Software for women? Ryan 04 Nov 2005

116 comments Latest by Les

Doesn’t it feel like most software is designed for men? I can’t quite put my figure on it, but it has something to do with the icons, the colors, the tone, and the overall structure. I’m sorta just throwing this out there because I don’t know what more to say about it, but it’s just something I’ve noticed over and over and figured it might be nice to open it up for discussion. Any takers?

116 comments (comments are closed)

robb 04 Nov 05

Personally I don’ think this is a gender issue as much as a human issue. I don’t think that most software is designed for humans. Or designed at all, for that matter.

tim 04 Nov 05

I was thinking about it lately. My girlfriend and I never agree on what looks good and what looks bad. She seems to like everything flashy with motion and sound. I prefer much cleaner stuff, lot of white, gray and tiny icons.
I wonder if we can find a compromise to satisfy both gender without taking away everything that attracts each one
Many examples showed us that trying to please everyone was difficult and led to global disatisfaction..
Maybe a “theme switcher” … in Backpack ??
(that would be great, I’m trying to get my GF use Backpack… but it doesn’t seem to be very appealing to her on an aesthetic view…)

SH 04 Nov 05

Yes it does seem so, but then again, it also seems like when people attempt to design or build software or a web application *for* women, it comes off looking incredibly contrived and cartoony. (I’m looking at you iVillage, The Knot, et al.)

Sometimes I feel like designers assume women can’t appreciate minimalism or modernism or even just simplicity, and so when they market their products to women, they focus on making them pretty or bright or fucking pink all over. It’s true, we’re drawn to incredibly obvious and blatant links and buttons, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be *simple*. It seems there’s just a deep-seated assumption about what women find visually pleasing, because apparently flowers and scripty fonts and flash monstrosities are supposed to make us feel good, and in turn use the product. Ridiculous!

I think the wise choice - even when designing something gender specific - is to keep it as clean and white and simple as possible, and to just forget for the time being what assumptions we have about each sex.

LB 04 Nov 05

I think this has more to do with the amount and type of usage than anything else. Women (generally) like things that flash and have that ‘wow factor’ because their common exposure to their system is Instant Messenger and the associated Smilies.

Men like things to look more complicated than they are - it makes us feel superior.

SH 04 Nov 05

“Women (generally) like things that flash and have that �wow factor� because their common exposure to their system is Instant Messenger and the associated Smilies.”

I should have read your comment before I posted mine. You’re completely right. I have no idea why I’m reading this website instead of staring blankly at an IM screen full of emoticons, because that’s all women use the computer box for (generally).

Kyle Neath 04 Nov 05

Of course it is. More men design software. More men use software.

Why on earth would one purposefully create software for women, the minority of users? Would you design a parking lot for Ugos?

Obviously there are (few) exceptions, but by far the majority of computer users are men.

Darrel 04 Nov 05

Not sure if there is more sarcasm or ignorance in this thread.

Tomas Jogin 04 Nov 05

Geesh, everything is a gender issue these days.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

“Math is hard.”

ebean 04 Nov 05

I do think there are vast gender disparities in this world, but I don’t think there are deep-seated differences between men and women’s preferences.

I think there are deep-seated differences between people’s preferences.

Carlo 04 Nov 05

Besides the enormous breasts I use as interface buttons, I don’t really see how software’s designed with a specific gender in mind.

Beth 04 Nov 05

Could this have anything to do with the fact that there seem to be fewer women in web development than men?

Emily 04 Nov 05

“Obviously there are (few) exceptions, but by far the majority of computer users are men.”

I say: “Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!”

That’s a dangerous assumption….

A better assumption to make is that women are the ones in households/families who make the majority of purchasing decisions and transactions (ahem - many of them ONLINE) so they hold the monetary influence in the majority of eCommerce “sitcheations.”

An even better assumption is - make your damn website simple and easy to use if you want to succeed.

Lar 04 Nov 05

Women. Know your place :)

Dan Boland 04 Nov 05

I agree with SH… websites/software designed for women often are laughably insulting.

But any discrepancy probably has to do with the logic structure in men’s and women’s brains. They’re different. Case in point - shopping center parking lots. Whenever I drive into one that makes no fucking sense, I always think to myself “this was definitely designed by a man.”

Erin 04 Nov 05

�Obviously there are (few) exceptions, but by far the majority of computer users are men.�

Ummm, what planet are you living on?

Oh wait, you’re 21 and in a crappy band. We forgive you.

