Have you ever stopped to ask yourself who you think designed your Christmas card? Was it a man or a woman, do you think? Or whether the car you’re driving was designed by a man or a woman? Why should you even care?
Well, in my new book, Why Men Like Straight Lines And Women Like Polka Dots, I explain that what men and women create, visually, is often poles apart in terms of colour, shape and theme. He will tend to use straight lines, few colours and little embellishment; she will tend to produce rounded shapes, lots of colour and display attention to detail.
On top of that, there is a strong tendency for men and women to prefer designs created by their own gender, with all the typical features they contain.
So, if you don’t want your gifts to meet with chilled smiles, you must second-guess your recipient’s preferences, remembering that your idea of beauty may not be theirs.
Even with something as simple as a Christmas card, I found 75 per cent of a sample of men preferring a realistic Christmas scene (painted, unbeknown to them, by a man) and 75 per cent of a sample of women preferring a more stylised and child-like version.
The strength of this ‘own-sex visual preference’ holds good across cultures and types of design, so as you contemplate a final week of frenzied Christmas purchasing, you might wonder what lies behind this.
Reasons for differences
After height, the biggest difference between men and women relates to the visuo-spatial domain, leaving the emotional differences highlighted in Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus way down the pecking order.
It seems that men have better visual rotation skills and targeting accuracy, served by having eyes spaced 5mm further apart than women, while up to 50 per cent of women may have a fourth colour pigment to men’s three, providing access to hundreds of millions more colours. What is more, around eight per cent of men are colour-blind, compared with half a per cent of women and also have weaker object-location memory.
At the root of this? Men’s skills are brilliantly adapted to hunting, as 3D skills and colour-blindness (which is an aid in seeing through camouflage) guarantee accurate targeting of prey against a distant linear horizon; and women’s skills are better adapted to gathering as you need fantastic close-up colour vision to spot the edible berries. This would also have helped with women’s roles as managers of the community of adults and infants.
Fast forward to 21st the century
How does Hunter and Gatherer vision play out in our fast-moving, modern, consumer society? Well, women make a massive 83 per cent of all consumer purchases and yet most of those people designing products, websites and adverts are men.
This gives us armies of Hunters targeting armies of Gatherers when actually a greater preponderance of Gatherers would be to the advantage of organisations and women as purchasers in chief.
How does this affect you?
In terms of relationships, realise that your man and your friends may have different tastes in terms of colour (he likes fewer and darker ones), shapes (he likes straighter ones than you do), detail (he likes plain surfaces except when it comes to leaving mess on the floor!) and dimensionality (he likes a real 3D look).
So, before splashing out on the BMW Z4 with its compact shape and curvy lines (a car designed by two female designers), realise that he may prefer BMW’s other, straighter sports cars.
At work, remember to evaluate designs in relation to the users or potential purchasers. A website needs to appeal to its target market, not the techies who design it.
When out buying something, always think of who you’re buying for and whether the item will appeal to their tastes. Sometimes, it will mean buying something that you don’t like, the ultimate in Christmas spirit!
Gloria Moss PhD FCIPD is Professor of Marketing and Management at Buckinghamshire New University and author of book Why Men Like Straight Lines And Women Like Polka Dots can be obtained from here http://tinyurl.com/omz3gdq. She advises companies on making the most of the new science of perception and more information is available at gloriamoss.co.uk
Read more from Gloria Moss on Unconscious bias on LifeLabs
Photograph: Michele Constantini/Corbis