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Special Interest Group (SIG)

SIG #5: Gender and User-Centered Design:
A Holistic Approach

Wednesday, 6:30 - 7:30

SIG outline and description

This Special Interest Group looks at the issue of Gender and Design. Rather than concentrating on the cognitive and physical aspects of gender the emphasis here is on aspects of gender which affect a wider range of the user experience. The SIG will look at the changing roles of men and women in society and the implications of this for product design. It will be argued that traditional approaches to addressing gender in design have been founded on impoverished gender constructs. These have tended to be based primarily on the physical differences between the genders with occasional considerations of cognitive differences. The premise of this SIG is that there may also be emotional, social and ideological differences between genders, which may be important for design and that usability professionals need to be aware of these when specifying user requirements within the design process. Holistic approaches to understanding women and men can give a far richer understanding as we seek to create products that give a fulfilling user experience and which demonstrate a respectful consideration of diversity. The aim is to construct an inventory of gender issues that should be taken into consideration in the design process and an agenda for research and practice with respect to gender differences.

Part 1 - A Model for Investigating Gender and Design:

The SIG will open with a 15-minute presentation looking at the ways in which usability practitioners have traditionally dealt with gender issues. It will be argued that the use of impoverished models of gender have led to the creation of products which, while supporting effective and efficient usage, may not have appealed to their users on an emotional level. A richer gender construct will be proposed as a start point for discussion. This will look at four dimensions of gender, the first of which has dominated traditional constructs of gender within the usability profession and the other three of which offer new insights to the usability practitioner. They are as follows:

Physio - this dimension covers physical aspects of gender such as differences in physical strength and body dimensions. Usability professionals have traditionally used tools such as anthropometric tables and strength data to address these issues in user requirements capture.

Psycho - this dimension looks at cognitive and emotional issues. Usability theoreticians appear to be divided on the issue of the extent to which men and women differ cognitively and, in practice, the issue is rarely addressed in user requirements capture. Meanwhile gender differences in emotional reactions to products are rarely addressed in a systematic way. A number of theories about the different ways in which men and women respond emotionally to design will be put forward for debate. Both environmental and evolutionary theories and their implications for design will be included.

Socio - this is about the effect that social constructs of gender have on the ways in which people respond to designs. Indeed, it will be argued that the social relationship between design and gender can be seen as circular and iterative. Decisions with respect to the design of products aimed at men or women can challenge or reinforce society's view of gender. More recent usability practice has begun to tackle the issue of how to specify social aspects of user experience within user requirement specification. Case studies will be used to illustrate how this can be done effectively.

Ideo - this covers differences in tastes, values and aspirations between genders and looks at how 'idealized' concepts of masculinity and femininity have changed over the years. The role of products in affirming positive views of masculinity and femininity is discussed. Again, case studies illustrate how gender specific user requirements can be defined within respect to this dimension and how they can be implemented in the design process.

The discussion will center on the advantages and disadvantages of contemporary versus traditional usability approaches to the issue of gender. Participants will be encouraged to share their own experiences of tackling gender issues when setting user requirements, citing both successful and unsuccessful approaches and the lessons to be learned.

Part 2 - Questions for Discussions:

  • What issues should we address when considering gender and design?
  • How do gender issues affect user requirement specifications?
  • Does design play a part in ascribing gender roles?
  • Are there any useful sources of information with respect to issues of gender and usability in design?

Part 3 - Outcome:

The results of this SIG will be collated and mailed to the participants. The responses in the above questions will be collated and mailed to participants. The aim is to gain an introduction and set an agenda for a holistic approach to gender and design.

