Monday, February 18, 2008

Gender and Design

Talk of gender issues and the high tech industry usually focuses on the glass ceiling - the dominance of men in the senior leadership positions of many high tech companies. But there is a growing awareness of the importance of gender considerations in the design of technology products. The headline article in the Business section of today's Boston Globe, titled "Tech's feminine side" is a high level introductory look at the issue.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Laura Beckwith, one of the researchers quoted in the Globe article. Laura, now working at Microsoft, researched computing and gender issues while obtaining a Ph.D. at Oregon State University. She looked at how the design of end-user computing environments, such as spreadsheet debugging tools, influenced performance differences across male and female users. I was fascinated to learn of her work, and found it fundamentally important. You can learn more about it here.

The very important bottom line is summed up in this quote by Laura in the Globe article:

"There's a possibility that if you don't consider gender when you're designing your software, you are unintentionally designing for one and not both genders."

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