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Designing technology for and by women

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Hazel Boyd Nina Evans We advocate better technology for everyone and believe inclusive design is the only way forward, so we work with end-users, carers and health professionals to help us understand the problem, find a solution and test it in real life situations.

Does design for dementia reflect that two thirds of people living with dementia are women and most carers are women?

It is a common misconception that men are more interested in and able to use technology than women. We have found that the things that make a product easy or difficult to use do not split along the gender divide but are much more influenced by factors such as the individual's experience with technology and their personality. In particular people living with dementia can lose confidence in their abilities as their condition progresses.

There is a limit to the extent to which design needs to reflect gender in terms of clarity and usability because if something is easy to use it is easy to use by everybody. However it is possible that aesthetics and marketing of technology may need to be more carefully targeted to include women to maximise take up by both genders particularly because many purchasers of technology (for example wives or daughters in law) will be women.

Design for dementia does not always reflect the needs of people living with dementia and there is currently a big challenge to utilise the potential of technology to meet these needs.

However, by carrying out appropriate user led design methods the users' needs will be addressed, whether these are related to gender, familiarity with technology or product usability.

Does the gender of the designer make a difference?

Men and women have different approaches and can bring different skills to engineering and design but one of the core skills of a designer is to design for people other than yourself; so just because a designer is female this does not necessarily mean she can put herself in the shoes of every female user, the ability to relate is dependent on her own life experiences. For example a designer's age and family circumstances may have a much bigger influence on her designing than her gender does and it could be easy to stereotype the needs of all people with dementia based on detailed experience of one family member. This can be detrimental to the design of a product if the aim is to create products which will benefit a wider range of people.

Some people might still be surprised to encounter female designers and engineers, as they are more often male, just as therapists are often female, and this could initially mean that they are less trusting of their professional abilities. However, these attitudes have been improving for some time and it can even help us as women, that we are sometimes perceived to be more empathic by those who we work with, so we may be seen to be more approachable. Given that the most important aspect of designing for people with dementia is to engage with real users to truly understand their views and abilities, this can be helpful.

Hazel and Nina are from Designability a charity conducting original research and product development for people living with dementia www.designability.org.uk

Dr Hazel Boyd User Interface Engineer & Nina Evans Research Occupational Therapist

Tags: design, female roles, research, technology Written 2014-08-11

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