I say unsurprising because the findings are in step with some fairly well-accepted ideas about how men and women relate to design, at least in general.
A point made by Gloria Moss, Research Fellow and co-author of the study describes how men and women differ in their approach to shape:
“ . . . males favour the use of straight lines (as opposed to rounded forms) . . .”
That women like circles and men prefer straight lines is no accident. If we look to known archetypes, the circle signifies the feminine and attributes considered to be feminine: curves, community and cooperative communication. The straight line signifies the male not only physically, but in terms of representing focus and linear thought and communication.
These archetypes historically appear in product design, which is where Moss and her colleague, statistician Rod Gunn, make some compelling points about how gender bias among Web designers could have significant impact on the way visitors to Web sites interact with Web sites.
Gunn points out that:
“. . . there is no doubt about the strength of men and women’s preference for sites produced by people of their own sex.”
One of my favorite examples of shape in product design has to do with the design of automobiles.
Cars that are meant to appeal to men tend to have more straight lines and as a result, angles, in their design.
Consider the Ford GT. This car is most decidedly geared to be sold to males, and its design is so full of straight lines and angles the car almost appears to be a flat, straight line.
Those vehicles meant to appeal to women have more curves. The VW Bug is predominantly bought by women, and it is all about round.
There are many other visual examples of this across design and the fine arts, and the Glamorgan study raises a significant issue about matching gender styles to audiences in order to achieve more effective communication on Web sites.
According to Moss:
“If website flow is to be maximised, 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.”
Moss and Gunn studied groups in Wales, France and Poland and their findings have crossed national boundaries. This suggests that at least to the Western eye and ear, the esthetics influencing how male and female Web designers use shape, type, space as well as language is consistent.
Awareness of this esthetic difference can allow both female and male designers to incorporate that knowledge into how they approach a given design. If the site is selling to women versus men, taking into account the linearization of esthetics will very likely improve how site visitors interact with that site.
Interesting stuff… I personally think the Ford GT is much sexier than that little weird bug and I enjoy designing with clean lines. But I was accused once of making a design that would do well for Tampax (still bitter over that one).