Consumer Electronics Must Go Past 'Pink' to Appeal to Women

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It's not just about pink.

Designers of consumer electronics products need to go far beyond pink or purple cases for holding cell phones or laptops to appeal to female customers, a panel of designers told an audience at the International CES trade show.

"In electronics, women are treated as a niche market, when there are many considerations [to appeal to women] that need to be made beyond the superficial, like a pink skin for a phone," said Erica Eden, a senior industrial designer at Smart Design in New York.

"The first thing to realize in product design is that women don't need special products, and that they need to be designed for both men and women without stereotyping what women want," added Agnete Enga, also a senior industry designer at the firm.

Enga and Eden work in a group at the Smart Design dubbed the "Femme Den," which is made up of several female designers who actively research women's needs in consumer electronics. Women either buy or influence 80% of all purchases of goods and services, Eden said.

"The women's market is a huge business opportunity, but consumer electronics companies aren't connecting with their real needs," Eden said.

Part of the Femme Den's research includes interviews, recorded on video, with groups of women and men in various U.S. cities. Portions of the interviews were shared with the CES audience on Friday.

One of the group's findings is that consumer electronics are often heavily focused on adding features that go beyond the product's basic functions and don't fit into women's lives or meet their needs. One video segment featured an older woman named Pat who had purchased a camcorder to record portions of a trip throughout the U.S. But Pat found it hard to use the device and returned home "with hours of footage of her feet and the streets she walked," Eden said.

Eden said it became obvious that the camcorder "had too much on it" and that the simpler Flip digital video camera, a product by Pure Digital Technologies Inc., "was ideal for her."

The Femme Den and other teams at Smart Design worked with Pure Digital in designing the Flip, Eden said. "There was a fight to the very end [during the design] to keep the Flip simple," she noted.

Enga said designers need to "listen to people and design for them" instead of using the technology as the inception point for a product. "So much of high tech is not a question of stripping down the product to its bare bones but of being cognizant of what people want and need," Enga said.

Smart Design has developed several guiding principles for attracting women to products, including finding ways to make sure the product fits into women's lives and the people in their lives, including family. That means departing from what often attracts men to technology, since men will "often love it for what it is," Eden said.

In addition to the Flip, products and designs that have worked for women include a Hewlett-Packard Co. photo printer and Apple Inc.'s iPhone, the panel said. Certain products that have a personality, such as the pulsing icon on a Macintosh computer or the suggestions on a TiVo digital video recorder, are helpful, they added.

Designers need to consider how to "create an emotional link between the product and the user that makes the product like a little person," Enga said.

Women also are concerned about the safety and impact of technology, including how an electronic device might be used by children. Mothers will tend to wonder whether their children will end up spending hours alone playing a computer game when other activities might be more appropriate, Eden added.

Linda Tischler, a senior writer at Fast Company and the panel's moderator, joined Eden and Enga in naming the TV remote control as probably the device most despised by women, because there are so many function buttons that go far beyond basic functions. Another annoyance is the way many older models of cell phones require users to push the "End" button to make a phone call, Tischler noted.

Another reason why electronics products don't take women into account more often is that few product designers are women, the panelists noted. While nearly half of college graduates in industrial design are women, these female graduates often move into fashion or interior design, partly because they don't want to work in industrial design workgroups dominated by men. The problem is similar in the IT field, they noted.

Eden said it's difficult for women to find their place in design centers, which are dominated by men. "It's a real challenge for any new designer, male or female, compounded by the fact it's a boys' club," Eden said. "I have had to speak really loudly to be heard."

Eden and Enga praised their own male bosses for providing them the room to develop the Femme Den, but they acknowledged that other women designers face challenges.

Eden said she learned in working with male designers that she has to be creative in introducing ideas that she feels strongly about. "When I'm in a brainstorming session, if we're going on the wrong path, I'll sometimes think I want my idea heard, so I've personally found what works is if I say, 'Hold on, let's go at this from a different perspective.' "

Apparently, a perspective that is not necessarily pink.

This story, "Consumer Electronics Must Go Past 'Pink' to Appeal to Women" was originally published by Computerworld.

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