5 Tips for Feminine Designs

Tara Hornor

One of the keys to successful commercial design is understanding your audience. If you find yourself working on a design whose target audience will be mostly women, you may need some ideas on how to make it more “feminine.” In commercial design, your concepts should draw the eye of the viewer and strengthen the delivery of a message. For female audiences, a feminine design is more appealing, more effective, and better suited for the purpose.

So, what makes a design feminine? Can you really design something that is naturally attractive to the female eye? With the right fundamentals applied, anyone — even those of the more macho persuasion — can successfully design for a female audience.

Keep in mind that preferences change between different cultures and age groups. For example, we tend to associate bright pinks and purples with very young women, while deeper shades of red and purple are usually chosen for adult women. As with any design, make sure that you have a clear understanding of your audience and keep that specific audience in mind throughout your designing process.


Use Script or Handwritten Typography

Scripted or handwritten fonts can lend a feminine touch to any design. Of course, use these fonts carefully. Not every design element should be adorned with scripts. Instead, focus on titles or headings, and leave the body text in easy-to-read fonts — typically a simple serif or sans-serif. Also, bear in mind that fonts you choose may not be immediately usable on the web.

Here are a few downloadable fonts to get you started. I used these in the above graphic:

For those wanting some Web Fonts, I tend to stick with Google Webfonts:


Choose Diverse, Bright Colors

In the introduction, I mentioned color concepts for feminine designs. These concepts are based on numerous studies on color appeal. While the results of such studies vary, they do share several common conclusions: First, neutral tones like browns and grays are poor choices for feminine design. Second, both genders like various shades of blue. Third, greens tend to be preferred more by women. For a wonderful discussion of the breakdown of colors, check out this piece on Entrepreneur.com in which John Williams discusses what different colors say about a brand. Williams’ color associations should have an influence on your feminine design project.

A few simple tips on color: limit your palette, stick with bright colors, keep the contrast high (for readability), and use softer tones since they are generally associated with more feminine concepts. Pastels tend to be a good place to start; they’re built right into the color swatches in Photoshop (Window -> Swatches, then in the fly-out menu select Pastel coated or uncoated). The above color scheme is from the pastel uncoated swatch set.


Include Floral Visual Elements

Floral patterns are deeply connected to mother nature, a famously feminine idea across all cultures. An easy way to connect with this concept is to integrate gentle floral and curl elements into your designs. Floral Photoshop and Illustrator brushes make it an easy task to quickly integrate these elements.

The above design was made using a flower vector set from Pink Mustache: Flower Vectors.


Stock Photography

Am I being overly-cliché to say that we girls love baby animals? I’m sure I’m not the only one with a reliable “warm fuzzy” reaction. If you can integrate babies of any kind into your designs for women in the mom or grandma category, you almost certainly should.

For single women in the business world, however, the appeal of babies may be diminished. Photos of other successful career women would be more likely to attract this group. For businesswomen, find photos that show women in charge in the workplace or women who have a gorgeous guy (or two or three) fawning over them, both in the workplace and outside of the work environment.

No matter what subject your photo incorporates, try to find graphics where the subject is looking into the camera. This creates an engaging experience for women especially. Female viewers are more likely to make an almost-emotional connection with the subject in the photo, and this connection will often be transferred to the brand hosting the advertisement.


Use a Personal Writing Style for Copy

The copy on your designs may be the most important element for connecting with a female audience. Your graphics may draw attention, but if your tone is cold or disconnected, your audience will quickly disconnect with your design.

A friendly, casual tone is important. Two ways to quickly change the tone of your copy are to include contractions and avoid large, complicated words or phrases. I like to use parenthetical phrases to interject what I’m thinking (because it kinda gives you an excuse to say whatever you want). Here’s an example:

More Formal: “Males are typically confounded by the complex nuances associated with the feminine.”

Less Formal: “Boys just don’t get girls (and I prefer to keep it that way).”


Most Importantly…

We gals do not like to be put into a box. We are complicated creatures and quite unique (or at least we like to think of ourselves this way), so do not insult us with a design that we can tell was created by a man who just doesn’t understand us. As mentioned above, always study the demographics of your audience. And, especially if you are a dude, have a few women review the design and give you their opinions. You are much more likely to meet the interests of your female audience if you do your research and get some feedback before sending it to your client or for distribution.

How do you approach designing for a female audience? What are some immediate visual cues you associate with this concept?

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  • http://www.stratfordphoto.co.uk James Stratford

    Thanks Tara, nice simple tips that make sense.

    As a photographer I often ask myself whether my website (the URL is there :)) and my promotional material is too masculine. I’d be curious to know your thoughts about whether wedding design in particular must necessarily go along a feminine design route or if there is a place for dignified masculine design there?

    James

    • http://www.cedarandrose.com Rhonda Michelle Steward

      Hi James, I’ve designed many print pieces and websites for the event & wedding vendor industry and there is an overwhelming tendency towards strong feminine in the industry ~ variations on that of course; however, men are typically not browsing the websites like women do for weddings. Though men are more active in the decision making process women still overwhelmingly do a majority of the R&D. So I’d say it’s safe to say that feminine designs still reign in that niche. Clean and elegant but distinctly feminine no less.

    • http://weddingwebsites.co.nz Jillian

      When we first started selling personal wedding websites, most of our customers were grooms who were looking for a way to get involved in their wedding planning while trying to keep out of the bride’s way!

      Most of these guys found the site via organic search. Our intention was to keep our focus on the guys but once we started advertising we quickly discovered there simply aren’t that many avenues to market wedding products to men, and as a result our customers are now 90% female.

