One Size Fits Men: When Human-Centered Design Has a Gender Problem
February 17, 2021 | Diversity & Inclusion
by ExperiencePoint

Human-centered design (HCD) sure sounds like a non-discriminatory approach to problem solving. After all, what could be more inclusive than the word “human?” But when HCD isn’t used effectively, and fails to take all users into account, it can lose its underlying spirit of equality. In fact, it stops being true HCD at all.

With women still making just 82 cents on every male dollar in the U.S., it’s hardly surprising that, when it comes to customer-centric innovation, the default customer is typically male. Beyond arousing our general indignation, it’s a design bias that can have serious consequences for women.

When “human” becomes synonymous with “male”, all kinds of products and services become less functional for women. The average smartphone, at 5.5 inches long, was designed for male hands and won’t fit into the average woman’s pocket. Workplaces are set at temperatures that accomodate male bodies and metabolisms (physiologically, women produce less heat). Speech-recognition technology is better at recognizing lower voices; some versions are 70% more likely to recognize a man’s voice.

And these inequalities look pretty innocuous when compared to some of the biases in high-stakes fields including cardiology and automotive safety. Heart failure trials overwhelmingly use male participants, making women 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed after a heart attack. Crash-test dummies are built to reflect the average man’s physical dimensions, making women 47% more likely to suffer serious injuries in a car accident.

In other words, male-centered design puts women’s lives at risk.

Welcome to ExperiencePoint’s new blog series on Women, non-binary people and human-centered design. Throughout the next few posts, we’ll be exploring various aspects of gender and innovation, looking at how women and non-binary people have been overlooked as users in some industries and radically accommodated in others. We’ll explore both the pros and cons of thinking of women as distinct consumers and navigate the tricky terrain between targeted segmentation and stereotyping. We’ll discuss the complexity of gendered marketing in an era of evolving views on sex and gender, and the importance of corporate sensitivity to gender-identity issues.

No matter how you look at it, women are a rapidly growing consumer demographic. According to Microsoft, women represent the largest growing market opportunity. Boston Consulting Group estimates that, by 2028, women will control nearly three-quarters (72%) of consumer spending worldwide. Understanding women’s distinct needs and common values, and negotiating the right balance therein, will be a huge part of your company’s future success.

Stay tuned as the discussion begins.

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