Take Aways: The Trap of Gendered Design and How to Overcome It

Take Aways: The Trap of Gendered Design and How to Overcome It

In April, Jlona Troll & Anna Hanchar talked about the four traps one can easily get caught into at any stage of the product development process. They outlined the traps and how to avoid them in the following take aways.

Starting thousands of years ago female ancient warriors have been mistaken as men or needed to pretend to be men to pursue their job. Till now we have gendered languages where the male form is used as a general form for all. Some artificial intelligence-based tools, built recently, have a bias towards white males as they have been designed by white males and use existing data, which is primarily gathered for, again, – white males. Female products are still often seen and understood as something pink, simple and small while the features like safety, addressing specific needs and context of use are neglected in product design.

There are 4 traps that are easy to get caught in at any stage of your product development process. They can result in design fails that in some cases even can be fatal. However, we can overcome these traps by using the principles of User Centered Design and having the right focus.


One Gender Is Completely Ignored during the Definition of User Groups and/or Personas.

Why it is a problem:
Women and men are different in terms of weight, height, size and body proportions. If you use the male body type for space suits or uniforms, and females also will use those
products, you will run into a problem.

Psychological factors can get forgotten as well. Here one of the many examples, where it works poorly: not including the data of a menstrual cycle in a weight loss app while the cycle stages have in impact on eating behaviour and food perception can lead to a less efficient way to work towards the goal.

How to overcome this:

  • Do due diligence, consult your marketing or sales team, get any data of the demographics. Simple test: will men and women both use the product? If the answer is yes, mind this amazing fact.
  • If this is not a clearly one-gender-specific-product like a tampon: make sure to include the most important potential users and derive their biggest needs.
  • Use a broader, specifically graded range when it comes to anatomic & ergonomic requirements – NOT one size fits all.


Target Group Is Described by Using the Stereotypical View

Why it is a problem:
Making assumptions about a human’s need based on stereotypes is neat. You can say that women are simple minded pink lovers while men are experts and explorer and base the whole big project on this idea. As a result, you can also lose a significant part of potential customers. Using your own “common sense” is fine but base your work on user research and science performs better.

How to overcome this:

  • Use any project data source to understand who the users are and what are their needs: Desk research, interviews, contextual inquiry, analytics are here to help.
  • Derive characteristics for your user group that include more than gender stereotypes: “What other products does this group use? How does their environment look? What do they enjoy most? How do they like to work – precise, fast, neat? And so on…”.


Designed in a Non-Diverse Team Which Knows Only One Side of the Medal

Why it is a problem:
Imagine a situation when all feedbacks and often decisions come from one (e.g. male) perspective. No matter if male or female, this is how our cognition works: the easiest way is to see the world though your own glasses and trust your gut feeling. The team sympathizes and relates to a specific user group and works for it as well. If your team mostly consists of men this will lead to an unconscious bias – which will sympathize men.

How to overcome this:

  • Try to create diverse environment (gender, age, background, skills, etc.).
  • Involve users from diverse backgrounds and make the team observe and participate.
  • Make the person who decides about the product hear different voices and see different perspectives.
  • Make the user group tangible to the team: use mood boards, have your personas omni present, take the team to user tests or show them the testing-videos.


Tested with Users, That Did Not Correspond to the Actual User Group

Why it is a problem:
Women are defined as one of the target groups, BUT they do not participate in the actual user tests. This used to happen in industrial design, e.g. cars which led to safety issues, or in the health industry where drugs were rolled out without testing on women. Sometimes also men are neglected as they are more difficult to be recruited. In online surveys female responders tend to answer rather than male ones. Either way you will have some biased results.

How to overcome this:

  • Recruit the right participants for your tests and this means not only male/female, but
    also other demographics (age, race, income, education, etc.).

Summarized in one sentence: Be inclusive throughout your entire design journey!

Click on the icon to view the slides.

Some Literature the Talk Was Based On

First All-Woman Space Walk Puts Spotlight on Spacesuit Design


Most Popular Cars for Women Vs. Men

Coded Bias


Women-Centered Design: The Future of Innovation & Investment

Menstrual Health Hub

Diversity Potentials Study: Wearables

Design People

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – a World Designed for Men

The Guardian

Battle of the Sexes


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