She likes pastels, he likes dark colors. She focuses on people. He focuses on objects. Are these unfounded stereotypes or bona fide gender differences that should be seriously considered by anyone designing products, displays, showrooms, Web sites and other marketing materials?
In an exhaustive review of academic studies on gender preferences going back decades and reaching across multiple cultures, researcher Gloria Moss concludes that there are significant differences between male and female aesthetics that marketers need to consider to be successful.
In her book Gender, Design and Marketing, Moss discusses the way gender influences visual perception, and explores design, visual aesthetics, language and communication differences between men and women.
One of her most interesting findings is that men tend to like products and designs created by men, and women tend to like ones created by women (this is without knowing whether a man or woman created the product or Web site). What’s more, “these designs are often very different to those of the other gender. For example, he uses and likes a sparing use of colors while she uses and likes a greater number of colors. He creates and likes a technical appearance while she prefers less technicality,” Moss writes. The author also finds that “women’s preferences are much stronger and more polarized than men’s.”
In addition, women relate best to images of women, and men relate to images of males.
Moss charges, “…when you examine the products available on the market…you often find that these are produced using a masculine aesthetic.” So, even when due diligence has been done with market research, if all of the choices in products, showrooms, ads or Web sites have been designed by men, then none will truly resonate with women.
This is dangerous because aesthetics is often a key factor in purchase decisions. Moss reports that there is a tendency for people to infer that a product they judge to be beautiful also has a higher quality. For example, in one study, people said they would pay a premium of 55% for a toaster they believed was more beautiful.
THE VALUE OF BEAUTY
The value of beauty depends on the context in which the product is used, Moss points out. Where the product is connected with personal identity, such as with a kitchen or bath, beauty assumes greater value.
Research has found that if people like something, they will spend more time looking at it. This may sound obvious, but often dealers, showrooms and manufacturers insist on using images they imagine will draw attention by being highly unusual, and perhaps even shocking. Yet these are unlikely to engage a viewer.
Familiarity can have an impact on preferences, so frequency and saturation matter, Moss says. Don’t keep changing a Web site or ad just because you get bored with it.
To achieve likeability, Moss says it’s essential to understand male/female preferences in language and visual presentation.
Men tend to be more individualistic and engage in “I” talk. They are object centered. They focus on accomplishing a single task at a time. Men want minimal details about a product and are interested in how it works. So in doing a kitchen or bath, they may make one decision at a time on a product. And if they are considering, say, a touchless faucet, they will want to know the mechanics behind it.
Women tend to have collective concerns and engage in “we” talk. They are more people centered and tend to multi-task, so when shopping, they will make simultaneous product decisions on a project.
Women are perfectionists when it comes to shopping. They like a lot of information and will not buy until their wish list is satisfied. They are most interested in what product features do. A touchless faucet means less mess because sticky fingers never have to touch it.
Men tend to do the research, analysis and product comparison, choose a brand and then rationalize the decision. Women do the same, but in addition, they engage in more right-brain activity such as talking to friends, gathering opinions and visualizing themselves using the product. They will also consider whether or not the experience of dealing with a business is pleasant. Bottom line: It’s much more important to make a personal connection with a female buyer.
Males and females also differ, Moss says, on the graphic elements they prefer. Male-created graphics often incorporate vehicles, printed words, standard typefaces, images of males, caricatures of human forms, humans shown in profile, skyscrapers and towers, technology and machines, and violent themes.
Female-generated graphics often incorporate static objects, plants, flowers, still lives, furniture, landscapes and pictorial elements rather than printed words, decorated typography, images of females, caricatures, frontal views of humans, smiling faces, houses, windows, rooms and themes related to life.
A higher portion of males respond to images that are form dominant whereas a higher proportion of women react to color-dominated images.
In other design preferences, females tend to prefer rounded lines and shapes, colorful designs, lots of detail and less conventional type styles. Women also have an affinity for soft surfaces, bright colors, light pastel colors and surfaces with pattern and detail. Women are more likely than men to create two-dimensional images.
Moss analyzed the results of a contest among boys and girls to color in a drawing of a range. Girls were more likely to color the handles and knobs in different colors than the body of the range.
When it comes to ads, women prefer more original ones as well as category-related ads. They respond to ads with information about multiple features. They show an equal preference for depictions of large or small groups, and prefer seeing harmonious relationships.
For women, the act of observing or imagining another person in a particular emotional state can activate similar brain patterns. Emotional mirroring is very important for women, so showing positive emotional contexts of women enjoying a new kitchen or bath will be powerful.
Male design preferences tend toward hard surfaces, a machine aesthetic, depiction of functional objects and moving objects, deep dark colors, clear surfaces and straight angular lines. They are more apt to create three-dimensional images.
Overall they prefer more conventional ads than women. When it comes to information delivery, they want simple facts with just one or two features highlighted. They respond to attribute-oriented and comparative copy, depictions of competitive situations and large groups.
If you think considering all of these preferences is not worth the trouble, consider this: Moss reports that, on 23 factors in Web site design, 13 had statistically significant differences depending on whether they were designed by men or women, with women’s preferences stronger.