Gender Differences and Why They Matter In Web Design

Manoj kumar | 5th December 2017

Male and Female Differences

Are there differences between men and women, and should these be at the core of your design decisions? Well, there’s certainly plenty of research which suggests that men and women approach aesthetics differently; still, the big question is—do those differences actually matter? As it turns out, they do. Read on in order to appreciate these and incorporate them into designing work that will not only speak to your users better but will also reach them with a greater likelihood of their making a call to action.

Different Scanning Patterns

If you take a group of men and give them a picture and say, “Please judge the artistic merits,” their eyes tend to start looking at the top left of the frame and then scan to the bottom right. If you ask a group of women to do this – they’ll start at the top right and scan to the bottom left.

It’s an interesting piece of information, but is it a valuable piece of information? Is it likely that a website’s visitors are going to find it more or less attractive based on the direction in which they scanned the landing page? It’s certainly a consideration for you to take on board. With these patterns in mind, you have two routes by which to entice your users with an attractive design, not one.

Men and women approach scanning something with their eyes in different ways, but does this make any difference to their preferences?

Colour Preferences

“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

—Gloria Steinem; feminist, journalist, social and political activist.

The whole “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys” concept is generally derided as sexist or trite today. However, many manufacturers continue to cater for this idea. Yet, the peculiar thing is that this concept of colour preference is relatively new. For many years, the opposite preferences held sway, such that “pink was for boys” and “blue was for girls”. From the 18th century until the 1920s, that reversal was nearly always the case. In fact, in 1918, the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls.

It’s pretty important to ensure that any differences between men and women that you choose to accentuate through design actually exist and aren’t just a deliberate construct. In other words, you can’t just come up with a new way of designing just because you believe that men prefer triangles and women circles.

Strangely, when you test the theory of blues and pinks, both men and women seem to prefer the color blue, and both seem to find pink one of the least attractive colors available.

Failure to identify real gender differences can leave you seeming as sexist as the meme below:

You run a real risk of being perceived as sexist if you create artificial gender differences in your web presence.


Yes, gender differences do exist, but they are not normally specifically pronounced enough to base your design decisions on. For example, research in the US says men like “flash, animated, interactive” websites, and women like “colors that are clean and design that is uncluttered”. Delivering both sounds impossible, and it probably is.

Writing for Adpearance in 2012, Ren Walker’s article “5 Myths About Designing for Women” exposes and busts the following myths:

  • Women need their own gender-targeted websites.
  • Sites for women should be pink.
  • Women don’t care about tech specs OR Women need a lot of copy to convince them to purchase.
  • (Imagery such as) Showing women inside the home, as mothers, doing yoga.
  • Women like the imagery of the young and youthful.

However, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female; if you’re a Westerner, there’s a fair chance that your favorite search engine is Google. That’s clean and uncluttered and not flashy or animated (most of the time).

Satisfying your audience is more important than pandering to gender differences most of the time. Most private consumer industries comprise a mixed clientele. The idea of having two sites for the same organization based on reaching male and female users does not seem viable. However, if you are specifically targeting one gender—for example, feminine hygiene products or male pattern baldness—you will almost certainly want to take a deeper look at how that gender responds to your website.

In particular, it’s worth noting that women are generally less satisfied with online experiences than men are. They find a lot of what’s on the web off-putting and vaguely hostile.

If you really want to know what makes your customers happy, do some market research throughout the design phase. The better you know your customers, the more likely you’ll make them happy – whether they’re male, female or a combination of the two.

Both genders, in Western nations, choose Google as their search engine of preference even if it doesn’t meet the supposed male preferences for designs.

The Take-Away

Of course, there are differences between people of each gender. Nature and nurture (AKA “biochemistry” and “gender-role enculturation”) will play a part as regards how they influence users in appreciating your design’s effectiveness (or not). However, those differences as we move forward in an enlightened age are not as significant as we would once have believed. People differ as individuals, anyway; women differ amongst themselves, as do men. If you intend to cater to a specific gender through your design, seeking some customization based on that gender’s preferences makes good sense. Even so, conducting research to see what those preferences really are rather than relying on dated (and quite possibly inaccurate) stereotypes of those preferences is absolutely vital. Also bear in mind that if you’re designing for one gender in another culture, you will have two considerations to keep firmly in mind. Trusting in good research and making careful, testable designs are key to avoiding any problems when you roll out your work.

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Manoj kumar

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