Website gender perceptions: effects and recommendations for gender inclusivity
This paper examines the interactions of design elements and perceptions of a website’s gender as well as the effects of perceived gender on aspects of user experience. Designing for a particular gender is common in both product and web design, but in many situations is exclusionary. While imparting gender onto a product is often intentional, gender bias in websites largely is not. The unintentional gender bias in websites is created through a combination of internalized biases, biased tools, and culture. This work lays the foundation for understanding how websites become gendered as well as the effects of gendering on users’ perceptions of websites through two studies.
The first study examines the masculinity and femininity of the web design elements Font, Color, Shape, Texture, Image, and Mixed Elements. Some element examples were found to be strongly feminine or masculine, while others were neutral. A strong positive correlation between masculinity and professionalism was also observed for three of the elements. The second study applied the results of the first study to a web design task through the creation of feminine, gender neutral, and masculine websites. The results showed that websites were perceived as having a gender and that the perceived gender of the websites effected the website’s professionalism, workload, usability, likability and visual appeal. Neutral websites were preferred and found to be the most professional, usable, likable, and visually appealing. In contrast, feminine websites were the least usable, least professional, and the least visually appealing. There was a strong positive correlation between masculinity and professionalism but a strong negative correlation between femininity and professionalism. Similar correlations were observed for usability, likability, and visual appeal. Together, these two studies inform considerations and recommendations for the design of gender inclusive websites.