Thursday, October 1, 2009

Femme Den- Marketing to Women, not Stereotypes

In the news this week Femme Den is popping up quite a bit on my radar.

Their website describes the need for their company:
The women’s market is a huge business opportunity, as women buy or influence up to 80% of consumer goods. Yet, the gender dialog is missing from the design world today, probably because there are so few women in the industry to provide a female point-of-view. We are here to fill that gap. Gender needs to be a part of every design project in the same way we consider ergonomics, function, aesthetics, etc. Understanding gender is a new way forward; it is an untapped design tool that can make a difference in design and business.
What they do primarily seems to be actually researching the market and also affecting the design of projects as they actually relate to women's needs, including design based on a woman's physicality and some of their experiences are described in this article in Fast Company.
Companies recognize the need, but most are clumsy -- if not patronizing -- in their attempts to address it. This often leads to what the Femme Den calls the "shrink it and pink it" reflex, the kind of mindless design that produces such works of genius as mini pink tool kits and Dell's pastel-saturated Della Web site, stocked with tips about "finding recipes" and "counting calories." (Dell dumped Della within two weeks of its launch.) What women really want, the Femme Den argues, is intuitive design. In a Yale University study, 68% of men asked to program a VCR using written instructions were successful, compared to just 16% of women. That doesn't mean women are less intelligent than men (please), but that they're less tolerant of complicated interfaces -- more willing to skip new tech than to slog through manuals. "Men will walk into an electronics shop and look at the white cards that list the features. Women will pick up the cameras, flip them around, and look at the buttons," Lin says. "They want to know: Is it intuitive?"
While the Della is an example of stereotypical choices backfiring there are some compelling ideas that seem to be crossing markets because of their utility that were built with women in mind.
"They don't just understand our products," Sampson says. "They understand how our brands fit into women's lives."

Or how some products don't. When Cardinal Health, the $12 billion health-care-supply company, wanted to rethink the design of hospital scrubs in 2007, balancing the needs of both sexes helped set its product apart. "Probably 70% of the health-care population wearing scrubs is female," says Carl Hall, Cardinal's director of marketing. "But scrubs are really designed for men. Smart Design identified the gender thing early on as an opportunity and helped us really evolve that." Endura scrubs, introduced in March, swapped out V-necks for stretch collars, and added straps and snaps to make the hem and rise adjustable, breathable mesh at the back and knees, as well as a kimono sleeve to increase range of motion.

And that unisex cut? "We used the female form for measurements, so the fabric doesn't strain across the bust and hips," Hopkins says. "Men don't even notice the extra room." Cardinal has already fed two new projects to Smart Design and the Femme Den.

When companies ignore the research that they pay for about the female market, it might even be dangerous to consumers, even more than their bottom line.
Unisex skis are a major misstep: Wider hips and looser ligaments make novice women skiers nine times more likely than men to tear their ACLs. K2'S LUV WOMEN SKIS are specifically tailored to the female physique, without being hot pink.

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