Come talk to me when you mature ten years and get a real job, like the one I have WORKING IN COMPUTERS (at an awesome salary, I might add).

Girl Geek

Emily 04 Nov 05

Yep - a woman’s place is IN CHARGE (no pun intended). DON’T YOU FORGET IT.

Emily 04 Nov 05

…and women in technology ROCK and ROCK HARD. By The Way.

tim 04 Nov 05

Jason likes to put things on fire ! ;-)

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Given Erin’s self-description … *sigh* … I think I’m in love.

Don Wilson 04 Nov 05

I think it has to do with the overall structure of products. When I design web apps I don’t do it for men, I do it for what suits the app best, which eventually leads to a more male-liked design. I haven’t the slightest clue why.

Yep - a woman�s place is IN CHARGE (no pun intended). DON�T YOU FORGET IT.

We have enough male bashing women on TV, let’s try to keep that to a minimum here.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Tom Peters (for whom I have great respect and with whom I totally agree) says that marketing to women is THE BIG THING.

Y’all better wise up.

Don Wilson 04 Nov 05

male-bashing women, I meant to say.

Tony 04 Nov 05

Obviously there are (few) exceptions, but by far the majority of computer users are men.

Not to pile on too much here, but this is a strange and narrowminded sentiment. Are you aware that the majority of college students are women? How many college students do you know of that don’t use computers? Have you ever been inside even a medium-sized company’s offices? Do you expect to see the men on computers and the women using adding machines or something? Very strange comment, indeed.

Beth 04 Nov 05

Dan Boland 04 Nov 05

I agree with SH� websites/software designed for women often are laughably insulting.

Web sites aren’t the only thing. Ah, yes finally a tool kit I can use because it’s PINK!

Melanie 04 Nov 05

This thread makes me sad.

Wilson 04 Nov 05

Software should be designed for people. It’s demeaning and disingenuous to assume that I won’t like using your software if it doesn’t have shiny crome and manly icons, or that my girlfriend won’t use it if it doesn’t have cute little pink flowers and frilly edges.

The best software is written for the person developing it. When the developer is the user, it’s very easy to know what the user wants. Once we start assuming what users want outside of our own experience, our assumptions are usually unreliable (no matter how many marketing studies we can afford to commision).

The real issue under the surface here is the dearth of women in software development. In five years, the companies I’ve worked for have hired 100% of the women who applied for programming jobs. And I’ve never worked with a female programmer.

If more women were making software, more software would be made for women.

tim 04 Nov 05

@beth : never heard of that one, but it’s pretty ridiculous !
Does anybody think that “painting” something in pink was the key to success in marketing to women ?? tsssss

Dan Boland 04 Nov 05

Beth: My mom has the pink toolkit… LOL

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Sheesh … cut Kyle a break! He didn’t slam anyone, just gave an observation, based on his experience. Sheesh … he didn’t say “Women are bad in math” or “Men are more logical” … he just thinks — perhaps incorrectly — that men are the majority when it comes to using computers.

Sheesh … I don’t see anything even remotely prejudiced about his post. Incorrect, perhaps … but mean-spirited? No way.

By the way; when it comes to Sporting Clays, women typically do better than men. Bet ya didn’t know THAT one!

Adrian L. 04 Nov 05

I see women getting defensive and petulent.

I see men making a lot of stupid comments (possibly this is the cause of point 1, but I don’t think so).

I see this whole topic as flaimbait, frankly.

I don’t think many applications are designed “for men” or otherwise. Dangerous asumptions are being made about the way men and women think, and what appeals to them.

The first post was right. Software is not designed for women. Or men. Or people. Too much software is designed from the back to the front (letting data structure determine design instead of letting intuitive use direct design).

That’s what happens when we let engineers handle interface design.

Melanie 04 Nov 05

tim: How about Canadian Tire trying to draw women with apple-and-cinnamon-scented aisles?

Big-box retailers start to court women

tim 04 Nov 05

Melanie: woaw - that’s huge !! Lucky you (girls) !! hahaha

Wendy 04 Nov 05

Software has no gender difference. There are only two types of software: for computer-savvy population and for the rest.

Emily 04 Nov 05

…ok everyone, let’s try to go back to Jason’s original question/statement.

(I was trying to be funny with some of my comments…btw)

“Doesn�t it feel like most software is designed for men? I can�t quite put my figure on it, but it has something to do with the icons, the colors, the tone, and the overall structure.”

