It’s a Boy? When Design Has Gender

Sooner or later it happens. Little kids develop notions about “boy colors” and “girl colors.” These notions cement, deepen, and grow over time. By adulthood, people have an almost subconscious sense of what makes for masculine versus feminine designs—whether we’re talking rooms or cars or websites.

Why should you care?

boy-and-girl-room-design-and-decorThe gender of design is powerful. When it comes to your website, print ads, and other marketing materials, this “gender of design” can instantly attract or push away potential customers. Just think: If you’re trying to captivate a male audience, a banner of periwinkle curlicues is not your friend. Selling to women? Skip the “slab serif” fonts. (You don’t need to know what those are, but your graphic designer does.) A good designer will balance your target audience against your products and services to create the right design gender for your marketing materials—feminine, masculine, or gender-neutral.

Unfortunately, some designers don’t know how to keep their own gender out of the equation of their designs. You can sometimes spot these designers by looking through their portfolios. Unless they’ve somehow managed to get clients that are all heavily weighted toward marketing to a single gender, you should see neither mostly feminine nor mostly masculine designs. You should see a mix. And you should see some gender-neutral ones, too. You don’t have to be an expert to discern which are which. You’ll know them when you see them, just like customers do.

Earlier this month, author Maureen Johnson Tweeted, “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy’.” Miffed that publishers seem to favor too-feminine designs for the covers of books written by female authors (thus alienating half the population), she issued a challenge: Take a popular book and make a new cover for it by switching the author’s gender and imagining the result. Her simple hashtag #coverflip spawned what became a viral sensation—and a very revealing example of what I’m describing here. If you haven’t seen the results of the experiment, take a look. Then come see how we can help you create a design that has the just-right gender for what you’re trying to sell and who you’re trying to reach.

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