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
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)