From Pink vs Blue to Gender-Neutral Design

Is the future of design and advertising genderless?

September 29, 2020, Gökce Sandal

Attitudes towards gender are changing. With women’s empowerment and the increasing visibility of alternative gender expressions, consumers are no longer willing to buy into gender clichés that have been used to promote products and services for decades. To reflect this cultural shift, businesses are turning to gender-neutral design and advertisement.

Stereotypes are limiting. As people increasingly embrace fluidity, authenticity and self-expression in their gender identity, they also expect businesses to address them on a deeper, more personal level. Many brands have been responding to this emerging shift by launching genderless products and adopting a gender-neutral attitude in their branding and communications.

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GENDER-NEUTRAL DESIGN: HOW WILL CHANGING CUSTOMER MINDSETS SHAPE AESTHETICS?

 

Design uses strong visual cues like colour, texture, typography, imagery and shape to signal the femininity or the masculinity of products. Historically, this binary visual language has been particularly prominent in toys, retail and beauty industries – often with different aisles for two genders separated through distinct colour schemes.

To respond and reflect the contemporary shifts in culture, visual design of products, stores, and packages are increasingly moving away from visual opposites towards a more gender-neutral aesthetic. For example, the U.S. retail giant Target phased out gendered aisles in their toys section and started to categorise products according to age groups instead.

Beauty and retail industries are among the forerunners of this change. Skincare brands, like The Ordinary and Aesop, are pioneering an androgynous aesthetic in their product and store designs. Other influential brands such as Gucci also promote genderfluid fashion through their clothing lines, runway shows and models.
 


The Future is Fluid - Source: Gucci YouTube


Moreover, using gender stereotypes – or any other cliché for that matter – is no longer enough to convince today’s conscious consumer to purchase products. As customers increasingly demand transparency, package designs accordingly tone down gendered messages and instead prioritise functionality, product experience and ingredients information.

 

WHAT IS POST-DEMOGRAPHIC CONSUMERISM AND HOW WILL IT IMPACT MARKETING?

 

Marketers have traditionally segmented customers according to demographic attributes such as gender, age, location, and economic status. However, with the impact of globalisation, urbanisation and digital connectedness, people today have access to a greater variety of influences that shape their lifestyles. Thus, generic demographic attributes increasingly fall short in predicting customer behaviour.

Instead of marketing to genders or age groups, businesses are turning their focus to micro-communities that are formed based on shared values, interests and lifestyles. In the future, customer segmentation will increasingly shift to behavioural insights to get a deeper understanding of target audiences.

Data-driven models also offer novel opportunities to hyper-personalise products and connect with customers on an increasingly individual level. Netflix segments its user base to 2.000 ‘taste communities’ based on shared interests, and Spotify similarly creates a subtle taste profile of each user according to their listening habits.

A post-demographic approach to marketing also widens businesses target audience and mitigates the financial risk of alienating potential customers. For instance, toy company Hasbro abandoned gendered marketing upon finding out that 30% of My Little Pony audience worldwide were boys.

 

Mastercard rolled out the "True Name" cards that enable users to display an alternative to their given name - Source: Mastercard YouTube

 

VALUE-DRIVEN CONSUMPTION AND THE IMPORTANCE OF APPEALING TO ALL GENDERS

 

Another influential development that pushes businesses towards gender-neutral design and marketing is value-driven consumption.

As consumers increasingly use their buying power to support or boycott businesses according to their values, gender issues in the marketing of products also come into the spotlight. Brands that rely on old-fashioned and restrictive definitions of gender not only risk losing relevance but also become a target to public criticism.

Many brands seize this opportunity to position themselves as agents of change and empower customers to express their authentic selves. Mastercard’s “True Name” initiative is a great example of this – to reflect their customers’ true identity, the company recently launched this feature to allow transgender and nonbinary people to have their true names on their cards without the need to undergo a legal name change.

 

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR BRANDS THAT MARKET WITH GENDER NEUTRALITY

 

The emerging gender-neutral approach in advertising and design is more of a fundamental end-shift than a passing trend. Businesses will need to adapt their offerings to the changing values to be able to remain relevant to consumers.

While gendered products and marketing may not entirely go away, the importance of appealing to all genders will increase. Businesses will need to carefully examine their assumptions that may be holding them back from reaching new customers.

Businesses in all sectors now have an opportunity to lead this cultural change by offering people more choice in expressing themselves. In the future, brands that market with gender neutrality and understand their customers will continue to form meaningful relationships with their target audiences.

 

Are you curious to find out what impact this trend will have in your industry and what you can do to be future-ready? Book a free consultation with a foresight expert.

 

ENVISIONING THE FUTURE OF GENDER IN BUSINESS

To write this article, Futures Platform’s futurists have collected the data from different phenomena and studied linkages between them. Here are the three colliding phenomena that are the driving forces of this trend.

 

MALE POWER


The era of men is ending in the global West. Women’s role is becoming increasingly powerful in societies and economies. Rigid and binary gender norms are also being transformed to become more inclusive. Gender is increasingly viewed as a fluid concept, with people identifying at various points across the spectrum.

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF DESIGN


Design plays an increasingly strategic role in business development processes. Methodologies such as human-centred design and design thinking re-centre design’s focus on empathising with users and their needs on a deeper level. Critical design and speculative design also look beyond the design’s commercial role to explore how design shapes everyday life from social, cultural and ethical perspectives.

 

FROM PRODUCTS TO RELATIONSHIPS


Social media, personalisation, and omnichannel presence possibilities give brands a more human-like character and allow them to be more present in customers’ lives. Accordingly, forming meaningful connections with customers and creating value that goes beyond merely offering products are becoming more important for businesses.

 


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