Two researchers from the University of Glamorgan found that when it comes to web design, what appeals to men doesn’t float a woman’s boat — uh, can I say that in public? The study focused on personal websites designed by college students at Glamorgan and then moved on to sites designed by French and Polish university students — I assume to measure if the conclusions were regional, which they weren’t. The study’s findings further concluded that women prefer websites designed by women.

Gloria Moss, Research fellow at the University of Glamorgan Business School teamed up with statistician Rod Gunn to conduct the research to discover if businesses and organisations are making the most of their web presence to help them reach their particular target audiences.

“We started off by looking at the personal websites created by 60 university students, 30 male and 30 female, to discover whether there were any major design differences. We looked at factors such as language, visuals, and navigation – the differences were immediately apparent,” explained Gloria Moss. “The statistics are complicated, but there is no doubt about the strength of men and women’s preference for sites produced by people of their own sex,” said statistician and co-researcher Dr Rod Gunn.

As a side note, in response to that line, “The statistics are complicated…”, I’d like to know exactly when statistics are not complicated. I only know one man who had the ability to walk a person through a statistical data and the mathematics used to obtain the results without completely confusing the person and making them cry like a second runner in a Ms. America pagent. If you ever find yourself having to take Applied Statistics (AS300) at the University of Alaska Anchorage, fight your way into Hienz Noonan’s class. That man is a well dressed genius, yet plain spoken and writes with nothing less than a Mont Blanc.

On a side, side note, I am happy to see the researchers included navigation as a design element in this study. I’m still amazed at how many people just shrug when it comes to the importance of navigation when it comes to the behavior of the web user. While I have yet to come across one navigation scheme that appeals to one sex over another it’s still an important science that should not always be left up to borrowing conventions used in other websites.

Moving on, the report found that men are drawn to design with “straight lines straight lines (as opposed to rounded forms), few colours in the typeface and background, and formal typography.” Uh hello?, can you say Subtraction? I need not say more.

As I could not find the actual report, I’m not sure what the study found to be appealing to women, but based off the comments left in the press release I left to assume that women like design that doesn’t contain a lot of right angles, more colors than fewer, and typography that can be worn to a business meeting but dressed down for a cocktail party. In other words: a loose interpretation of a grid system, a color palette with more than four values, and it’s time call Helvetica and tell her the love affair is over.

Ah Helvetica, It’s like wearing a smoking jacket to breakfast.

Despite the parity of target audience, the results found that 94% of the sites displayed a masculine orientation with just 2% displaying a typically female bias. Further research found that the majority of sites, 74%, were produced by a man or a predominantly male team while just 7% were designed by a female or female team.

Again I wish I had the full report to know what they interpret as having a female bias. I don’t refute the findings but it would be interesting to read some of the remarks made by the women in the study.

“What we have found is that organisations are not considering how they can tailor their websites to appeal to their entire target audience. If this is true for education institutions, then it is also very likely to be true for businesses who are not attaining their potential because their website isn’t meeting the visual needs of their audience.”

I blame the male ego.

In the last ten years I’ve worked in a handful of positions that often put me in the middle of the decision making process. These decisions ranged from creating a color scheme to devising a strategy for raising eleven million dollars and some change. No matter the objective, the number of hours spent “planning”, or the days spent devising “strategy” one key criteria was always missing: user/customer input.

I have to blame the male ego because whenever I would bring up the need for user input (male and/or female) you would have thought I had asked if everyone was sure they had a penis. Over the years I’ve heard every excuse for not needing to consider a customers preferences, from years of experience to the degree and length of a person’s graduate education. Of course this wasn’t always the case, there were times when user input was agreed to and sought after, although occasionally the results were questioned and the group reverted back to their cough dangling intuition.

It was never evident to my peers and superiors that being oblivious to user preferences was a big strategic error. And it happened time-and-time again. Had these meetings been a Major League Baseball game, every one of them would have earned at nice fat ‘E’ next to their name.

“If website [success] is to maximized, greater attention needs to be given to the production aesthetic used and the consequent appeal websites will have to their target markets. Given the strong tendency for each sex to prefer the output of its own sex, it does not make sense to attempt to appeal to women using an aesthetic which is largely male.”

No matter how hard we will try, it’s not possible for men to understand women, but it is possible for us to design to their needs and liking. This report’s conclusion suggests that men can not possibly channel a woman’s design preference and I’m not sure if I buy that. I mean if Guccio Gucci can do it so can we all, but it requires knowing what’s important to the intended audience and that most definitely requires research: asking questions, listening to the responses, and formulating the appropriate art direction.