Designing for all drives real business impact

Several weeks ago I heard the Chief Design Officer for Ellevest give a talk about their "design origin story" and someone in the crowd asked how the company's business model and design strategy resonated with men. In her response, CDO Melissa Cullens said that it's funny, "when you design for women, men end up loving it too."

That got me to thinking about inclusive design, and wondering where else there might be missed opportunities with real business implications. For instance, the algorithm that many office buildings use to regulate temperature was designed in 1964 for a 154 pound male. Women, who typically have less muscle mass and are not wearing full suits, feel colder. And being colder could impact worker productivity - a 2004 Cornell study found “that when ambient office temperature [was] increased from 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing productivity increased by 150%”

Coming back to the financial services world, the insurer Northwestern Mutual recently hired their first CMO, Aditi Gokhale. She started digging in to the data and saw, likely not surprisingly, that women are generally the main decision makers in big life decisions and are the daily money managers for the household. Yet NW Mutual's advisers were largely targeting men. When they did a study, 71% of women said, “Financial firms are not in touch with my real needs or concerns. They’re not connecting with me emotionally and rationally.” Seventy-one percent!

Through a website redesign, new marketing efforts, and smarter matching of advisors to potential clients, the company has seen 400%+ more leads. It would be interesting to dive into all of the work they did, and what else is in store. I hope to hear more from Gokhale in the future.

WSJ: Northwestern Mutual Gets Results from Ads That Talk to Women