Does gender matter in Design?

What is the role of Design as our current society is changing and challenging gender stereotypes? Being Design such a visual discipline and so tied to user psychology, we need to acknowledge how such a big and impactful behavioral change needs to be considered and reflected when we design our products.

❓ What is Gendered Design?

Put simply, it is a design that targets a particular gender demographic. This is tied to how a product is marketed because the more specific the target audience is, the more the user will feel like the product is made for them.

We see this on most products we use in our daily lives, even when the product is the same. An example of this is products like deodorants or razors. The same product is communicated in very different manners depending on the target audience’s gender. Usually, men’s advertisements use a more aggressive tone and color palette, while women’s advertisements use softer and more playful language.

If we look at ads from only a few decades ago we see that this language is even more radical, because gender stereotypes and roles have evolved in the last few decades, and we can see that societal change in the way this product is sold and communicated.

Side by side comparison of advertisements targeting men (to the left) and women (to the right)
Side by side comparison of different visual communication styles for product advertisements targeting men (to the left) and women (to the right).

📱 But what about digital products?

Physical products can be communicated very differently from digital ones. If we look at our past work at Pixelmatters we can see how being aware of the end consumer influenced our design choices.

One of our clients, Sports Betting Dime, is a brand that revolves around bets for sports games. Because of this, it uses a bolder communication: it has strong colors, strong typography, and shapes with hard edges. On the other hand, the website designed for CBDcity, has an earthy palette and tone. Their products are not particularly meant for women, but lifestyle brands such as this are associated with a sense of relaxation, self-care, and nurturing.

However, we’ve also worked on projects that can are completely agnostic of gender.

We’ve worked on Porto., a news website. Even traditional newspapers were never interested in catering to a gendered demographic. Their product needs to be available and accessible to everyone. Even our own website is very neutral, which is common in the tech industry. We’ve also recently started using more a dark-blue color than the traditional Pixelmatters orange.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right! Orange is not a particularly a feminine or masculine color.

So what do we mean by neutral?

Screenshots of the websites discussed in the paragraph above: Sports Betting Dime, CBDcity, Porto., Pixelmatters

👀 What does gender-neutral look like?

Through design graphic elements, gender can be expressed in a lot of different ways.

Fonts

Colors

Imagery

Side by side comparison of Feminine, Neutral, and Masculine fonts, colors, and iconography

🖥 What does this look like in practice?

When should we actually use these principles? When does it make sense for our business? While some products are meant to be targeted towards some audiences, some others need to be neutral in order to reach a larger pool of users.

Sites like Amazon, Ryanair, and Booking use Yellow and Blue and are very gender agnostic. This is because that demographic isn't relevant to their brand. They care about being accessible to all, so they can't exclude anyone through design.

Similarly, social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have changed throughout the years. As Product Design trends have evolved, we've seen these apps strip themselves of strong branding color, and have become visually very neutral.

The reason for this has been not only the new minimalist design wave, but to bring the focus towards the content, and having the brand become secondary.

They now use black, white, and the occasional blue. There aren't any other strong branding elements - iconography is also very plain and neutral. If we covered the logo we might not even distinguish them from many of the apps on the App Store!

Apps that have graphic elements we might consider gender-neutral aim to be used by a large demographic. Through design, they mean to include, rather than exclude.

Screenshots of the Booking (Left) and Amazon (Right) websites

🧠 Food for thought

When should gender be avoided, and when can it be helpful to communicate a product or brand?

As society evolves its own perception of gender, how do you see this affecting the design world in the future?

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Jessica Triana
Product Designer

Because, every pixel matters.

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