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What is Gender-based User Experience Design?

Web DesignNov 25, 2015
Author: Steve Herz
What is Gender-based User Experience Design?

In today's landscape of deeply personal and highly customizable technology, it's difficult to imagine web design in which UX -- user experience -- isn't central to the concept. Websites created with user-centered design are optimized so that users will interact with the website (rather than forcing users to adapt their behavior to the site), and new research has shown that one important variable that affects user experience is gender. According to a recent piece in Entrepreneur, "Research has provided evidence that there are inherited differences between the cognitive style of men and women -- in other words, the way men and women think, perceive and remember information." And these differences have implications for web design.

The Clicktale study analyzed the way men and women interact with different websites and found that the differences between the genders could be observed again and again. In one image taken from a recipe website women were shown to be more likely to click on icons in the menu heading and sidebars than were their male counterparts, who tended to be far more restrained with their clicking. Male participants seemed to search for exactly what they were looking for and simply left the site when they were done.

In a heat map analysis, the parts of the webpage that typically caught the attention of the two group were labelled as "hot" bands. In a narrow 'hot' band in the center of the page, men were focused on the ingredients of a recipe and how to prepare it. Women, on the other hand, browsed up and down the page more and were less focused -- as seen by the wider, more diffused 'hot' band. Both heat maps confirm that men were far more systematic in their behavior on the site while women fit the empathizing cognitive style far more."

How are these observations relevant to web design? The study reveals that the online behavior of men and women reflects their cognitive styles, which in turn affects the way they interact with websites. With the target user in mind, psychology savvy designers might apply this research in a number of ways:

Reasons to go online: When it comes to shopping, men tend to be task-focused, while women are more oriented toward social interaction. That means male users will likely focus on the site's utility (how easily they find what they want or can complete the task), whereas women enjoy the browsing process.

Website type: Women on the web are generally focused on socializing and communicating -- checking social media, composing an email. Men prefer to use websites as tools -- as sources of information.

Focus: It turns out men tend to be the more impulsive shoppers, preferring headlines and bullet points that quickly convey information. Male users also tend to be less concerned than women about price add-ons like shipping costs. Women tend to require more information in order to make a decision (as illustrated by the ClickTale analysis that showed their tendency to view multiple pages). They're also likely to respond to pops of color, to read more ad copy, to read stories in detail, and to care more about bargains. Women are also much more concerned about online security.

Applied to website design, gender related solutions may make a big difference in the user's online experience and the customer journey. This reinforces the importance of knowing your target audience in the creative design process.

Plus, you may want to consider personalized graphics, messaging, or pages based on gender. This can be executed effectively through a more sophisticated CMS solution.

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