This is an interesting observation. I’m going to be thinking about this one. Jason, you’re asking about software designed FOR, but what about BY…Might it not be interesting to look at software that is designed COMPLETELTY BY a team of women and see if it’s different and how - even if this software was not aimed at a female audience. Is there any software that fits this description - an entire all-women team? Hmmm….

Melanie 04 Nov 05

Hey, here is a study from BBC News

“Where men preferred straight lines, women had chosen more rounded shapes, the research found.

Women also liked to use more colours in text and in backgrounds than men, but men were found to use more formal or expert language and fewer abbreviations than women. “

nb 04 Nov 05

If you don’t think women like a simple, while layout, then you obviously haven’t visited the Tiffany & Co. website recently. I don’t know a female alive who doesn’t love that one.

Seems like everyone here could use a few minutes of girlspoke (blog, no link for obvious reasons, and some articles may not be completely safe for work). Fairly clean, well designed, to the point, and “for women, by women.”

If you ever wanted to know what they were thinking, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t.

Jon Brin 04 Nov 05

I would be interested to know what are examples of either software designed FOR men or software designed FOR women?

Tomas 04 Nov 05

This goes back to the old argument of Men & Cars vs. Women & Cars.

My Girlfriend likes cars that are light green. That’s her criteria for a lovely car! GREEN! Why? Because it’s green!

Also. Why do women love sh*tty clip art and emoticons so much. I can’t stand the little f*ckers, mostly because they usually bring spyware with them.

In the most part, however, I like women.

If you flame me, you're missing the point. 04 Nov 05

Let it go ladies, you had a chance to contribute something meaningful to this conversation but instead you made it a big gender flame.

The point is that most things are designed for men rather than women. Not that women use the computer more than men. (But here are some great statistics regarding that:

I heard on NPR in an interview with, that they had designed their website *for women* specifically. The way that the shipping fees work, the colors, the buttons etc. And it worked, according to them.

Jamie 04 Nov 05

I dunno most software interfaces seem fairly gender neutral to me. If you think about commerce sites (those other Web Apps), most of them are basically brand-driven. Brand drives the interface.

If you flame me, you're missing the point. 04 Nov 05

BTW, thank you Adrian L. for being sensible.

JS 04 Nov 05

Please spare me from things marketed at women. I don’t read “chick lit” and I don’t want to use “chick software.” I want to read good books and I’ll use software that helps me complete a task I need to complete, without getting in my way.

Do you feel like your software is designed for men?

Will 04 Nov 05

PS - I realize we’re talking about software and not websites per se, but these were just readily available examples of what women design left to their own devices (per the question raised in Emily’s post about “an entire all-women team”)

Emily 04 Nov 05

…and I’m saying BY…software designed BY….

Most software is designed BY teams with a mix of male and female members - and in some cases - all male team members.

What about software designed BY an entirely female team? Does such a thing even exist? and how would this software be different (if at all?)

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Come to mention it … most state flags DO look like they were designed for men.


Emily 04 Nov 05

Ok Will - I see your set of examples now…


If you flame me, you're missing the point. 04 Nov 05

Read this article about designing for women. It’s very insightful.

Since its launch in 1999, has always targeted women. In fact, we did extensive research and designed our entire Web site around what women want when shopping online.

ECT: I notice on your home page, your “about us” page and other pages, the images of people are all women. Have you done this on purpose? Do those images reflect your typical customer, the young, savvy woman who is looking for great deals?

Bayren: Yes, absolutely. Our customers tend to be savvy female shoppers who recognize a great deal when they see one.

Beth 04 Nov 05

Does anyone remember the Volvo concept car a couple years ago that was designed by women, to be marketed for women. It included a cooling compartment like the new Volkswagons. What’s interesting, is not much came of the car, because they thought it might be offensive. For example, the cooled compartment was for makeup, the car alerted the driver when repairs or maintenance were needed, but the hood didn’t open without special tools.

Dan Boland 04 Nov 05

If is designed for and marketed to women, why do the commercials feature a woman subtly but deliberately acting sexy?

n 04 Nov 05

I actually have met an equal (if not greater) number of women who are “web developers” as men. Though these women tend to be front-end designers, but front-ends are exactly what we are talking about here.

Jerk 04 Nov 05

Dan: that’s because you can also do sex appeal in the “gee, I wish I looked like …” mode. Your typical Bowflex ad has guys with huge upper bodies. There’s women with taught abs, too, but they’re really only there about 25% of the ad.

The idea is to make men say “gee, maybe I should buy a bowflex and shave my back hair and stop designing software for women.” The Overstock idea is to make women say “gee, if I knew how to use a computer, I could use that site to buy stuff that makes me look like that chick.”

