Does gender diversity impact User Experience Design? Discuss…

imageRecently I attended an event at Skype entitled ‘Hey girl, lets talk about UX and gender‘. The synopsis of the event was:

 

We’ve been having a think about what it means to create inclusive designs and work in a diverse team. How is gender identity important (or not) to modern users and what is it anyway?

TL;DR

Here were my Top 4 takeaways:

  1. If hosting a panel discussion on Diversity then have a diverse line up on your panel to help the credibility of your message and generate greater diversity of thought
  2. Gender is much more important to marketers, than it is for designers. Product designers should focus on personas (user groups with particular traits) and these personas should be gender neutral
  3. If you ask for a users’ gender (or any other personal attribute), ask yourself why you need it. Will knowledge of the personal attribute lead to a more targeted experience? Will knowledge affect the inclusivity of your product or lead to unconscious bias?
  4. Unconscious bias can impact experiences and design. Whilst training around unconscious_bias can help us, it is only human that we are all guilty of this from time to time. Having diverse teams will help identify, challenge and eliminate these unconscious bias

I went in to the session with many examples of how generational diversity, cultural diversity and (dis)ability diversity affect user experience and design, but I questioned the significance of gender diversity in design. The session raised some interesting points and thought provoking discussion, but fell short of a key (and all encompassing) topic – that is diversity of thought and diverse makeup of teams.

Share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

 

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Detailed insight

The InterTech Diversity Forum is a professional network which encourages LGBT+ diversity and inclusion in the UK technology sector for the benefit of the individual, the organisations they represent and the industry overall. This event was specifically targeted at increasing gender diversity in the group and asking the important question of ‘does gender affect user experience design’.

The Gender Diversity and UX session took the form of networking, followed by a one hour moderated panel discussion, and closed off with further networking. I had mixed thaughty on the session as whilst it generated a lot of discussion I felt the themes hit the wrong angle and focused on superficial aspects of gender and UX. The event had a good turn out from new and existing members of the InterTech group (with a lot of diversity in terms of gender and technology related backgrounds). Unfortunately the panel lacked Diversity – consisting of 4 junior-mid ranking females all from Skype (the host for the event) and many working in similar teams. To have taken more value I would have liked to see a cross-IT industry, multi-gender line up with varying seniorities to generate wider discussion. That said the session had a good balance between panel and audience contributions, with the hour rounding out with a number of unanswered questions across the floor.

Topic wise the event focused on the more visible signs of gender diversity, rather than the drivers. Key questions included:

  • When designing forms should values for the gender field be binary (Male/Female) or should we follow Facebook’s approach and have 20+ gender values (or open text)?
    • The answers varied and audience were split
    • A key question to come out of it was ‘why are we collecting gender’ as an attribute in sign up forms. The audience were again split as some (mainly attendees with a marketing/advertisement role/background) said gender was a key attribute to deliver a targeted technology experience (e.g. shopping online) and ads better targeted at individuals, whilst others felt it was irrelevant
    • There was some debate as to whether knowledge of gender was a good thing, with many women in the room noting they were targeted for female-oriented products (e.g. pregnancy related) when they were clearly not the target audience – thus implying knowledge of a person’s gender does not always provide a better experience
  • Does gender change the experiences you design?
    • The answers focused on the more visible difference
    • Several designers in the room pointed out that products and websites designed for girls tended to feature more rounded corner as women preferred the softer, rounded edges while for men these would be sharper, bolder lines
    • Colour was a heavily discussed topic, with the stereotypes of pink for girls and blue for boys featuring prominently. References were made to the betting and gambling industry – which use colour to appeal to different audiences. Comparisons were made between sports betting websites and bingo sites.
    • I learnt that the association of pink for girls and blue for boys was not always that way, and in the 20th Century the association was the other way round – changing only around World War I and II. Wikipedia discusses this in more detail
    • Many designers pointed out that a good product should not alienate one audience or the other and should not reinforce the colour stereotypes
    • Rather than designed for men or for women, a good design will design for different types of users with different traits (personas). We should try to make these personas gender neutral, and focus more on their role and what the user is trying to achieve – e.g. students trying to do X, executives needing Y, single parents who need Z
    • The question missed an important aspect of the psychology and differences in how men and women think and process information. Any psychologists out there please do share if this is significant in the comments
  • Has your HR development removed gender labels from policy?
    • Examples were using the term ‘paternal leave’ rather than ‘maternity leave’
    • This question touched on gender inclusivity and LGBT inclusivity in order to remove unconscious bias and make the user more at ease
  • Is it important to have a mentor of the same gender? Does this extend to role models?
    • Everyone was in agreement that it was important to have a mentor in your career and to have role models that you can aspire towards
    • The consensus was that gender isn’t the key aspect here, but that it is more important to find a mentor who can relate to your experiences and provide you a balanced viewpoint input. Indeed it was noted that throughout your career you may have many mentors, ranging from mentoring for a few days, to a lifetime – depending on the particular situation and experiences required
    • With roles models it was important to find people you could identify with – and whilst this may be gender specific that would be a personal thing

I went in to the session with many examples of how generational diversity, cultural diversity and (dis)ability diversity affect user experience and design, but I questioned the significance of gender diversity in design. The session raised some interesting points and thought provoking discussion, but fell short of a key (and all encompassing) topic – that is diversity of thought.

 

So what are you thoughts and experiences?

Join the discussion via the comments…

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