Is your corporate design male or female?
We used to have a very masculine font. Now we are deliberately using a more feminine logo. The new lettering is modelled on the 1970s when more rounded shapes came to be accepted in society. This trend has grown since then, and so we can now assume that our new font is also acceptable to men. We wanted to put a greater emphasis on femininity than is commonly done among business consultants – hence the curly bits. Blue is a favourite colour among both men and women, but traditionally it’s used more commonly in male-oriented industries. We wanted to create a balance between male and female, and so this is how we approached the website.
After all, most people in marketing are men, aren’t they?
Well, it depends. We used to get a lot of requests from men. But at the moment there are more women’s teams, which clearly shows that our logo isn’t putting anyone off. When targeting female groups, companies are making more of an effort to obtain good expertise. On the other hand, we are consulted less often about male target groups.
Do your customers believe it’s more effective to talk to women about women.
No, they don’t. If that were the case, they could just listen to their own female staff. They’re often perfectly knowledgeable, but no one ever listens to them. However, we are not asked as women, but as experts. Expertise outside their own area of knowledge – as a separate specialist entity, as it were – is very much accepted among male-dominated circles as well.
Are you consulted a lot on packaging issues?
Far too little, actually. There’s a lot we can say about packaging design, as we’ve conducted various general studies on it. For instance, we’ve got a customer in furniture design and asked ourselves: what is it that makes a piece of furniture male or female? And so we started to think about design in general. We ended up with a catalogue of criteria which also allows conclusions about packaging.
Could you perhaps share a few criteria?
You’ll find a list on page 81 of my latest book What Do Men and Women Buy?: Shape, size, material and the temperature of material play a major role. Obviously, there are also surface structures, colours, ornamentation, as well as weight, the technical level and partly also the stylistic periods that are evoked. What appeals to women is often the exact opposite of what appeals to men. When we put together all the various elements, we can turn items into something ranging between very male and very female, like with the slider control. This allows for a lot of leeway. If something is straightforward, square and angular and if such features occur in large numbers, then the effect is extremely masculine, while rounded objects really do have a more feminine impact. If you apply this to packaging, to shapes, sizes, colours, surfaces and images, then it gives you an abundance of options, so that you can be very purposeful in your design.
Regardless of contemporary taste? Surely there are also different fashions in design.
Well, that’s why I mentioned stylistic periods just now. However, there are some features that are quite timeless. A few years ago, Apple gave a great boost to white products as opposed to black ones and white packaging over black packaging. Both design and advertising agencies heralded this as a paradigmatic shift. However, the phenomenon was limited in time and only applied to certain products, so it disappeared again. “Whiteness” was only applied in one or two dimensions. The spirit of the time only ever plays a role with some of the available options. If you want to sell a technical gadget to a man, you’ll never succeed if you put pink elements on it and use packaging with rounded edges. It simply goes against the male self-image. They wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
But surely, men are doing things nowadays that they wouldn’t have done 30 years ago. They use anti-wrinkle cream and hair remover – traditionally a female domain.
But what else can you think of apart from cosmetics?
Sweetener, Cola Zero instead of Cola Light.
That’s just it! Those are the only two examples that spring to mind. Things haven’t really changed that much. Cola Zero consumers are a small and highly body-conscious target group. Not health-conscious, but body-conscious! The cosmetics industry is the only one that’s hit the jackpot in this area. But this is not about beauty. It’s about masculinity – though we are now no longer talking about packaging, but about the products themselves. The only way the cosmetics industry could grow any further was by targeting men. They understood that men definitely wouldn’t use female jars of face cream. So the pioneers among them had a good look at the criteria which are needed in order to appeal to men. And they found that it’s not a matter of bodycare but of performance. It’s not about beauty. It’s about appearing young, active and capable – towards women and also competitors. Once you know the motivation, you can take a product that has so far been of no interest to a given gender and make it relevant to them. So suddenly there’s a huge new market opening up. Most companies don’t understand that products and industries have gender.