SH 04 Nov 05

“If is designed for and marketed to women, why do the commercials feature a woman subtly but deliberately acting sexy?”

Why do women’s magazines have *women* on the cover? Why do shampoo commercials depict women orgasming in the shower? Because sex always sells, but it sells differently to women. The “I want to look like that” factor and the “I want to orgasm” factor drive women to consume, just like it does for men, but in a completely different way. Obviously.

You can tell very easily when a website is made by women and for women (Gap, Old Navy, Banana, with their new flashy ajaxy sites) and when it’s made by some nerd programmer guy who thinks he knows what women want to see. (iVillage, specifically, is a monster of flash and nasty popup ads and way too many links and pictures and texts, oh my. That’s the wrong kind of “flashy” women like.)

Chris Carter 04 Nov 05

What majority are you people talking about? Is it a 30% majority? A 10% majority? Or maybe it’s simply a 5% majority. When people say “the majority of x is y” they’re making a VERY misleading statement unless they include numbers.

The “majority” of computer users might be male, but I’d bet that the “majority” of computer users is simply 60% or something thereabouts.

The “majority” of college students might be female, but in reality the “majority” of college students is really 52 or 53%.

Lets be realistic when we’re trying to smash the status quo, okay?

One of several Steves 04 Nov 05

Skipping past all the flaming, and therefore skipping a lot of posts, so apologies if I’m repeating something that’s already been said:

I think Jason definitely has a point. Way too much software is designed strictly by programmers and engineers, and the design and operation reflect their thinking. Both programming and engineering still fields that are very much male-dominated.

Because of that, I’d postulate that any gender bias that might exist in software development is more coincidental than a direct consequence. The direct consequence is that most software is designed by and for engineers and programmers, and is not evaluated and changed to deal with actual users nearly often enough. Anyone who’s not mentally wired the same way is therefore going to have a more difficult time with the software, and that’s going to hit a greater share of women proportionally than men.

Lisa 04 Nov 05

I can buy that software looks like its designed for men.

This is probably the case because most of it is designed by men.

(sorry if this has been said already, i don’t have time to read through all the flames)

Chris S 04 Nov 05

“Come to mention it � most state flags DO look like they were designed for men.”

Not only that, Don, but it turns out that most radar detectors were originally designed for women who wanted to live free in New Hampshire.

Platte 04 Nov 05

Let’s turn the mic over to Brian Eno for a sec:

“Only neo-vegetables enjoy using computers the way they are at the moment. If you want to make computers that really work, create a design team composed only of healthy, active women with lots else to do in their lives and give them carte blanche. Do not under any circumstances consult anyone who (a) is fascinated by computer games (b) tends to describe silly things as “totally cool” (c) has nothing better to do except fiddle with these damn things night after night.”

Eric 04 Nov 05

Im sure some of you here have heard of The design is about as minimilist as you can possibly get, and there are just as many girls on that website as guys, if not more. I the function of a website matters more to woman and men than what it actually looks like. Don’t get me wrong, design matters. If the design is bad than noone will use it. But I dont believe that a design can be male or female. A websites function can be. facebooks function is attention, and everyone loves attention, so everyone uses facebook.

Dave Woodward 04 Nov 05

I think the car analogy is most accurate here. Tell a woman you got a new car and she’ll say, “What color is it?” Tell a man and he’ll say, “How much horsepower does it have?” Same goes for software, men try to design it to look “awesome” or “cool” like it has a lot of features and tries to flaunt that fact. Women are much more sensitive to the colors and the shapes. Men like the gadgetry close to the surface so they can feel smart using it, Women want it to do exactly what they want and no more, regardless of how it gets the job done or how many gadgets. In the end both women and men want to feel good using a product, but what makes each feel good is totally different.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Chris S., that was great! Thanks for the laugh.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 04 Nov 05

I’m a woman who’s been a software developer for thirty years, so I’m way outside anyone’s bell curve.

And, to refer to earlier comments: 1997 was generations ago computer-wise, and especially in the use of computers by women.

Women are overwhelmingly not early adopters of emerging computer technologies. I have no opinions about why this is true, I just know that it is. This is one reason why I posted recently about women being a technology bellewether: if women start adopting a technology, it’s officially hot.

On the issue of design: I think a lot of “Web 2.0” social software is drawing women into using computers in different ways, and is inherently more appealing to women.

