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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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Dudes and Dolls and Design Decisions

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In this unusually quirky and informative guest article Kelly Erickson* goes through some tips and examples on how to design for men and women – showing how to win them over and get referrals at the same time. A really unique article that I would highly recommend to read. – Jacob Cass.

The Sticky Realisation That We Are Not All the Same

I am not young enough to know everything.”
—Oscar Wilde

When I was younger, I never wanted to believe in gender differences. Okay, beyond the obvious. To think that women can’t play pro ball, that men can’t enjoy an art gallery, that men can’t be good listeners, that women can’t learn where their carburetor is? No, I did not like that idea at all. I’m firmly in the post-feminist generation, believing that when we start treating our kids as plain “kids” from birth, these differences will recede.

It pains me deeply, but the older I get the more I realise there are some differences in how men and women fundamentally see the world.

As designers, we’re going to have to deal with these differences if we want to get the most business from our clients. Who doesn’t want that?

Designing for the Ladies:
Stories, Details, Design

Designing For Women

1. Women want visuals that remind them of themselves, on their best day.

Women want visuals that remind them of themselves, on their best day whether its a house, a car, or a model. Accept us: We buy from people who know how we live. We don’t have time for aspiring to future perfection we can never reach.

2. Women want stories that draw them in.

For the ladies you are going to need more content in that website or ad you’re designing. Give us concrete details we can related to: When we see or hear about Suzie’s problem that your product or service solved, we look for connections to our own issues. Connect and you’ve got a customer.

3. Women want value now and over time.

You’ve heard it a million times: “I got it for half what so-and-so paid, and I’ve had it for three years now with no problems at all!” Now and over time. It’s a tall order, but you must offer an answer for now that is also going to hold up over time. It’s not just for a product, either. That website you’re working on—if women don’t see the value on the first page they hit, they’re gone. They’re not looking for some interior page that may reward them (see #1), because you didn’t meet the value-now threshold. If the value’s there, however, they may just read it all (see #2).

4. Women love to share with others.

Remember this: Word-of-mouth is for helping the friend we’re talking to, not the business we’re talking about. Get personal with us, and we’ll chat about you. Remember our kids, our dog, our favorite charity. If you really want our help spreading the word, give us little touches that are worth discussing, and make sure we know that your business (or your client’s) can solve our friend’s problems, too.

Designing for the Gentlemen:
Proof, Immediacy, Ambition

Designing For Men

1. Men want visuals they can aspire to.

Why do think sex sells? The house they’re not in yet, the hobby or the vehicle they can’t afford, the model who’d never blink in their direction. Men are looking to the future, and in that future she’ll be winking his way. Show that you understand their unique ambitions. And that website? If they’re half-convinced and half-intrigued, men will click through, looking for the payoff. Appeal to their sense of adventure and exploration in real life and online.

2. Men want proof, pure and simple.

Detailed stories are going to be skimmed for evidence that the herd has been this way. If you can say that 100,000 people per year use your product or service, great. If 52 people a day give you a call, you might not mention that they don’t all end up buying. If numbers are not in your favor, then go for testimonials. Prove that others like what you’ve got, whether on a package design, an ad, a website, or a brochure.

3. Men make purchases now, for their now needs.

Itch=scratch. Sell to a man quickly, visually, with awesome benefits that provide the Ideal Solution. Don’t worry men about future value, which they are not thinking about at the time of their purchase. Men are just as busy as the ladies, and the future is just so… future.

4. Men love bragging.

Word-of-mouth is for discussing the elephant they bagged. Make yours remarkable, because men don’t give recommendations as easily as women. Here’s a secret: Get personal with men, too. They love being engaged, singled out, and surprised. Remember their family, their hometown team, or their hobby. Exceeding their expectations is part of what makes your elephant stand out from the others.

But I’m Designing for Everybody!

Designing For Men and Women

Okay, first of all, maybe you’re not. Take some time with this. Carefully imagine that one Ideal Customer. Flesh him or her out, and you may discover you should not be designing for both sexes, after all. Trying to please everybody is not always the best idea.

