By now, you will have bought your Christmas cards and will be settling down to enjoy the cards around you. Have you ever thought about why you select the cards that you do? And why other people choose theirs?
I have just completed a study with Dr Gabor Horvath of the University of Glamorgan in which we asked people in five countries to indicate which of two festive cards they preferred. What we found was almost as good as a Christmas bonus (you can tell that we're academics!). For, across the countries - the UK, France, Germany, Hungary and China - there was a massive tendency for people to prefer card designs produced by members of their own sex.
Dr Horvath is a Senior Lecturer in International Business and Marketing at Glamorgan Business School and distributed the questionnaire, jointly prepared with myself to 481 men and women in the UK, Germany, France, Hungary and China. I must stress that there was nothing in the experimental design that would give respondents an idea that gender was the focus of interest. However, I have been studying male and female designs for around fifteen years and the maleness of the male-produced card is obvious to me. It shows a realistic outdoor scene with Christmas vegetation like the other one but it's very three-dimensional, serious looking, with men and moving objects in the picture. The female-produced card is much more two-dimensional and 'naive' in appearance with a fun-looking Christmas tree.
This is a giant wake-up call for advertising and design since women are responsible for 83 per cent of consumer purchases and yet the demographics of the design and advertising industries are heavily skewed in terms of men. For, it is a fact that 79 per cent of graphics members of the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD), the professional design association, are men, with 88 per cent of Fellows being male. Similarly, 92 per cent of product design members and 82 per cent of Fellows are men. In the related advertising industry, 83 per cent of creatives - those producing adverts - are men.
So we know that women prefer designs produced by other women (and many experiments I have carried out in to preferences for graphic, product and web design over many years has foiund this too) yet the design and advertising industry persists in being something of a male enclave and producing work modelled on men's preferences. The loser is business, since research suggests people are prepared to pay a premium of up to 50 per cent for products that they like the look of.
Of course, who knows how many more sales there would be if products and packaging had a look that women liked - and these don't forget are the ones doing most of the buying this Christmas time. I wrote a book laying bare the stark facts and evidence - Gender, Design and Marketing - and has other data in two other books - Profiting from Diversity and Lessons on Profiting from Diversity, both published by Macmillan Palgrave. I provide consultancy to industry on the science of gender perception and how organisations can capture more market share through better targeted design.
Many of the differences between men and women's preferences are innate - psychology has highlighted 'hunter' and a 'gatherer' perceptual qualities in men and women's vision respectively - and so this data on preferences reveals the extent of the 'hunter' and 'gatherer' in people's perception in five countries.
So take another look at your Christmas cards and see whether there is a match between the gender of the sender and the artist. Who knows, if conversation runs dry at Christmas lunch, this is always a debating point!
Gloria Moss is Reader in Human Resources at Buckinghamshire New University. She also runs seminars with Dr Horvath on gender and design and how your products / websites/ packaging can be honed for the target market.