Oh, and Dave, being a Southern Californian at heart, I’d ask what kind of car it was. I don’t give a hoot about horsepower unless it’s my own car. Color is important — as long as it’s not black or pink.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 04 Nov 05

Specifically to Emily and other people who wondered about all-women software teams:

Personally, I think there’s a good reason we haven’t seen much (if any) software developed by all-woman teams. A team of testosterone-laden guys can actually have a prototype ready before a team of women achieve consensus about what features will or won’t include.

There’s a reason that women-dominant programmer teams tend to be deep in the bowels of large companies, and I think that reason is, in part, what I’ll describe as “edge.”

Except for my current client, I’ve never even worked in a group that was 1/4 female. Usually, I’ve been the only woman.

Stephanie 04 Nov 05

If is designed for and marketed to women, why do the commercials feature a woman subtly but deliberately acting sexy?

You thought she was subtle? Holy crap. No wonder people think interfaces have to work at grabbing the user’s attention.

benny 04 Nov 05

@Chris Carter: What does a 10% or 30% majority mean? Majority, in the case of male/female, means over 50% by definition I think.

Chris S 04 Nov 05

“Something like 60% of American college freshmen are now female (freshwomen?), so this trend is only going to continue.”

I’ve also read that 40% of American men (and 50% of European men) aspire to act like women…another trend that appears to be growing.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Stephanie … it’s not that she’s not subtle … she’s just not that attractive or sexy. Rather plain.

Christopher Fahey 04 Nov 05

Personally, I think there�s a good reason we haven�t seen much (if any) software developed by all-woman teams. A team of testosterone-laden guys can actually have a prototype ready before a team of women achieve consensus about what features will or won�t include.

Using the same stereotypes, one could also argue that while the testosterone-laden guys were arguing heatedly about whose design or code is better and who was in charge, the women would actually have come up with a plan and executed it. See? These stereotypes are useless.

This is what I meant above by “excuses”. Even women like Dierdre seem to have their own rationalizations for the existence of sexism. We’re all swimming in it all our lives that we don’t even realize that we’re all soaking wet.

You wrote earlier:” “Women are overwhelmingly not early adopters of emerging computer technologies. I have no opinions about why this is true, I just know that it is.” Well, I have an opinion about why it’s true: sexism has told them their whole lives that technology is not for women. Culturally we’re still emerging from that era, and you are inspirationally one of the first to be able to free themselves from that mindset. It saddens me, though, to see a myth-breaking figure like you write that there are “reasons” for this stuff when the only real reason is sexism.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Speak for yerself, Fahey; I’m LOADED with “T”.

Mikael 04 Nov 05

Jason, please, don’t spit out your thoughts half-chewed. These vacuous and lazy posts make you look vacuous and lazy.

Chris S 04 Nov 05

Hey, that Overstock chick is hot; I don’t care what y’all say.

Chris S 04 Nov 05

And just for the record, I think women should have their own schools.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Yeah anyhow, Fried … how DARE you, on your own blog, post something thought-provoking!



Rabbit 04 Nov 05


We�re all swimming in it all our lives that we don�t even realize that we�re all soaking wet.

I like that.

Christopher Fahey 04 Nov 05

Speak for yerself, Fahey; I�m LOADED with �T�.

Me too! But it doesn’t make me any better at software design, that’s all.

Don Schenck 04 Nov 05

Fahey —

Yeah, but we can lift heavy things! :-)

RFontaine 04 Nov 05

The reality is, men run the world. Men do most of the heavy lifting be it physical or mental. I am talking as a whole - of course exceptions exist but that does not change the fact be it politically correct or not to say so. Sure, women are good at some things (like cooking and cleaning) but when you look at history you look at men doing what it takes to invent, create, protect, and advance and women riding the wave produced by men. That said, why shouldn’t the world, including software, reflect this basic fact of life?

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 04 Nov 05

Using the same stereotypes, one could also argue that while the testosterone-laden guys were arguing heatedly about whose design or code is better and who was in charge, the women would actually have come up with a plan and executed it. See? These stereotypes are useless.

I’m not talking stereotypes, Christopher, I’m talking observations. I have frankly left every single group of women in technology I’ve joined (and some I’ve started!) because it’s all about consensus and empowering and not about actually doing anything. Drives me freakin’ nuts.

The last time I wound up at a group of women in technology and empowering women thing (in August, okay, so I had a relapse), the idea was to do something for women in technology by the end of the conference. Naturally, then it devolved into what the consensus would be about.

Out of that meeting came a domain name registration, then two months of nothing until I up and did a site prototype one night. It was completely different than anyone else had seen it, so if I’d waited for consensus, I might as well have been waiting for Elijah.

