Tech Designers Think They Know What Women Want

Today’s NY Times has an article about how tech designers are figuring out that (gasp) women buy technology.

Don’t get excited. Wait till you see what they think women want:

Energizer, the battery maker, went so far as to create a charger for each sex. The Dock & Go, at $33, is aimed at men. Black and gray with shiny trim, the two pods hold up to four batteries each (AA or AAA). A light glows red when it is charging, yellow when it is charged.

The second device, the $20 Easy Charger [pictured], is aimed at women, who usually end up managing the household’s batteries. This charger is flat, round and sold with interchangeable faceplates in silver, black and eggshell that help it blend in with kitchen appliances. Large light-emitting-diode readouts spell out what the countertop charger is doing at every phase of the charging cycle. Focus-group testing indicated that men were turned off by the Easy Charger, especially in how its readouts appeared to tell them what they thought they already knew…“’We found that how people use chargers is very different,” she said. “For her, she wants it to be instantly understandable.”

Geez, and all these years I’ve been using a (unisex?) Radio Shack charger instead of one for women. But then my charger doesn’t match my kitchen: a decorating faux pas! How nice that the women’s charger costs less – did the men in their focus groups prefer to pay more?

Besides a general level of cluelessness, this reveals the misuse of qualitative research methods, in this case, focus groups: sit down a bunch of people, ask them some questions, and, voila, make proclamations about “women” and “men.”

The article does indicate one area where this research is valid – sometimes: size. Smaller and lighter objects for carrying around, such as for cameras. However, they come to some odd conclusions in this domain, too:

….the wider spacing of the keys on a new Sony ultraportable computer notebook …accommodates the longer fingernails that women tend to have.

Quick, look around: how many women who would buy an expensive Sony ultraportable actually have long fingernails? Of course there’s also the issue of smaller keys with lesser spacing for women’s smaller hands. What’s a poor tech company to do?

Here’s an idea: offer a range of options, not for women and men, but for people with different needs and preferences. Oh, but then they wouldn’t know which to make in black and silver, and which to match the kitchen appliances.

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