Well, lets’ say you’ve narrowed it down to young, hip graphic designers (for instance :) ), and you aren’t going for a male or female audience. How do you keep everyone’s attention? Editor’s note: Write about all three?

1. Keep your visuals strong, positive, and make emotional connections.

Don’t go too over-the-top, you’re going to turn some people off. Keep the visuals clean. We are all easily distracted for our own reasons, and if your package or your page is too cluttered to read and make sense of, we’ll move on in a hurry. Focus the visual message.

2. Write the story in an active voice.

Describe the kinds of situations where the product or service is essential, and provide proof that other buyers agree. A well-chosen picture is worth a thousand words. Either the story or the proof may be more memorable in a photo.

3. We all want benefits.

From visuals to headlines to body copy, tell me what’s in it for me. Remember men and women want different benefits, so include appeals to both immediate and long-term needs. As the designer you may not be writing this copy but only arranging it. First, make sure the copy you’re given covers these needs. Then break things up: Use of subheads, bullet points, numbered lists, callouts, and bold type within the story. Maybe not all at once; that violates Everybody #1.

4. Call it sharing, call it bragging.

We all want to spread the word. Be remarkable. Be valuable. Demonstrate it in your graphic design. Exceed our expectations. When it comes to personal interactions, especially after the sale, delight us.

If this is work for a client, you may think that’s outside your field. Now is the time for you to exceed expectations—if you’ve thought of clever ways for your client to remain engaged with customers after your incredible work gets them the sale, talk about tie-ins with them. From thank-you notes to member websites to gifts for the wife of a top customer, if you’ve got an idea, share it. That idea may be where your next job comes from.

What are your thoughts after reading this article? Do you design differently when designing for men or women?

*About Kelly Erickson: Kelly is the owner of VisionPoints, The Experience Designers and she is “obsessed with your success.” You can read more writings about Experience Design at the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.


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34 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Chad Swaney Reply

    Great article! When you look out at at the way consumer products are marketed, you will see that the big ad firms clearly identify the gender of their typical customer before creating a campaign…why not do that on a smaller scale with design clients. Nice insight.

  • Thomas Wright Reply

    There’s a course at my university called Gender Studies and I was speaking a guy who was explaining the difference between sex (which genitals you possess), gender (male of female) and sexual orientation (straight, gay, bi etc.).
    It’s a really interesting topic, but the main thing I took away from our conversation is that it’s OK to talk about (and even celebrate) gender differences.
    I guess you could call it neo-post-feminism… :)
    Anyway, loved the article and (once again, well done JCD) loved the visuals.

  • Lucinda Thompson Reply

    Really brilliant article. Gender and design is something I find particularly interesting.

    We created a range of logos for a client and they held a focus group to see what others thought of our concepts. The client was particularly aware of having a gender neutral logo, so asked the focus group to give each logo a gender. It turned out that most of the logos that they named as male my partner (who is male) created and the logos named female I had created.

  • modemlooper Reply

    Sometimes I see things designed and its obvious they want to market to a specific gender. I get annoyed by this. LOL. I guess I like the unusual. Is it really a gender thing or are we taught what to think and like from birth?

    modemloopers last blog post..Free Amazing iPhone Theme For WordPress Blogs

  • antonwoods Reply

    Great article, loved the insight! it is a big part of the web designing world :)

  • Tracey Grady Reply

    Thanks for an interesting article. It’s really surprising how little has been written online about this topic.

  • Kelly Reply

    BIG THANKS, everyone, for commenting without me! Jacob pulled a fast one on me—this post isn’t supposed to be up until Thursday!

    Okay, administrative stuff. The link to my blog does work, but the reason I’ve been paying no attention here is that I’m just finishing a major migration to WordPress—I don’t even have a welcome post for you all up yet, because, like I said, I expected this on Thursday after the dust was settled. I’ll remedy that tomorrow!

    In the meantime if you read this far, please click on my name (also linked at the end of this comment) to visit Maximum Customer Experience in its new home.

    :)

    Jacob,

    Thanks for having me. I hope Europe is all you hoped for and more. :)

    Chad,

    Absolutely. So many of the ideas we see in “big” business apply equally to us little guys. You just have to twist your thinking around and look for the connections.

