I read Casey Johnston’s recent Ars Technica article "Flowchart: How not to design a 'woman's' tech product" with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I agree completely with her core recommendations:
- Don't make it pink.
- Don't *just* make it pretty.
- Don't dumb it down.
But as an industrial designer who’s worked for companies large and small--often brought in specifically to create products for women--I know that’s not enough.
I design sex toys for women. Yet when I think about how a product should look so that it appeals to women, I don't actually think about the fact I'm “designing for women." When people think that way, their knee-jerk reflex is often to entertain all that we've been indoctrinated to think about what appeals to women: pinks, soft colors, rounded friendly shapes….
My take is that aesthetics is about achieving a visual balance, not about creating a look for a specific gender. I think about how to make the product sexy: How do I make it desirable? How do I make you want to take a closer look? Those are emotional questions, and the responses will obviously be different for different people. But like universal facial symmetry for beauty in humans, there’s something similar at play for products. In my experience, designs that achieve this visual balance resonate with men and women alike. An eye for balance and visual sensitivity is a nurtured trait that will be different for different designers, but the designer’s eye for aesthetic needs to be in harmony with a brand's aesthetic.
More importantly, focusing on looks alone is not enough. Achieving the right aesthetic balance needs to be part of a broader process to create the desired experience. A collaboration with users, engineers, designers, researchers, marketers, and other stakeholders, this process requires one to put ego aside. As renowned designer John Maeda once said, "Good design is about clarity over style, and accountability over ego." It is paramount not to lose sight of the experience you want the user to have; this is the critical brief that will guide the product to success or failure.
I've seen that brief ill-defined too many times; even good aesthetics can’t make up for a poor understanding of the user experience. But when the aesthetics are bad, like some of the stereotypical designing-for-women traps mentioned in Johnston’s article, that’s just the nail in a product’s coffin.
Ti Chang is co-founder and head of design at Crave. She is an award-winning designer who holds a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Institute of Technology and an MA in Design Products from Royal College of Art.