This is what I meant above by �excuses�. Even women like Dierdre seem to have their own rationalizations for the existence of sexism. We�re all swimming in it all our lives that we don�t even realize that we�re all soaking wet.

First, there are no “Dierdres” posting on this thread, m’kay?

Second, I think the issue isn’t sex as much as socialization (and I think we agree on that bit).

I’m not rationalizing the way things are, not at all. Until such time as women let go from feeling like consensus is more important to shipping, shipping software will take a back seat.

Steve Akers 04 Nov 05

Wow… don’t have time to read the whole thread, but I did want to add that ever single web designer I have ever worked with has been a woman.

Chris S 04 Nov 05

My wife is a woman.

Slow Motion, Quick Thinking 04 Nov 05

I didn’t read the whole flaming thing, but it made me think of studies about differences in male and female brains.
I think it is generally accepted that “spatial” and “processy” thinking is more of a male thing.
Maybe that makes computers and software more of a male thing by nature, like cars.
Doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of women that know more about cars than me.
I know nothing about cars.

Kyle 04 Nov 05

I find it funny how many assumptions are built upon assumptions that were assumed to be true can be found in this thread.

Who says I assumed men are the majority of application users? I know this.

How many of you have interpreted statistical reports? User surveys? How many of you have attended marketing meetings outlining target markets, their opinions and thoughts on design?

Also, who said ANYTHING about websites = applications? They’re two completely different camps. You cannot even begin to compare the Tiffy & Co website with say, Microsoft Office. We might as well be throwing bedroom furnature in the mix if we’re going that far.

Software is designed for men. Websites are designed for target audiences. (Good software should be, but software is generally not considered marketing collateral, while websites are).

Slow Motion, Quick Thinking 04 Nov 05

Oh and BTW, when Mac OS X first came out I think it was considered quite feminin, because of all the “extra” images and image effects.
I don’t think it’s considered that anymore.

Jane Doe 04 Nov 05

End teh software phallocracy !!!111oneoneone1oneeleventyone

Peter Boothe 04 Nov 05

Ummm… because most software developers are male? It’s very difficult to design software for someone who isn’t yourself - a fact you’ve often noted. This means that any gender assumptions that get carried through are generally male ones. The best software is generally not “designed for a woman”, but simply designed for neither gender in particular. Coding and design is a creative act, and culture is very much a part of creativity, and gender and culture all all wrapped up in a big old ball of wax.

I don’t know how software designed from the bottom up by a woman without being purposely “women’s software” would look. But I do know that I’m not qualified to write it myself and find out. I also know that as long as the gender imbalance in computer work is as extreme as it is now, we’ll never know the answer, and that we are probably missing some good ideas because of it.

Kathy Sierra 04 Nov 05

Chris said: “…sexism has told them their whole lives that technology is not for women.”

Hah ; )

I just ran that comment by my two teenage daughers who thought it was a hilarious thing to say—and yet another example of how clueless the only slightly older generation is… [I had to drag them away from MySpace to get them to listen to me at all.]

They believe the very notion of “women in technology” is just ridiculous. As my youngest put it, “that’s like saying ‘women in telephones’ for god’s sake.”
When you’ve been immersed in technology your entire life, it’s just a frickin’ tool… like the phone, microwave, and DVD player. They think saying “women in technology” or “men in technology” or “dogs in technology” are all equally weird. For so many in their generation, technology is almost entirely about what you do with it. The lines are not nearly so carefully drawn between hackers and end-users, or even programmers and non-programmers.

They cannot imagine a life without computers and software, but they are focused far less on the tech and far more on what the tech enables (video editing, photo editing, scoring dates and new and old friends in MySpace, finding out (and downloading) new indie music, etc.

I think it’s going to be increasingly difficult to make *any* kind of generalizations about women and technology without factoring in age and context.

All that said, I do think it’s entirely possible that some software has a little bit more of a “male” slant, but I believe it’s about ego more than anything else. I’ve heard the difference between men and women described like this:
A man gets in an elevator, pushes the button, and when nothing happens — he assumes there’s something wrong with the elevator [“damn elevator!” he swears, pushing the button harder]. The woman walks in, pushes the button, and when nothing happens — she assumes she just didn’t push it correctly. No big deal, just press it again and off we go.

From a gender perspective, I think look and feel are less important than the basic orientation with which a product is designed — if something isn’t usable, whose fault is it? I believe too many men assume it’s the user’s fault, and *that* is at the heart of so much user unhappiness.

