❓ 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.
📱 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?
👀 What does gender-neutral look like?
Through design graphic elements, gender can be expressed in a lot of different ways.
- Fonts are a strong visual queue, and a lot can be communicated with the right font;
- As designers, we often choose fonts that enforce the message they’re conveying;
- Usually, neutral fonts are more accessible, and are the most used in the tech world, as can be seen on the Pixelmatters website.
- Brands that use pastel and bright colors, such as pink and purple tend to market their products towards a more feminine audience;
- More masculine colors would be darker tones and the use of red and blacks. Notice how these are the colors we saw earlier in the Sports Betting Dime website;
- A neutral palette would include blacks, whites, yellow, or blue;
- If you notice, blue is in all these palettes. When we’re kids we associate blue with boys and pink with girls. But in reality, studies show that blue is the most common favorite color of adults. Blue can be quite neutral depending on the context it’s being used on. Additionally, there are studies of color theory and psychology that state that each color makes us feel something different.
- This can mean icons, illustrations, photos, or other graphic elements;
- If we use colorful tones and rounded shapes, we’re gonna connect it to a more feminine visual language;
- Masculine icons would have sharp edges and neutral tones;
- And neutral is… something in between.
🖥 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.
🧠 Food for thought
When should gender be avoided, and when can it be helpful to communicate a product or brand?
- Can it be helpful by targeting a specific demographic, or can it be hurtful by excluding users? Can this strip your brand of its identity?
As society evolves its own perception of gender, how do you see this affecting the design world in the future?
- Design influences society and society influences design back. We react to how people are changing, and to their behavior, but they are also shaped by the products we produce.