What women want — and what they get!

Pack it in: Intelligent product designs that go beyond feminine stereotypes is a largely unmet need   -  ISTOCK.COM

Comfort, convenience, value, safety — and not necessarily the colour pink — but do brands deliver?

When Apple launched its super-sized iPhone X a few years ago, women users lashed out at the perceived sexism of the world’s most iconic tech company, saying it had not factored in small-handed humans — including women. Lesson learnt, the company has a Mini variant in its iPhone12 series, which small hands can hold comfortably and navigate apps one-handed.

It’s not just phones. When packing your suitcase, haven’t you wished for a few discreet compartments for your undergarments and other stuff, especially as airport checks these days often necessitate opening your luggage in public places.

Women may be the biggest consumers in the world, yet there is an unconscious bias in product design that favours men. Be it cars (for which airbags were designed using a male dummy, endangering women’s safety), phones, pens, apparel (why can’t they have pockets for money and a phone) or office chairs, not much thought is given to the female demographic.

Interestingly enough, even lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret failed to discern how the tastes of its women consumers had changed. More and more women now seek comfort and authenticity over sexiness — a fact that explains the roaring sale of sports bras — and the company’s flagging sales served as a rude awakening.

The good news is that voluble activism and a growing consciousness among manufacturers are leading to more inclusive designs that encompass women’s needs.

Pepsico, under the leadership of Indra Nooyi, thought of developing a women-oriented chips. Why chips — a gender-neutral product? Well, Nooyi contended that women don’t like to get their fingers messy, don’t like to crunch loudly in public.

Anisha Motwani, founder and director, Storm the Norm Ventures, an innovation and brand consulting firm, says product makers and marketers often underestimate the role of women as the primary spender with financial capability.

Whether at the product, packaging or communication level, there is need for a lot more insights and focus on women spenders, even for gender-neutral products, she says.

Diversity in design

On calls for having more women involved in product design, Geetika Kambli, Managing Partner, Future Factory, a product and services design company, points out, “You don’t have to be a woman to design for women. Just like you don’t have to be an athlete to design for Nike. But you sure need to know what it feels like to be one and live like one.”

Kambli says the first step is not about designing for men or women, but for “users”. It is lack of empathy in the design that causes products designed by men to fail for women, she says. “We design for stereotypes that are built in our heads. Do you remember cringing when looking at a woman’s product that is pink. Or just flowery,” she asks.

So, how can it be rectified?

“Through what we call inclusive design,” Kambli replies. One way to ensure empathy is to immerse yourself in the lives of your users, share in their fears and their dreams, she recommends.

Future Factory has a Centre for Behavioral Research, where designers can live and share in their users’ lives.

Several manufacturers, too, are taking the lead in this direction. Havells, which makes kitchen appliances, has an initiative called Consumer Passport Program (CPP) to engage with customers at their homes.

“We have realised that both the genders have a say in the purchase decision for all our product categories,” says Amit Tiwari, Vice-President – Marketing, Havells India.

“We ensure fair representation of the female point of view through a scientific sample planning across product categories,” Tiwari says.

Inclusive design

Havells has managed to break many myths, such as the belief that women are more involved with aspects such as colour, design and so on, while men focus on functionality. “However, with the changing demographics and increased involvement of millennials and Gen Z as the key decision-maker, we have noticed a blurring of gender-driven biases,” says Tiwari.

Spam-blocking app Truecaller, which last week launched the Guardians safety app for women, says it avoids gender stereotypes, too. Its choice of a softer colour palette and tone of voice for the product is based on research to evoke calmness, regardless of gender, it says, adding women were involved in the designing every step of the way.

As Kambli points out, industries now focus on personalisation to stay inclusive. Last-mile flexibility, distributed manufacturing, even service lines allow companies to create inclusive designs to suit every taste.

She mentions how Future Factory recently designed ceiling fans that can, quite literally, match the mood and tonality of the interior of your home. A fan that meets your taste, not that of the designer. “That’s true diversity,” she says.

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Published on March 07, 2021
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