Tuesday 9 August 2005

Girls Prefer Circles: Gender Bias and Web Design Esthetics

IN A FASCINATING BUT UNSURPRISING STUDY of gender bias and Web design esthetics, the University of Glamorgan has demonstrated that male and female Web designers create decidedly different designs.

I say unsurprising because the findings are in step with some fairly well-accepted ideas about how men and women relate to design, at least in general.

A point made by Gloria Moss, Research Fellow and co-author of the study describes how men and women differ in their approach to shape:

“ . . . males favour the use of straight lines (as opposed to rounded forms) . . .”

That women like circles and men prefer straight lines is no accident. If we look to known archetypes, the circle signifies the feminine and attributes considered to be feminine: curves, community and cooperative communication. The straight line signifies the male not only physically, but in terms of representing focus and linear thought and communication.

These archetypes historically appear in product design, which is where Moss and her colleague, statistician Rod Gunn, make some compelling points about how gender bias among Web designers could have significant impact on the way visitors to Web sites interact with Web sites.

Gunn points out that:

“. . . there is no doubt about the strength of men and women’s preference for sites produced by people of their own sex.”

One of my favorite examples of shape in product design has to do with the design of automobiles.

ford gt

Cars that are meant to appeal to men tend to have more straight lines and as a result, angles, in their design.

Consider the Ford GT. This car is most decidedly geared to be sold to males, and its design is so full of straight lines and angles the car almost appears to be a flat, straight line.

vw bug

Those vehicles meant to appeal to women have more curves. The VW Bug is predominantly bought by women, and it is all about round.

There are many other visual examples of this across design and the fine arts, and the Glamorgan study raises a significant issue about matching gender styles to audiences in order to achieve more effective communication on Web sites.

According to Moss:

“If website flow is to be maximised, greater attention needs to be given to the production aesthetic used and the consequent appeal websites will have to their target markets. Given the strong tendency for each sex to prefer the output of its own sex, it does not make sense to attempt to appeal to women using an aesthetic which is largely male.”

Moss and Gunn studied groups in Wales, France and Poland and their findings have crossed national boundaries. This suggests that at least to the Western eye and ear, the esthetics influencing how male and female Web designers use shape, type, space as well as language is consistent.

Awareness of this esthetic difference can allow both female and male designers to incorporate that knowledge into how they approach a given design. If the site is selling to women versus men, taking into account the linearization of esthetics will very likely improve how site visitors interact with that site.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 21:45 | Comments (75)

Comments (75)

  1. Sounds true to me, I am quickly balding at the ripe old age of 21 😉 and women love it. Also, when I ask women why they find me attractive, they almost always indicate my eyes. Surprise surprise, I would say that my eyes fall into the soft and round category, and probably more so than most people.

    Thanks Molly, I will keep this in mind.

  2. Men and Women are two branches of a greenish tree in the polluted envoirnment.One branch get more foods so that it becomes more strong representing men wheathear anthor branch due to less expose to sunlight it becomes less strong reprsenting female.I am a M-TECH student of INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHONOLOGY,KHARAGPUR.I M very interested to study about this.According to me both male and female are depended with each other in every work. thank u MOLLY.BYE……………

  3. Being a web designer myself, I run a business with a male designer also.
    We often disagree on designs – he prefers boxy, clear cut linear designs with greyscale rather than colours. I design more organic interfaces, with appealing colour schemes.

    One client was a female makeup artist requesting business card designs – we both mocked up several designs each. Without knowing it, she picked all the ones I designed (which were more girly). ‘Twas amusing.

    But I’d agree with most of the other comments here – everyone is unique. Some women prefer straight lines, and yes men like curves on certain things *ahem*.

    Although I liked the idea that logical thinkers prefer straight lines to curves… anyone want to do a study on this??

  4. We assumed big companies have spent large money for research.
    Just look at the different sites that are targeting female audiences…
    Our version of “Female orientation in web design” is here:

  5. Pingback: Do We Need More Female Web Designers? » Conversion Rate Marketing Blog –>GrokDotCom by Future Now, Inc

  6. Wow, that’s funny. If women prefer curves, why do they like men? Men have bodies with straight lines. And if men prefer straight edges does this mean that they don’t like the woman’s body, which is curvier?

  7. Successful website

  8. I thought it was the other way round, as the shape of the woman’s body – the sexual parts ie breasts ass etc are all rounded and curvy – the shape of the female body is what attracts males. And if females are into circles, why is it that the ideal male body is of a bulky stoat, but not particularly curved, i’d say more square body shape?
    Why would evolution build us to be attracted to the shape of our own bodies?

    Are you saying I’d be more attracted to this woman if she were standing up straight, with no circular curvy bosoms, no circular arse, and if she had more of a straight square body shape?

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