When saving the photo-collage above, I named the image manshow.png
Yesterday’s 90min Apple Event did feature an abundance of women. Keeping with historic patterns of showcasing new products, almost every device-screen image in a demo, featured a beautiful woman. The game that was demoed, featured an (adorable) female character. The retail demo showing a credit card experience, featured women actors. None of the presenters of the products, however, were women. None of the celebrated makers behind the magic, were women. One product demo image of a panorama, even featured a model standing on a berm of rocks in the ocean, in a stark likeness to Botticelli’s Venus. (?!)
I would have just rolled my eyes, had the whole thing been a unilateral man show. The dichotomy between a +90% presence of beautiful, radiantly-feminine women as models in the product demo images, and the 100% presence of men as product owners demonstrating their brainchildren, instead just left a dark, empty-pit feeling in my stomach. It was a very personal feeling of disappointment, despite the tingling of my skin in ecstatic glee from the actual design & tech solutions themselves, presented as finessed, production-ready products I will be storefront-camping like a total dork, to be among the first to buy.
Innocent mistakes happen. Unconscious bias, is a real thing. Backing my own manure-truck of frustration into a business’ vehicle of honest ignorance, won't do anything positive towards solving the problems. Almost making Apple’s situation worse, is that they’re far from ignorant… but I also didn’t see malice or macho-pride intent in yesterday’s manshow, either. They care. Apple, f*ing cares. Their environmental stewardship. Their continued participation in Product RED. Their industry leadership in Accessibility innovation and years-strong commitment to the Deaf and Blind communities. Apple does care, and they also really want us to know that. More than anything, I just want to know: where did the wires cross or the department heads fail to coordinate? How can we prevent this from happening again?
Almost making matters worse, was an over-abundance of not only women in the product demo images, but of gorgeous Black American models. Women and Blacks: the Tech sector’s two most shamefully absent demographics. On one hand, how could anyone produce a more offensive juxtaposition of demographics between the demo models and the demo presenters, had there been intent to begin with?
On another hand, there is a shamefully dire under-representation of Black American faces in advertising, fashion, movies, and TV—let alone of beautiful, middle-class ones—so disgusted as I was on one hand, it was also clear to me that there was a very conscious effort made on one floor in one building of the sprawling Apple campus, to do right by a decades-long media industry wrong. And that needs to be applauded. Apple is really the only company doing it, and they've been doing it for years. But, then: in a prominent—streamed live to millions—industry-insider presentation, within a sector notorious for disparities in women technical and product contributors, leaders, and of company-wide disparities of employees of any race other than white or Asian... just: a supernova-grade semiotics faceplant. Even Jesse Jackson, thought so.
It really was a perfect disaster of superb intent within a toxic context, and a minefield of conflicting "t's" to cross and "i's" to dot. For how that disaster personally stung those of us in the crosshairs of industry marginalization, and for how it set an example as an industry influencer—those are the reasons why comprehending devil in the details and setting forth to do differently next time, matters. Inspiring as hell products and technology were presented though, on an aside. Just: let's polish-out that devil on those details?
Some key things Apple and other companies could improve upon for future presentations:
1. Must the presenters be the most senior executive leaders behind each effort shown?
It is bad that Apple has so few women and/or Black executives. Realistically, Apple’s gender & racial disparity issues in management, will take years to overcome. They're not just Apple's problems, but a whole industry sector's. In the interim: Apple can pick women and Black senior-level individual contributors, to do the presentations instead. THAT would make a huge difference. Invited 3rd party developers to present a new game that utilizes the new technology? Get some women devs in the Beta program(s), and get a woman gaming developer up on that stage as the guest technologist.
Senior managers at Apple are favored to do the presentations, because the burden of responsibility for success or failure in the face of risky decision-making, is on their shoulders. Apple values management accountability for risk, tremendously—and it’s great to see that. The paradigm in business though, of being awarded stage-time at a product release as the ultimate pat on the back of leadership recognition from within the boys club, is an old paradigm. As is the default, of simply putting your most senior execs on the stage.
