Gender aesthetics determine customer choice

Consumers prefer products that display either masculine or feminine characteristics, say researchers

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

What determines whether a product is a best-seller or a veritable flop? The answer, it seems, could have a lot to do with the integrity of the product design. Specifically, much can depend on whether the item has been successfully “gendered” — that is, it displays properties that can be classified as either masculine or feminine.

This is the conclusion from the latest piece of research from three academics at St Gallen in Switzerland — Miriam van Tilburg, Theo Lieven, and Andreas Herrmann — and Claudia Townsend, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business in the US.

Consumers are more likely to buy a product if it displays either feminine design characteristics (light-coloured, slim, lightweight, with curved lines) or male ones (angular, robust, heavy, dark-coloured), says Prof Townsend. Those products that combine aesthetics from both groups are less likely to be attractive, and therefore less likely to sell.

“The idea of avoiding gender is the wrong thing to do, which I think is a little counter-intuitive,” says Prof Townsend, who is a specialist in product aesthetics. “When there is a consistency in the gender, it [the product] is better looking.”

But perhaps the most significant element of the research, published in the journal Psychology & Marketing, is that if a product is designed to comply with characteristics from just one group, it will still be attractive to both men and women — and both will buy it.

“People like to buy highly-gendered products because they are better-looking,” concludes Prof Townsend.

The research, conducted in Switzerland, collated the responses of nearly 1,600 people via an online survey in which they expressed their preferences across a range of products, including shoes and spectacles. The items had been creating in consultation with product designers.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.