Why should gadgets have a gender?
A survey by Comet has revealed that 48% of women now "feel more comfortable with technology than ever before". Does that make you wince, too? The statistic feels outdated, offensive and wrong for a whole heap of reasons.
Why should gadgetry have a gender? There's nothing masculine or feminine about a computer, phone, games console or operating system in the same way that there's nothing masculine or feminine about a door, bath, sofa or lampshade. They just exist.
Unfortunately, however, what does exist is bad design choices for all those things. Companies seem to go through a process a bit like this in the boardroom:
Executive 1: Surveys are showing that there aren't many women buying our mobile phones
Executive 2: Hmm. This is a problem. Women have money, and we want money.
Executive 3: What do women want from a phone?
Executive 2: A pink colour scheme! Flowery wallpaper! Frilly dangly bits! A compact mirror on the back!
Executive 1: Yes! That's it! Get that man a bigger office! Sod the recession, we're going to be quids in.
Don't misunderstand the point here - there's nothing inherently wrong with a phone, computer or USB drive that's pink, but make it pink because it looks good in pink. Or have a pink option among green, blue, black, white, indigo, burnt sienna, periwinkle and a host of other colours. Let people choose. Don't just make it pink because you want girls to buy it - they won't.
A completely unscientific survey we just conducted amongst six ladies revealed that amongst them, none have pink as their favourite colour. There were four greens, a red, and a blue, which suggests that female consumers aren't all that keen on pink anyway. And if they don't get a choice, it should be green - not pink.
Ir Stilma, assistant professor of Industrial Design Engineering at the University of Twente Enschede in the Netherlands, says: "gender should not be seen as men versus women, as different types of masculinity and femininity can be found in both women and men"
And female bloggers have written at length on how much they hate being treated differently. Priya Ganapati at Wired's Gadget Lab puts it well, saying: "Real women want stylish products. They want products that are fashionable, competitively priced and easy to use". They don't want special versions for their gender - they just want products that work.
It's no coincidence that the companies that get lauded most for their interface and design don't tailor them to a specific gender. There's a whole pile of examples we could take - Apple's minimalist white plastic and silver aluminium. Spotify's dark grey and green. Google and Microsoft's friendly and accessible rainbows of colour.
It's not just colour, either. Rounded edges are appealing to both sexes. A nifty opening mechanism is awesome, whatever gender you are. Dyson's vacuum cleaners strike a blow for equality in managing to defeat the woman-doing-the-housework stereotype by being pretty much gender-neutral.
So here's what's wrong with Comet's survey. First of all, conducting surveys like the one it has is sexist, and reinforces stereotypes that are increasingly irrelevant, and offensive, in modern society. Second, products should be designed and built around functions - not target markets, gender or otherwise.
Thirdly, be imaginative with colour. Girls may like pink, but they might also like green, red, silver or black. Men might like pink too, and they might like brown, white, purple or gold. And lastly, remember that for some people, gender isn't just M or F. If you're going to design phones for girls, how about phones for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered consumers too?
There's something that'll get Executives 1, 2 and 3 confused the next time they sit around the conference table.