The overrepresentation of men in design projects
The enforcement of negative social constructions and its impact on unnatural behaviour.
January 6, 2021
The field of information and communication technologies (ICT) has stated a shift from primarily focusing on the technology itself, to its users (Oudshoorn, Rommes & Stienstra, 2004). Even though this general shift has been communicated, the field of ICT still shows signs of not including the user in its processes of designing and developing the solutions that might impact the future, especially in smaller ICT companies, which often leads to mismatches between thought-out needs set by designers and developers, instead of potential users of the product or service (Oudshoorn et al., 2004). A true human-centered approach is more used today, for example in projects such as AHA 2 [1], which shows that the field has matured since 2004. But there are still interesting points communicated by the article written by Oudshoorn et al. (2004), especially in relation to the over-representation of men in design processes relating to ICT, and how technology may not just represent or extend the people using it, but rather change how they behave and act.

By involving people not representing a mixed variety, or by solely not including people at all, designers are at risk to design a solution not matching the intended user group (Oudshoorn et al., 2004). This goes hand-in-hand with Bardzell & Bardzell’s (2019) article where these “mis-happenings” or “failures” in involving a representative set of people might lead to strengthening negative social constructions, which does not free or enhance the people’s behavior, but rather captivate them even further in a unnatural pattern of acting. 
In our project, the attempt to represent a mixed set of people was a complicated task. Already in early stages, we found that men were overrepresented, not just in the exploration phase though, but in the project as a whole. Men’s attraction towards technology-related projects took the practical example of participants containing five male (versus two female) teenagers, three young male (versus one female) adults, a male bus driver and additionally a male traffic management leader. 

Due to our role as researching designers, supervision was a significant guide in our project’s progression. Out of four supervisors that were on duty to serve us as students with knowledge and contribution to the discussion around our project, four out of four supervisors were men. In addition, a total of three representatives from the project that was our client were also men. To cope with this, the project’s evaluation phase was split equally between males and females, but this might also be a false indication of equally split thoughts about the prototype tested.

The mentioned factors above sure had an impact on the design work, whether the evaluation was split equally between genders or not. Due to men’s ability to create a culture where masculine styles of acting and approaching certain tasks, this also leads to a transfer of masculine behavior towards often underrepresented women (Oudshoorn et al., 2004). This might have led to evaluation participants to take the role of a man to satisfy us as designers. Thereby, the project as a whole may not only represent the thoughts and needs of men, but rather be an enforcer of already existing, negative social construction forcing people into an unnatural behavior (Bardzell & Bardzell, 2019).