The other day I stopped by a friend’s pitch practice session for startup founders to enjoy a free lunch. To my amusement, a guy got up and started to pitch:

“A [consumer packaged food product] for the urban woman.”

Bullshit detector on high alert, I looked around the room and realized that, save for the intern and the community manager (both sitting beside me on the couch at the back of the room), the room was all guys. I couldn’t help myself, I had to say something–

“How on earth is this for women? Unless there is birth control in it, it sounds like this is for everyone. Don’t “shrink-it-and-pink-it.””

The women beside me nodded; the guys looked confused. One of the mentors piped up–

“What’s that mean?”

I explained that “shrink-it-and-pink-it” was (and still is) an unsuccessful design philosophy targeted at women. The concept takes a product designed for men and makes it a little bit smaller and pink. There have been some famous epic failures. Dell made a pink lady laptop called Della and a website that was just as amazing, but not in a good way.

“Once you get beyond how cute they are, you […] can do a lot more than check your email.”
—Della “Tech Tips”

True. It could be used “to track calories, carbs and protein with ease, watch online fitness video, map your running routes and more.” This is not a one-off phenomenon. Check out the Bic Cristal for Her and the abominable ePad Femme, which comes pre-loaded with apps for calculating clothing sizes, yoga, cooking and shopping – what more could a woman ever need?

This is a clumsy, patronizing approach coming from a group of guys who believe: “We know what women want.”

It is not an effective design strategy. Men’s choices for women reflect their own perceptions. The idea that women are marketed products made of bright colors, curves and surface decoration says less about what women want and more about how male designers fetishize women, as bright, sparkly, curvy and all surface.

Women are not a niche market.

Not only are they over fifty percent of the population but they make eighty percent of buying decisions. A really good example of women not being taken into account is cell phones. We have this huge “size debate.” Cell phones are getting bigger and bigger but women have smaller hands than most men (if we don’t count Donald Trump) and a phone needs to fit their hands too.

Of course, the underlying point is about design process. I believe that designing for women means a creating a high quality, understandable product that’s not assuming specific prior knowledge and steps out of the ‘by dudes for dudes’ mindset. Companies need to bring in female customers who are often being alienated because they have different experiences than men.

Women are different people. You need to connect with who they are.

The pitch session ended. They got it and I hope the rest of the tech industry can too.