Key to designing tech for women? Add sense of community, panel says

If you're trying to develop a new technology product targeted towards women, integrating an element of community might be a smart idea, based on a recent panel of female Silicon Valley executives.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Contrary to some stereotypes, there have been numerous studies that have affirmed that women are in fact interested in gaming, which is becoming especially evident with mobile and social gaming trends.

Based on a panel comprised of female tech entrepreneurs and engineers assembled at Google I/O on Friday morning to discuss "Designing for the other half: Sexy isn't always pink," there was one common theme that emerged that would apply to social gaming or most other technologies that have found success with women: community.

One of the most glaring recent examples is Pinterest. Although the platform itself is rather simple and doesn't involve a lot of graphic-heavy frills, to say the least, Pinterest has found that its userbase is overwhelming comprised of women.

"It's meant to be a general platform for collecting and sharing images," said Tracy Chou, a back-end software engineer at Pinterest. "It's resonated a lot with people who work industries that are very inspiration-driven."

Chou pointed out that Pinterest was founded by a trio of men, and most of the staff is male too. Nevertheless, it has proved that you can't always predict who your core demographic might be based on who is behind the scenes.

"It started off with a lot of women in the Midwest, but it's starting to find a greater appeal," Chou added.

Another example is Polyvore, a sartorially-friendly online hub with 15 million monthly unique visitors. With this one, the sense of community is a little more obvious considering that is the backbone of the business.

But Polyvore co-founder and CEO Jess Lee described the lengths that her company goes to in order to convey that strong sense of community to all of its members. One example is in-person meetups. Attendees have flown in from other countries, some of them have been on the site for five years, and one woman even invited another Polyvore user she met through the site to her wedding.

"It's a good opportunity for us to show how much we appreciate them and also get feedback from them," Lee posited.

Leah Busque, founder of TaskRabbit, also itierated the importance of offering multiple methods and options for customers to provide feedback, whether it's via email, phone, online chat or in-person.

This almost circles back to how Pinterest found its groove. It didn't set out as a platform targeted towards women, but it found it's way there anyway. Busque advised the audience that you shouldn't assume you know who you're building for until you actually build it. Instead, let early user data and feedback influence your decisions on how to move forward.

In the case of Pinterest, Chou commented that as it has evolved, it's become about figuring out what makes the most sense for the community. Lee added that users also aren't necessary going to tell you what they want. Often times, you have to figure out what users want before they know it.

Of course, that's far easier said than done. But we've seen this time and again from the likes of Google and Apple, but also recent tech wunderkinds like Pinterest. That's just how business goes.

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