Friday, 13 November 2015

Gender-inclusive software: learnable by women and men

toy figures holding suitcases
Is your software 'gender inclusive' - is your system equally learnable and usable by men and women? This was last night's talk at City University's Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, for world usability day.

The question arises as, even in 2015, many of those who develop software systems are male, while users are female and male - and may have different learning styles.

Oregon State University's Margaret Burnett has researched the way men and women learn and use software packages such as spreadsheets or programming tools.

Margaret's noticed some differences and distilled them into 5 characteristics:

  • self-efficacy - how confident people are in their tech ability (females had lower self-efficacy)
  • attitude towards risk - some people don't bother to learn new features if they think they won't use them (more females)
  • willingness to explore - whether you learn by tinkering (more males)
  • motivations for use - liking new technology for its own sake (more males)
  • information processing - whether you gather upfront all information before you solve a problem (females), or dip in and out, while solving (males) 

Design implications

If you know some people like all information upfront, you could provide expandable content, suggests Margaret. And if you know half your audience doesn't like tinkering then you could offer step-by-step tutorials

Toolkit for UXers and developers

The 5 characteristics have fed into a toolkit, Gender Mag, currently in beta ('Mag' stands for magnifier). The kit consists of personas (Abby, Pat, Patricia, Tim) to use in a cognitive walkthrough, asking questions like "Will Abby notice the correct action for the goal she's trying to achieve? And if not, why not?" - all the time referring to Abby's characteristics.

The toolkit's been used successfully to highlight usability issues on software development projects in healthcare and government.

See the full Gender Mag talk on YouTube.

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