Tech for women? Try a lit­tle em­pa­thy

Lady Geek’s chief be­lieves the tech in­dus­try’s trend for un­nec­es­sary fea­tures and clue­less stabs at mar­ket­ing to women is cur­able

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS - Belinda Parmar

In­sight by Lady Geek’s Belinda Parmar

It seems that ev­ery time I up­grade my phone, the de­vice-maker has bun­dled more crap­ware that I have to dis­able or unin­stall to achieve a serene min­i­mal­ism.

It’s as if I’d bought a house only to have the es­tate agent boast that as a cour­tesy to me they’d al­ready sub­let three of its rooms and then dumped a com­pli­men­tary half-tonne of pig slurry into the swim­ming pool. Thanks guys, it’s as if you read my mind. Why are brands not lis­ten­ing to people who want their prod­ucts clean and sim­ple? It’s in­dica­tive of a cul­ture that val­ues fea­tures over em­pa­thy, which is en­demic in the tech biz. In­stead of try­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter prod­uct, brands com­pete to see whose prod­uct can do the most “stuff”, even if that stuff is point­less. It’s a tech piss­ing con­test, and we’ve been caught in the crossfire.

This de­sire to pile on the fea­tures re­sults in Franken­stein’s monster prod­ucts like the Nep­tune Pine, un­leashed at the last CES. Billed as the most pow­er­ful smart­watch ever made, it can prob­a­bly do ev­ery­thing, but it looks like a lunch­box strapped on to your wrist.

The art of good prod­uct de­sign is know­ing what to leave out. Any com­pany that de­ludes it­self into be­liev­ing its prod­uct has uni­ver­sal

ap­peal has failed at one of the fun­da­men­tals: show­ing em­pa­thy.

Tech brands, dom­i­nated by men who live and breathe com­plex­ity, are par­tic­u­larly quick to dis­miss em­pa­thy as a fluffy, overtly fem­i­nine trait. No won­der, then, that adding com­plex­ity and ex­tras to prod­ucts has be­come al­most syn­ony­mous with “value” in gad­gets.

No won­der, ei­ther, that tech firms’ at­tempts to mar­ket at women are of­ten so ham-fisted.

The de­fault strat­egy is Pink It and Shrink ItTM. Take last year’s model, slim it down a bit, cover it in pink or glit­tery plas­tic, and throw in a few fea­tures for the girlies. Per­haps a calo­rie counter or some­thing to do with fash­ion. Give it a jaunty name like Mis­tique or Femme and then mar­ket it as an ac­ces­sory in the ladies’ glossies.

It’s a laugh­able strat­egy. No won­der these kinds of prod­ucts fail to sell to af­flu­ent fe­males with dis­pos­able in­come. Women glob­ally are re­spon­si­ble for pur­chas­ing 66 per cent of com­put­ers. Do you know any­body over the age of ten who’d want to be seen in pub­lic with a pink dia­mante lap­top?

The as­sump­tion that we want our prod­ucts to look like some­thing a Barbie doll would use is a key fail­ure of em­pa­thy. It’s brands jump­ing to clichéd as­sump­tions about their cus­tomer rather than try­ing to get to know her.

Take the ridicu­lously sex­ist mar­ket­ing

What adu lt would happi ly be seen in pub lic with a pink dia­mante lap­top?

of HotTechTo­day.com, which pushes gad­gets that of­fer noth­ing spe­cific to their tar­get mar­ket be­yond pretty colours – like TruEn­ergy’s ear­phones, which come in “Flirty”, “Play­ful” and “In­spired” mod­els. Then there are the cringe­wor­thy at­tempts straight out of the 1950s – CES 2014 fea­tured wash­ing ma­chines with web con­nec­tiv­ity.

The good news is that with a lit­tle help, com­pa­nies can learn to em­pathise, but usu­ally it re­quires a spark: an in­di­vid­ual needs to see things as they re­ally are. A com­pany can­not en­gi­neer it­self out of un­lik­able prod­ucts, but it can start to pay back the em­pa­thy deficit, valu­ing those people who are good at em­pathiz­ing with cus­tomers.

The eas­i­est way to stop mak­ing aw­ful pink prod­ucts and ab­surdly over-fea­tured mon­strosi­ties? Start pay­ing at­ten­tion to what cus­tomers ac­tu­ally want, value and buy. @be­lin­da­parmar is the CEO of Lady Geek and the cam­paigner be­hind The Em­pa­thy Era (em­pa­thy­era.org and the book of the same name)

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