Web Gender and How it May Affect Website Design!

Is the internet male or female? An interesting question! I would say that my temperamental and often stubborn laptop in undoubtedly male!! Isn’t it interesting how men call things like ships ‘she’. The recent research done by the University of Glamorgan noted how websites designed by men are usually more boxy and square, focusing on clear lines and formal text. Interestingly, when looking at the design of cars, men tend to appreciate streamlined, ‘softer’ bodywork, which is more feminine!

Web design male dominated

It was my Dad who brought up the recent discussion about ‘web gender’ to my attention.

My own personal experience leads to conclude that the discussed ‘male domination’ stretches across the Computer industry as a whole.

Having studied Computer Science at Liverpool University, it is clear as you walk around, even to the most unobservant person that female students are in the minority in our department.

Women can change the face of web design

Whilst it is true that the industry has long since been dominated by men, and that this has undoubtedly influenced the internet as we know it today, I believe that things are changing. I agree totally with Kelly Laslow’s comment in a previous issue of .NET saying that it is up to the women involved in the computer industry to ‘make their mark’ and change the internet’s stereotypical male image.

As more and more female IT professionals are emerging, this is changing over time. Arguably the Computer industry is following the same path as so many groups and industries before it, gradually moving away from the traditional male image.

A good example of this is the modern day Armed Forces. Perhaps it has just taken us longer to get there!

Accessible website design

However, I believe that our focus as designers should be on making our websites user-friendly, accessible and appealing to the variety of web users surfing the internet today.

Whilst it is true that the traditional boxy and square web layouts are undoubtedly more masculine in design, they are also generally simpler to understand and use than more complicated layouts.

Keep web design clear and simple

Many television adverts today boast some stunning visual effects and technological advancement, as a user I often find myself at a loss to decide exactly what they were trying to sell me!

Flash and web design

There has been much debate about the use / over use of Flash.
Used carefully, Flash provides a clean, elegant, ‘seamless’ feel to sites.

The visual design benefits are clear for all to see. However, like with TV adverts, recent surfing of the web has faced me with many instances of confusion and even annoyance at unclear navigation, slow loading times and lack of content!

If I, who have been brought up with computers struggle to deal with these sites, what chance does my Grandmother or even some of my Aunts stand!

User focused web design

I believe designers, regardless of gender should re-focus on the user, highlighting clear navigation, accessibility for all (including those stuck in the dark ages of before broadband!) and content rich sites. It is all too easy to become ‘lost in technology’ and visual effects.

That isn’t what the internet is about. Its purpose is to provide information. Perhaps the interest in Blog pages stems from the need for a more personal, user friendly approach to the internet? They also show how the internet has become part of our daily lives.

Interesting though, the Internet still appears differently to each user, especially for those who use browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Netscape!

When I preview my sites there is still a part of me which holds my breath despite the fact that Internet Explorer may display my site correctly,
JUST in case Mozilla pulls its usual trick of completely destroying the layout of my site based on teeny tiny insignificant things such as a paragraph tag in the wrong place!! Ok clearly not so insignificant in this case! So what gender does this make our browsers!

Up for discussion.

Web standards

The Internet is a vast confluence of cultures, ideas and information. It is up to designers to focus on the important things to keep standards high.
Published in .NET 2006

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