    Thomas,

    When pinned down, I do call it postfeminism. Gender differences are real for now… but they are lessening, too.

    Lucinda,

    And we want to be so modern and neutral. I hate when that happens… or do I? I’m trying to embrace it.

    Modem,

    Me, too. I want to think we can get past it and in many ways we do. Put a power tool in front of me and I’m in heaven! Still, I’m telling the story of how I got my new drill on clearance and it’s warranted for five years, too.

    It’s both, nature and nurture, I’d guess.

    Anton,

    Thanks. Glad you liked it!

    Tracey,

    More and more people are willing to talk about gender differences without getting girl-vs-gorilla about it, but I think we can use a lot more voices on the subject. It’s a topic with a lot of layers to it.

    Thanks again, everyone! I’ll write a welcome post for all the dudes and dolls who are big Just Creative Design fans (like me) tomorrow, so please wander by and say hello!

    Kelly

    Maximum Customer Experience Blog

    Kellys last blog post..CLOSED, and Wondering Where the Dollars Are

  • Kelly Reply

    BIG THANKS, everyone, for commenting without me! Jacob pulled a fast one on me—this post isn’t supposed to be up until Thursday!

    Okay, administrative stuff. The links to my blog do work, but the reason I’ve been paying no attention here is that I’m just finishing a major migration to WordPress—I don’t even have a welcome post for you all up yet, because, like I said, I expected this on Thursday after the dust was settled. I’ll remedy that later today!

    In the meantime if you read this far, please click on my name (or the article link below) to visit Maximum Customer Experience in its new home. :)

    Jacob,

    Thanks for having me. I hope Europe is all you hoped for and more. :)

    Chad,

    Absolutely. So many of the ideas we see in “big” business apply equally to us little guys. You just have to twist your thinking around and look for the connections.

    Thomas,

    When pinned down, I do call it postfeminism. Gender differences are real for now: but they are lessening, too.

    Lucinda,

    And we want to be so modern and neutral. I hate when that happens: or do I? I’m trying to embrace it.

    Modem,

    Me, too. I want to think we can get past it and in many ways we do. Put a power tool in front of me and I’m in heaven! Still, I’m telling the story of how I got my new drill on clearance and it’s warranted for five years, too.

    It’s both, nature and nurture, I’d guess.

    Anton,

    Thanks. Glad you liked it!

    Tracey,

    More and more people are willing to talk about gender differences without getting girl-vs-gorilla about it, but I think we can use a lot more voices on the subject. It’s a topic with a lot of layers to it.

    Jacob again,

    I should have known not to try putting in a link while the author is on vacation. When you find the other comment in your moderation bin, please delete it. *sheepish*

    Thanks again, everyone! I’ll write a welcome post for all the dudes and dolls who are big Just Creative Design fans (like me) later today, so please wander by and say hello!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..OPEN 24/7, Just for You

  • Steve O Reply

    Good post Kelly. Thinking about it I think gender differences are catered for in many aspects of design – especially in advertising – but tend to veer toward the obvious or extremes. Subtle uses are rarer to come across. Why do girl oriented items/logos have to be pink and soft? Why do men’s have to be hard edged and dark? This is where most people go when thinking of gender specific design. Finding that balance to get a gender neutral product can be extremely difficult and, to be honest, is one aspect I have rarely tried to put into practice. Must practice more!

  • Kelly Reply

    Steve,

    Thanks, I hope this post gives you plenty of ideas. And please, when you design for me, don’t make it pink!

    People go for the obvious because it’s a timesaver to use stereotypes, but it’s a sad timesaver that results in satisfied people at the fringes and a lot of folks who have to settle for whatever’s closest to what they hoped for in the middle.

    It can all be done with a lot more subtlety, and capture your audience’s attention better, too.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Road Trip: Guest Post at Just Creative Design

  • Janice Cartier Reply

    Kelly- woo hoo. I love this topic. Nuance and subtlety in gender design is a sublime skill to investigate. Integrating superbly targeted visuals with those gender considerate copy tips…well, I have been looking for something like this. Would love to see more discussion in this area…a follow up post, maybe?
    Hope Jacob has lovely holiday.. Love this site.