Part 4 - Handout:

We will provide a handout with three examples of design case studies that illustrate gender and design issues in the design of usability:
  • Maclaren Techno Stroller. This stroller was designed to appeal to men in the context of the increasing involvement of men in childcare. It has been extremely successful as have a number of similarly designed childcare products. Many of the user requirements were framed in gender terms, in particular with respect to dimensions beyond physio and psycho.
  • Canon Ixus Camera [also know as Canon Elph]. This product was designed to appeal to young women of a high socio-economic status. The aim was to break away from 'black box' cameras that look like they have been designed 'by guys' in labs for guys in labs'. This camera has been extremely successful in the marketplace and is much loved by both women and men.
  • Smith and Wesson LadySmith Handgun. Smith and Wesson realized that their market was heavily male dominated and decided to make a gun to appeal to women. The approach was to gun that was both well fitted to the female hand and also elegant and decorative. The company built a multifaceted user experience around the product including user training and gun club membership for women. This example may touch on a number of ethical issues associated with gender specific design.


Dilnot, Clive, 1993. Gendered or Generic - Questioning the Veracity of Universal Design, in I.D. [USA] Magazine, Vol. 40, No 6, Nov. 1993.
Fenster, Tovi, (ed.) 1999. Gender, Planning, and Human Rights. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Galway and Jordan, 2001. Gender-Blended Design, in Innovation, IDSA Magazine, pp. 72
Helgeson, Vicki, S. 2002. The Psychology of Gender, Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall.
Junginger, Sabine (in prep.). Gender and Design - How Design shapes Gender Roles and Sterotypes.
Kirkham, Pat, (ed.),1996. The Gendered Object, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
McDonagh-Philp, Deana, The Masculine Kettle and Other Stories, in Newdesign, Vol 1, No 1, 2000. pp. 32-34.
Popcorn, F., 2000. Eveolution - The Eight Truth of Marketing to Women, New York: Hyperion.
Rothschild, Joan, (ed.) 1999. Design and Feminism - Re-Visioning Spaces, Places, and Everyday Things, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.


Dr. Patrick W. Jordan is an international design and marketing consultant, author and professional speaker. His theories and methodologies have influenced the design of many of the products that we find in our homes, cities and workplaces.

Pat is President and CEO of the Contemporary Trends Institute [CTI], an international trends and branding consultancy. Clients of CTI include multinational companies from many different industry sectors, including: aerospace, consumer goods, computers and IT, consumer electronics, medical, telecommunications, food and beverage and retail.

Pat is a former Vice-President of Symbian, where he was also head of design. Symbian is the world’s largest mobile-communications consortium, jointly owned by Motorola, Nokia, Psion, Ericsson, Sony and Panasonic. In addition, Symbian also licenses to Kenwood, Philips, Sanyo and Siemans. Prior to that he was head of the Trends and Identity Unit at the Philips Design group serving the Domestic Appliances and Personal Care divisions of Philips Electronics. This Division also includes the brands Philishave and Norelco. The Unit provided these divisions with support for the design and communication of brand Identity.

Dr. Jordan has been invited to lecture at conferences and seminars all over the world. He has over 70 publications in peer reviewed journals, books and conference proceedings. He has written or edited 5 books, three of which have reached # 1 in the Amazon.com category bestsellers lists, and is currently the world’s best selling author in his field. His books include Designing Pleasurable Products (Taylor and Francis 2000). This has become a standard design and marketing text within both industry and academia.

Pat has a visiting lectureship at London College of Fashion and is a guest lecturer at University College London and Westminster, Leeds, Limerick, Brunel, Pittsburgh and Loughborough Universities. Pat is also on the advisory board of Delft University where he reviews and advises on the university’s design research agenda and is a non-executive director of Sense Worldwide a leading international trends bureau. He has won numerous professional awards for design and related activities. His forthcoming books How to Make Brilliant Stuff that People Love and Make a Bunch of Money Out of It and Supertrends will be released by Wylie and Kogan-Page in 2002 and 2003.

Pat is head of the Trends and Strategy section of the Industrial Designers Society of America. He is featured in Marquis Who’s Who in the World and The Dictionary of International Biography. He currently holds the Nierenberg Chair at Carnegie-Mellon University, the most prestigious appointment in US design education.

Sabine Junginger currently studies for her PHD in Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She is interested in the role trends play in New Product Development and their implications for user requirements in user centered design. She has a Masters in Communication Planning & Design from Carnegie Mellon University. Her background includes Journalism, Marketing and Design. She has worked with Siemens Corporate Design and Designworks/BMW.