Women Buy Everything. So Why Aren’t You Designing for Them?
First of all, why should industrial design brands care about women? Women aren’t particularly “industrial” are they? Wrong.
In the US B2C world, women account for 80% of consumer spending. And they buy significantly more industrially-designed products than men. According to Michael Silverstein of the Boston Consulting Group,
“Women make the decision in purchases of 94% of home furnishings… 92% of vacations… 91% of homes… 60% of automobiles… and 51% of consumer electronics.”
Please tell me you aren’t thinking something like, “Well, sure, women buy a lot of consumer goods. Isn’t that sweet?”
Women mean business, too. Women also account for about 55% of business buying decisions (Listen up, B2B!). It’s worth noting that, according to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, women comprise over half of wholesale and retail buyers (think retail inventory), purchasing agents and managers (cost of goods), administrative assistants and managers (business equipment and services), and HR employees and managers (employee benefit plans). In other words, except for real estate and new building construction, women place the purchase order. And even if she’s a recommender rather than the final decision-maker, if you don’t make her short list, you have no shot at the contract.
How to Design Products Women Love
How do we know that the world of industrial design is failing in marketing to women? In many categories, women report a continuing gap between what they want and what they’re offered. By large majorities, they feel manufacturers, marketers and designers aren’t paying attention to what they want.
In the automotive industry, for example, a 2014 Frost & Sullivan study of car buyers revealed that globally 50% of women are dissatisfied with their vehicles, which probably explains why fully 74% say they feel misunderstood by car manufacturers. I’ve seen similarly shocking numbers from studies in other big-ticket categories, including consumer electronics, financial services and healthcare, so I’d be comfortable guessing that this pattern would hold in just about any of them.
Design firms love to say that their process is customer centric. But the marketplace is telling us that either they’re focusing on the wrong customer—at the very minimum, they’re not including the right customer—or they aren’t doing a great job figuring out what she wants. Women are different. They aren’t built like men. They have different lifestyles and roles than men. They perceive, prioritize and shop differently than men do. And as far as women can tell, designers and marketers don’t care.
Women are far more likely than men to recognize and respond to the second-tier features and improvements that all brands rely on to differentiate themselves from competitors. Women’s perceptual abilities allow them to register and retain details better than men do. Moreover, because women shop differently from men, they pay more attention to features that men—and researchers—tend to classify as unimportant.
Men are more likely to believe that little things make little difference. Women believe that little things make all the difference. In their search for the perfect answer, women seek out more options and compare their trade-offs down to the last detail.
In the world of industrial design, thousands of products are annoying millions of women every day. And for designers, that’s called opportunity. Listening to women—as end users, as buyers and as designers—is a sure and certain path to better innovation, stronger sales and greater career success.