But given the role that attractiveness plays in a product’s usability, then having a product that is perceived as more appealing by whoever is using it is always a good thing. So where are those intelligently adaptive UI’s…

Jason you clever boy… I wish *I’d* started this thread. ; )

Nicole 04 Nov 05

Frankly, I’m sick of gender being an issue in the design and development of things. Perhaps, this stems from the fact that, as SH noted above and I’ve said before, 9 times out of 10 “design for women” ends up pink and possibly with Hello Kitty all over it.

But, back to the original question proposed — no, I haven’t felt that most software is designed for men. I just care that it’s straight-forward, usable and works. I think software designed and developed correctly knows no gender barriers.

Chris Brogan... 04 Nov 05

Tom Peters says (and I believe) we’d all be smarter to develop and design to women’s needs. They’re making more of the dollar decisions overall than men (at least in the USA. YMMV out of country).

Further, 90-plus comments means you’ve hit on something, regardless of their payload.

jeena 04 Nov 05

hmmm maybe that’s why I haven’t found my ‘all time favorite’ website. I never really think about gender when creating or viewing other sites. But since men and women are different, I think there may be something to that on a subconcious level. Personally, I prefer symplicity over flashy. Or…. maybe I just think I do. hmmm

Chris D 04 Nov 05

My girlfriend and I are in our 30s and she beats the crap out of me at Halo 2…

Jennifer 04 Nov 05

I don’t know that we can rule out websites when we talk about software. Applications like Office and Quicken are quickly becoming the minority in the face of all the online software apps out there. I suspect that, aside from those who build these things, few people distinguish between an online app and a website. Come to think of it, is the shopping cart at an application or a website? How about this comment form or a poll? Most people may view them as websites, but I’d argue they’re mini-applications.

I don’t think of apps as masculine vs feminine. They either work well or they don’t. If they don’t, I’m frustrated because they don’t, not because they’re not designed for me as a woman.

But it would be interesting to talk about if there are male/female differences in usability. Where things are located vs how they look. And how much instruction to offer. Are men more into “gadget” features? Do women prefer more focused usability?

I hear y’all about the pink when designing for women. But don’t understimate the power of pink tools. I don’t need a pink hammer to feel comfortable using it. And it doesn’t make my husband feel threatened. But it does prove my point that he borrows my tools and never puts them back!

“Math is hard” It absolutely tickled me the other day to be watching some PBS special where the host speculated that mathematics may well have been invented by women to better keep track of the complex patterns in their weaving. At the time, men weren’t really doing anything requiring mathematics.

Viva L'Amour 05 Nov 05

What about software for drag queens?

Nick 05 Nov 05

Interesting discussion. My company is trying to design a series of shopping sites specifically designed for women - using appropriate color palettes, specific features, and special products that all cater to women. We are also using women to design the sites, test usability etc.

Amy 05 Nov 05

I would have to agree with the first post, most software these days is not designed for most humans. I also don’t think that software is designed specifically for any gender.

Your Mom 05 Nov 05

Software designed for men?

That may have been true. And I re-emphasize on the may. Back when programming was not a knowledge that every-fourth-person had, yes, I believe that software was designed for men. Now, when software development is being split into fields other than just “programming” (i.e. design, user interface, coding, etc.) I believe that software is being targeted towards both genders. Now instead of making programs like vi (possibly the worst user interface ever), we have proper editors which give feedback and are easy to use.

I have generally found that software that is designed for women tends to be also designed for men. i.e. What women like, men also like. Or if they don’t like, they at least don’t have a problem with it. However, software designed for men can be easy for some men and impossible for some men and some women.

Oh blast it. I am not going to type up an essay here.

The point is, it may have been designed in the early years for a specific gender. However, now it is changing…

Anonymous Coward 05 Nov 05

But I love vi. :(

foxybrown 05 Nov 05

In the words of Willow Rosenberg, “Bored now”.

DB 06 Nov 05

I don’t know if I’d agree. I worked in an office full of women (being a man myself, I was in the minority - about 15:1, Women:Men) and we worked almost exclusively with very ugly ASCII terminal based software.

Most commands were key combinations and the few menus that did exist were extremely non-descript. However in the office, the women there (even new-starts) knew the system inside out within a matter of weeks while the few men there (myself included on occassion) didn’t pick it up as well.

When it came to using Microsoft Outlook, most of the women could read their email, write new messages and do nothing else. The guys had all customized their Outlook preferences and layouts, set up distribution lists and used the calendar extensively.

