Pinking

January 11th, 2012
Written by Cindi
@deziner

I just sat through a live webinar hosted by FEI – Front End of Innovation titled “Womenomic Meet Design: A Female Innovation Strategy.” It was a presentation about the findings of a 3 year research project titled “Female Interaction,” a multidisciplinary research project focusing on female interaction design for advanced electronic products. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s quite fascinating. You can check out more information on their site.

While the information was great, my key takeaway wasn’t an insight or idea, but rather a term: Pinking.

“Pinking” refers to the redesign tenets of “for female” products being based in stereotypical color, feel or visual implementations. You know the phenomenon well. There are cameras–and pink cameras for women. There are watches–and watches with flowers for women. There are earphones–and earphones with bling for women. (Not to mention, most often pink bling to be clear.) I know that I have been acutely aware of such narrowmindedness in product design for quite some time now, especially after the #littlemen arrived. I am forced to walk down segregated toy isles and have conversations that include instruction on things like: “no, just because that ball is pink does not not mean that it is a ‘girl toy,’ it means it is a ball that is the color pink.”

Girl Legos

Perfect example of “Pinking.” Why wouldn’t legos for girls include pink shoes?

But more and more people are taking notice, and being vocal about just how silly (on the lighthearted side,) or detrimental (on the serious side) the effects of this fundamental lack of effort or thinking is. A recent post on Sociological Images entitled “Beauty and the New Lego Line for Girls.” points out how the company is terming the focus of introducing new girl themed legos to be on furthering interest in “science.” The goal: get more girls engaged with legos as a foray into engineering and the sciences. Obviously the only way to entice young girls to be interested in building things is to pretty the pieces up.

Sigh.

There were always legos for girls… they’re called legos.

I am thankful for research projects like the Female Interaction project, and for people who are making an effort to be aware of and point out examples of this lack of understanding on the part of product designers, and the companies that produce, promote and stand behind them. And now, we all have a word too. Which will make spreading awareness even simpler, and the discussions more focused. I challenge you to pay attention. What products have you encountered that have been “pinked” to reach the female audience? How could that product have been designed and developed to truly serve a woman audience?

And the uncomfortable question for the day… have you engaged in “pinking” for any of your own products or services? It’s worth the examination.

7 Comments

Comments

  1. I had an idea about the ‘legos for girls’ situation. Boys became more obsessed with legos once they came out with the branded and themed versions. Ninjago Legos, Star Wars Legos, Atlantis, Hero Factory, themes with law enforcement and more have been placed on store shelves and inspire young boys imaginations. How many of these include ANY girl figures? I don’t believe I’ve seen a single one. Lego doesn’t need to create girl themed Legos any more than we need girl themed video games. Just include girls and women figures in your products equal to your inclusion of boys. And don’t make them all princesses and damsels in distress. How about adventurers and ninjas and cops? Perhaps look around at the real world and reflect some of the interesting rolls that we play.

    Dear Lego,
    Girls haven’t been interested in your toys because you’ve sent a clear message that girls are excluded from your products.
    Sincerely,
    A mom who loves to play with Legos

    • Such great thoughts Gail! And I completely agree… believe it or not, women are everywhere, in all walks of life, why is that not represented in the toys made for our children? And I don’t know about you… but every woman I meet doesn’t wear pink. :)

      • Such great thoughts Gail! And I completely agree… believe it or not, women are everywhere, in all walks of life, why is that not represented in the toys made for our children? And I don’t know about you… but every woman I meet doesn’t wear pink. :)

  2. You know, the whole “pinking” thing to me is a matter of placing the emphasis on the right “syl-label” (syllable) throughout the concept-to-delivery process. I think a lot of good intent gets lost between these two ends of a product’s food chain. For instance, someone might have identified a male-dominant message being sent by Lego because they didn’t have any – or many – female characters in their sets. Good catch. The solution – include them. Good idea. The execution, however – makes it “girls’ Legos”. Bad realization. Similarly, a number of products, in particular real estate, technology, autos, etc. emerge from engineering/design repetoirs that remain male-dominated. I can’t tell you how many times I heard a woman say derogitorily “Who designed this home, a man?” The challenge is to drive for balance at all levels of the delivery stream so that a correct read of the market at conception isn’t completely morphed into a failed product at delivery. “Pinking” might be good, or bad, depending on how it is realized in the process. If it’s an after-thought sort of fix, it has a lesser chance to result in a successful product than if it is a sensitivity that’s inbred throughout the process. As women steadily increase as a percentage of the workfoce and heads of household – ultimately decisionmakers in a consumer sense – it is a foregone conclusion that delivered products have to be adept at meeting the particular demands/needs/wants of women. Amen to that.

    • I agree… the fact that people notice that a product is not serving women well is a good step, unfortunately I think the missteps that you point out happen so early on in the process that it’s hard to even overcome the issues. The problems stem from starting with a stereotype, and I’m not sure that having more women in place in the design/build process is the answer (Although don’t get me wrong, we need more of that too!) I don’t think that in our culture, in our businesses, anywhere should women be responsible for representing the needs of women in product design. Or vice versa. I think people in general need to step back and be deeply respectful that perhaps genders have different drivers and the sense to start the exploration process by finding out what those are, rather than defaulting to a stereotypical premise. And that goes for both males and females. I’ve seen plenty of products “manned up” to supposedly sell a regular product to males. (Axe anyone? It’s body wash people… don’t fool yourself.) It’s a tough subject for sure… ad just like anything else, the first step really is awareness, which hopefully is growing. :)

  3. You know, the whole “pinking” thing to me is a matter of placing the emphasis on the right “syl-label” (syllable) throughout the concept-to-delivery process. I think a lot of good intent gets lost between these two ends of a product’s food chain. For instance, someone might have identified a male-dominant message being sent by Lego because they didn’t have any – or many – female characters in their sets. Good catch. The solution – include them. Good idea. The execution, however – makes it “girls’ Legos”. Bad realization. Similarly, a number of products, in particular real estate, technology, autos, etc. emerge from engineering/design repetoirs that remain male-dominated. I can’t tell you how many times I heard a woman say derogitorily “Who designed this home, a man?” The challenge is to drive for balance at all levels of the delivery stream so that a correct read of the market at conception isn’t completely morphed into a failed product at delivery. “Pinking” might be good, or bad, depending on how it is realized in the process. If it’s an after-thought sort of fix, it has a lesser chance to result in a successful product than if it is a sensitivity that’s inbred throughout the process. As women steadily increase as a percentage of the workfoce and heads of household – ultimately decisionmakers in a consumer sense – it is a foregone conclusion that delivered products have to be adept at meeting the particular demands/needs/wants of women. Amen to that.

    • I agree… the fact that people notice that a product is not serving women well is a good step, unfortunately I think the missteps that you point out happen so early on in the process that it’s hard to even overcome the issues. The problems stem from starting with a stereotype, and I’m not sure that having more women in place in the design/build process is the answer (Although don’t get me wrong, we need more of that too!) I don’t think that in our culture, in our businesses, anywhere should women be responsible for representing the needs of women in product design. Or vice versa. I think people in general need to step back and be deeply respectful that perhaps genders have different drivers and the sense to start the exploration process by finding out what those are, rather than defaulting to a stereotypical premise. And that goes for both males and females. I’ve seen plenty of products “manned up” to supposedly sell a regular product to males. (Axe anyone? It’s body wash people… don’t fool yourself.) It’s a tough subject for sure… ad just like anything else, the first step really is awareness, which hopefully is growing. :)