for me and your article have helped me a great deal.
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  10. [...] Do We Need More Female Web Designers? by Holly Buchanan [...]

  11. women have a great sense of style and it would be great if more women could help

  12. Many of the design shops I have worked at utilize alot of women is in the graphic and web design area. Programming and coders seem to be more man heavy.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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