Maybe my office was in some warped parallel universe but that’s how it was!

Mary-Ann Horley 07 Nov 05

I think rather than saying software is molstly designed for men, I’d say that it’s often designed from the starting point of cool technology instead of a solution. Or else it starts off as a solution and more and more crap is added to “improve” it. I don’t want to slag off engineers because I’m engaged to one, but a lot of their training does seem to be focused on technology and “improvements” instead of solving problems. I hope that is starting to change.

What I’ve noticed with the women in my friends and family is that we have so much less patience with software that doesn’t work well. The guys tend to persevere until they have what they want done, but we’ll uninstall it and do our task a quicker way if what we’ve downloaded is rubbish. I do want to point out that these six or seven women are hardly representative, but if that’s a common approach to technology then it’s a big endorsement to the 37signals way of doing things.

Don Schenck 07 Nov 05

Jennifer, et al — the “Math is hard” quote that I wrote was a reference to the obviously sexist talking Barbie Doll that Mattel produced some years back. You would pull the string and she’d talk, and one of the things she would say is “Math is hard”.

That drew tons of criticism.

Then again, I heard a comedian say a few months later, “Math IS hard”.

Jesper 08 Nov 05

“There are two kinds of people; people that divide everything into two categories, and those who do not.”

What the hell is wrong with the world? This question (and variations) keeps showing up in technology - “Why don’t women use x?” Would it make sense if you replaced “women” with “people over 6 feet tall”? “People who frequently have yogurt for breakfast”? “People who had a bad childhood”?

Different people have different tastes. I don’t think that there’s a very big difference in average between 100 computer-literate women and 100 computer-literate men.

You shouldn’t make decisions on how your software should look and work on contrived statistics in the first place. Do you somehow do something entirely different if asked to upload a file by clicking a button depending on what DNA chromosomes you have?

Maybe the point anyone asking this question is trying to make is that some software works in a way that doesn’t mesh with their particular stereotype regarding women - “too technical”, “too ugly” or whatever they could think up. That’s not a gender issue at all, that’s just personal taste or poor design. Stop trying to make it one, and leave the factor of gender to where it actually demonstrably *is* a factor.

Jesper 08 Nov 05

Just to clarify my comment a little bit… I’m not against any actual scientific research claiming striking differences between how all kinds of women are having problems with software and all kinds of men have not. But the problem is that I have never seen any such research paired with these sorts of questions. If there actually is an issue, it hasn’t been discovered yet.

In the meantime, we get questions acting as if there is an actual issue with consistent difference in behavior on any side of the divide, and the divide very often happens to be gender, because it’s probably the most powerful and obvious divide that we have. (Another would be “race”, “tribe”, “skin color”, “ethnic grouping” or whatever you might call it, to the extent that such a thing still exists in a global society.)

The whole deal just seems to be bullshit in search of publicity.

gretchen 08 Nov 05

I don’t want “girl-flavored” software anymore than I want “girl-flavored” books or cars. There’s sort of an argument for gender-related style, or weight-to-height adjusted sporting gear.

This thread is annoying because it starts with such a 1970s POV: that “sistah’s are doin’ it for themselves and don’t need men or bicycles” so we should have our own software skins. It just feels a little separate but equal.

If you have a tool that *is designed to function specifically for women* I’m interested. If you want to *style it for women* I’m bored. I know all guys don’t like the “brushed metal on black with green type” just like all women don’t like pink.

If you really think your product needs some visual differentiation, consider a bunch of skins. What about Trannies? What about racial origin? Might be a lot of things to skin for….

And web/computer stats from 1997 are a bit outdated to make claims about women and technology, don’t you think?

Lily 09 Nov 05

Gee — could it have ANYTHING to do with the fact that venture capital-backed companies’ boards are about 99.8% male, and they’ve created a bunch of the software apps we know and love? Either that or when any group tries to design “for the other side,” it comes across as pandering? Think Bill Gates and early MSN — we’ll give you a list of sites we think you should go to, when the competitors were giving us the pure Web — Bill as Big Brother, knowing what was best for us. Puhlease! So many of the comments in this thread have been so right on. And as far as women not having contributed “much” to society in the way of inventions, etc., you do have to do a little digging to find out, but more and more books are beginning to cover this these days — and there are some great ones. “Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business,” by Virginia Drachman, and “Women Invent!” by Susan Casey. It’s not hopeless, it’s just under-reported.

Les 09 Nov 05

All your software looks to be designed for women.