Gender-oriented product design has evolved as a legitimate strategy for adding value to consumer products since the late 20th century. However, it has recently become a negative focus for concern because it resonates so closely with issues surrounding gender inequality and forced stereotypes which are perceived as inappropriate by many consumers today.
This study identified the key drivers of gender tailoring for products were the use by designers of colour, form and language. Identifying that these factors were most clearly manipulated in the children’s toy, toiletry and clothing markets. To assess the extent of the shift in perception from positive/helpful to negative and determine if this is felt more keenly by younger consumers (specifically Generation Z) this study used a combination of snowballed survey data and demographically focused interviews to gather data across demographic groups.
The research instruments asked participants to assign a perceived gender (masculine, feminine or neutral) to colour and language examples. It then gathered quantitative data rating the appeal of standardised products in varying colours. The results identified colour in isolation was a generally agreed marker of position on the masculine/neutral/feminine spectrum. However, once applied to products (razors, blenders, power tools and clothing) other factors outside of the study made a clear correlation problematic.
White was determined as the most gender-neutral colour for all demographic groups. Pink was almost universally determined as feminine and amongst younger consumers (i.e. Gen Z) and so a reason to avoid purchase. The ‘pinkification’ agenda being perceived as a negative force for women. Interestingly, Millennials (and to some extent Gen X) were the generation to most embrace gendered products and actively seek them out.
Clear links between language (which in turn influences design style) and gender bias were determined. This indicates that new designers seeking to create gender-neutral products for their Gen Z consumers will need to consider their use of language as they conceptualise new products for consumer markets.
Form was more challenging to isolate; fashion, interior design trends and even Apple’s use of white made it less clear which elements could be explicitly linked to gender (either negatively or positively).
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