  • Kelly Reply

    Janice,

    Thanks for coming over! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Targeting is probably the issue that bedevils people most. Can you define your Ideal Customer more narrowly? Who is he or she? You can make your life a lot easier by knowing the answer to that, beyond pure design issues. Then you can be subtle and still hit the right notes.

    A lot of times if you don’t choose your market they’ll choose you, and “I’m making this for everybody” becomes “how come only 24-year-old guys like our stuff?” (Or 40-year-old female lion-tamers, or whatever.)

    Because when you didn’t want to take aim, you still managed to hit a target… you just didn’t have a purpose behind it.

    Yes, I’d like to come at this from some more angles. Add it to my things to do list!

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Road Trip: Guest Post at Just Creative Design

  • GirlPie Reply

    Swell article — which is usually to be expected from Kelly/MCE — but doubly pleased to find this new-to-me blog/site! Jacob — your clever name/logo design is an immediate hook — (damn! One more RSS feed to add…)

    Thanks Kelly ~ !

  • Kelly Reply

    GirlPie,

    His logo is sublime, isn’t it. I’ve fawned over its simple elegance several times myself.

    Thanks for coming by and commenting. I’m glad you’ll be sticking around, Jacob’s blog is always worth the read!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Inspiration Points: Blind Faith?

  • Wendi Kelly Reply

    Kelly,
    I really enjoyed that and I saw a lot of those same observations when selling Real Estate. Men and Women bought houses for different reasons when it came down to actually pulling the trigger and you touched on several of them.
    Great article.

  • Kelly Reply

    Wendi,

    A friend of mine just bought a house and I noticed that—his reasons were different from his wife’s, the way they wanted to house-hunt was different, everything. I hadn’t thought about it but a lot of it fits right in here.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Free Slippery Advice, Today Only

  • inspirationbit Reply

    I too enjoyed reading this article. The difference in packaging for men and women is so drastic, the commercials on TV are targeted differently as well, yet websites go for stereotypical things like colours, while forgetting about the differences in the actual user experience, the way women and men navigate the site, what they pay attention to, and so on. Lots to think about, that’s for sure. Thanks, Kelly.

  • Kelly Reply

    Jacob,

    Thanks for fixing the links in the post. I promise not to change sites again while you’re on holiday… or if I can help it, ever! :)

    Vivien,

    I’ve been reading a ton of posts on gender today (something in the blog-water?), and that is just what I keep coming back to. Sure, there are differences, but why the stereotypes? There are so many deeper ways to connect with your customer.

    Glad I provided a little food for thought. Thanks for your comment.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kellys last blog post..Free Slippery Advice, Today Only

  • Patrick White Reply

    Hey everyone, I loved this article. I’ve been thinking a lot about marketers and m vs. w personalization. The only way to know for sure on all of this is to test. That means for outbound visual communication (broadcast email, printed direct mail), you sure consider genderizing your list and using variable data to test all of the hypotheses/claims represented in this article.

    With variable data email and printing, you can easily swap images, swap headlines, swap colors, etc. The catch, of course, is that you must be able to identify the gender of each contact.

    It’s a simple test to execute: Do 2 versions, genderize your list, and send 1/2 the men each version and half the women each version. You will know pretty quickly if the time/money it takes to design for gender gets a significant enough impact to justify its cost, and for that matter, which style of design draws a higher response for your list.

    Now the COOL part

    We just released a free web site for marketers, listwist that lets you upload your list, and it figures out whether the first/full name field is a male or female, writing the results to an updated list file you can retrieve. We used US Census data (percentage-ranked popularity list of m and f names) and some non-English sources to evaluate the names.

    In a few seconds, you can take your list, and evaluate every first name. It guess rights about 98.4% of the time, as best as we can tell.

    Once you’ve got the gender built into the data, it’s trivial to split the lists and execute a test. From there, as the song goes, let your experience guide you.

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Thank You Patrick for that tip and link to your website, a great initiative.

  • tony Reply

    great post. i liked it…

  • Maureen McHale Reply

    This article is spot on! Many businesses fail completely to identify to whom they are marketing. Your comments were excellent! Thanks for sharing!


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