      So now we’re in the difficult position of trying to balance our site design to make the women feel comfortable but at the same time, not make it too girly for the men!

    • Tara Hornor

      I would have to agree with Jillian and Rhonda that wedding photography marketing should be targeted to women, since we are the primary decision-makers in a wedding, in general. I looked at your site, and immediately got the masculine vibe. If not the rest of your site, at least your wedding page should be a bit more appealing to women. Add a script font for the headers, maybe add some color and florals, and I would suggest displaying photos that are a bit more, well, feminine. The ones you have included are nice, but definitely does nothing for the “girly” and romantic in me. :)

  • http://tewha.net Steven Fisher

    I think using a personal writing style for copy is a good idea. Unless your audience are bureaucrats, middle management, or some other group that has to feel special that they slogged through bad copy.

    Say what you mean in a way that’s hard to misunderstand. You’ll be surprised how well it works: people will understand you more!

  • http://www.anchorstl.com michael meininger

    I think the demo age you are trying to reach plays a big part in any design. Does the client want obnoxious bright colors that tweens like, soft colors for an older crowd, trendy patterns for a younger adult, etc?

    Like any other design, research and psychology play a huge part when trying to grab your target audience.

    Personally, I try to ask every female in the office for opinions and ideas, and even extend it home to family and friends if need be. I pay close attention to the age range I want to reach.

    • Tara Hornor

      Great point! Age definitely plays a huge factor in any marketing design. It sounds like you do an excellent job of making sure your designs appeal to your female audience and age range.

  • Alex

    Great article! Makes sense. Thanks!
    However I believe it is all depends on your focus group! As the commenters stated above not everyone loves girlie colours.
    Designer must be mindful about who is the main readers or visitors, and what type of content
    Have a look on most popular woman websites :) http://www.marieclaire.com/ http://www.vogue.co.uk, http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk and so on :) All this websites focused on woman :) But have nothing with girlie trends! They have choose most neutral and readable yet design and layout for quite wide type of tastes. IMHO

    • Tara Hornor

      Actually, if you take a close look at each of these sites, they are designed for women using more feminine aspects. For instance, Glamour and Marie Claire use a pink font for highlight text. Vogue and Marie Claire both incorporate script style fonts. Designs do not have to be spilling over with feminine touches to appeal to women. These magazines already appeal to women because of the content, so they do not need to overdo it with over-the-top florals, etc.

      However, that being said, I think all are poorly laid out sites, especially Glamour. Someone really needs to do a major revamp!

  • http://www.theartfulcrafter.com Eileen

    Great tips and, as a woman myself, I agree with every single one!

    I’ve been searching for handwritten (feminine) style fonts and especially appreciated those links.

    Thank you.

    • Tara Hornor

      You’re welcome!

  • http://keithjamesdesigns.com Keith James

    The timing of this article couldn’t be better as I’m working on a design for a makeup artist. She specializes in bridal makeup and her target age group is the mid twenties. My first design was way to conservative and although the client liked the initial design, I wasn’t real happy with the color scheme.

    I did a design last year for a new line of cosmetics. When I was doing my research, I noticed that many sites used black backgrounds. I’m still not sure why the other designers made that decision. Luckily, there was some existing branding that required a black background so I really didn’t have to figure it out.

    Any thoughts on why so many makeup or makeup artist sites use a black background? The only thing I can see is that it contrasts with the lighter colors used in the design.

    • Tara Hornor

      Black is sexy, elegant, and high-class – all the things a woman wants to feel when she puts on her makeup. At least, that’s the way I feel about it. :)

  • Mamadou

    Hi Tara,

    You said
    “We gals do not like to be put into a box. We are complicated creatures and quite unique (or at least we like to think of ourselves this way), so do not insult us with a design that we can tell was created by a man who just doesn’t understand us.”

    This is a special statement that I should always keep in mind in whatever I do for ladies. If I do, I can turn ordinary things into gold.

    By the way, I am an African.

    Mamadou.

  • http://www.nanoware-media.eu Marcus nanoware webdesign

    funny to read it right now. At the moment our team is brainstorming about a customer wish to build everything “feminine”. We made layouts for erotic, for cars, for business and the new site has to be a portal for women. Shopping news, “small talk” area and so on.
    So, we have a homework now to read and understand what “feminine” has to look like :-)

  • http://www.integraphix.com Integraphix

    As a professional web design firm, we don’t categorize our clients. it’s great to recognize men and women may want different themes but the trick is not to stereotype and to make sure each individual client is happy with what you do for them.

    • Tara Hornor

      Not stereotyping people is an excellent way to go through life…except for when it comes to marketing. :)

      If you don’t appeal to your target audience, they will choose the other company that “feels” more right when they are trying to decide between you and one with similar benefits. As a female consumer, many times when trying to decide between two brands, I have gone with the one that had a label that looked “prettier.” Of course, this attraction to the label does not always prompt me to buy if the benefits and price do not match up, but when on the fence, I go with the one whose design appeals more to me.

  • Attila Fulop

    I took your advise on a re-design I did in the days. My wife (and marketing-strategist) raged at the result for about 30 minutes last evening. She asked me why would one ever want such thing?

    So today I barely dared to show it to the client. But she is thrilled and just adores it. :)

    So, let me recall:

    “We gals do not like to be put into a box. We are complicated creatures and quite unique”

    Yes, I know now :)

    • Tara Hornor

      Lol! Yes, with women, you really have to take into consideration age (as michael meninger points out above) and other demographics to find out what appeals to that certain group.

      This may be the reason for such strong opposite reactions between your client and wife! :)