Female users – a neglected target group
Nowadays women are a demanding, economically independent and very diverse target group. However, their needs are still not enough considered within the development of information and communication technology (ICT). Moreover, gender-specific products often serve stereotypes of femininity and masculinity on a purely formal level. The hardware design of mobile phones for women for instance often follows the formula ‘shrink it and pink it’, while demands of functionality, menu structure, usability or behavior of a device are completely ignored.
Design-specific research methods and tools
We set up a participatory design approach to generate detailed information about real female needs and demands of mobile communication. We invited seven female participants who were intensively involved throughout the different research and design phases. The female participants were between 24 and 40 years old, lived in Berlin and were more or less voluntarily heavy mobile phone users. Some of them lived as a single, in a partnership or had a family.
The research consisted of a two-weeks self-observation phase in the participants’ daily environment and a one-day workshop. For the first phase, the participants got a package of so called ‘Cultural Probes’. They could be defined as tools for self-observations and documentation which offered a wide range for self-expressions addressing the whole sensory spectrum .They should be used to document the impact of mobile communication on the participants’ daily lives with all its negative and positive effects. The package included postcards with strange and funny questions, a camera to record certain situations, a diary to note personal experiences, a map to sketch one’s social network, little cases to collect samples of materials, smells, objects which were personally meaningful to them. Probes promised to gain deep insights about the women’s explicit as well as tacit thoughts, attitudes and desires in a designerly way which supports the process of ideation.
The workshop provided a wide range of materials and tools the women could use to create collages illustrating the role of telecommunication within their lives and to design symbolic prototypes of their desired mobile device. As a method of participatory design, this is also an approach to generate research results in form of artifacts which provide more design relevant and prospective information about the users and their demands.
Based on these insights, design concepts for mobile accessories and services were developed and realized as video prototypes, working prototypes and product design studies.