Poo-poo'ing Accessibility interests, is also an established paradigm in tech. As is taking innovation risks that are at best, really just not that risky. Step it up, Apple—and put the real individual contributor firebombs who can present articulately, dynamically, and who are either Black or female, up on that stage, next time. You've set a new high-bar on some other daunting paradigms, way farther than anybody could have possibly imagined. I've got plenty of friends working at Apple, and know for a fact there are a number of crazy talented, deeply involved women designers, developers, and directors. The opportunity is here, and Apple's to take.
No, don't hire the Indigo Girls, Blues Traveller, or Reality TV people as models. Not. Suggesting. That. At. All.Something that Apple has been doing for many years (since Steve's heroic post Power-PC return), that has monumentally set it apart from the crowd of Tech manufacturers, is that it's made technology fashionable. Sexy. Not just in Jony Ive's team's product design, but in it's product positioning and advertising. It's merchandized tech gizmos and expensive computers so that they fit seamlessly into pages of Vogue, W, and GQ. Having worked in fashion, I'm keenly aware of all the moving-parts in that transformation—and for years, I've applauded it. Sure, some of it is probably just that Jony Ive spends way too much time in the Prada boutique. Has a fantasy crush on Tom Ford. But most of it, is a very conscious effort to show tech products... well, beautifully, and on beautiful people with a fashion-forward sense of style. For so many strategic reasons that have made so much sense.As with all things however, it needs to also evolve with the times. The Halston brand in the late 1980s, was the antithesis of what showing-up to a club in Halston in the mid 1970s, represented. Much as I don't see Apple taking such an extreme dive, I do think some Tibor Kalman 'esque tricks shaking things up in how they market their products—and, to an extent how they shape their most personal products—could do them a lot of good.Being more practical, though: show women and girls going fast and shredding things up on bikes and skateboards in the demo videos presented on smartphones and laptops. Not just the guys. Show a more honest demographic of your users in the images, and less of the romantic ideals that are almost abrasive, in their distance from reality. Kids, animals, beautiful spaces, beautiful humans—when it's not a magazine ad or a still screen image desperate for clicks (which Apple-anything rarely ever is), don't use the default gaze of a beautiful woman. Or any part of a beautiful woman. The gender disparity issues in Tech, warrant that.To ignore this need and continue on the "fashion as usual" path, would be disappointingly irresponsible. If the creative directors can't push themselves to rise to that challenge, or throw-up their hands because the easiest device for customer engagement and emotional stickiness just got yanked off the table as an option, hire better (or just female) ones (says this gal who's worked in agencies, cough). Really, that thinking is just lazy. It's also more typical of older men in creative leadership positions, than of the younger more creative folks. Or, the women. Let them solve this one, keep Jony's ego out of this.
End-of-post segue: a product development issue, not a presentation issue, but...
23% of the American population, are women between 15-64. Our most constant health data that we track for wellness, second only to weight and weight management things, are lady things.
Danah Boyd wrote a brilliant article on this back in 2012, that initially opened my eyes to this un-tapped opportunity. Reading it was reminiscent of when I first tried-on a women's-specific chest protector for ice hockey. I'd never really realized before, how restrictive and badly the boys chest-protectors fit, until I'd tried one on that took all of my anatomy and movement-needs into consideration, without dismissing how adult women's bodies differ from pre-teen boy's bodies.
Most women of reproductive age, track some very basic things: our Menstrual cycle—first day, daily symptoms, flow volume each day, last day, and mid-cycle symptoms—when our ovulation days are, and if tracking fertility or cycle regularity, then each morning's Basal temperature. Men: it's our lives, and we're long past being squeamish about this. Yes, almost all of us track these things, whether pursuing pregnancy, tracking our fitness, or seeking resolution on other reproductive health issues.
These are critical data-points in our overall health and wellness makeup, and there's tremendous value when factoring them in with weight, body fat, caloric intake, heart-rate, and so many of the other measures captured by the new fitness app(s). That smartphones and the wealth of Quantified Self apps can now mash-up all of this data to give us insights about our bodies—daily—that had previously been only available to elite athletes or the horribly sick, is incredible. But it's sorely incomplete, for 23% of all Americans. That should matter.
In the ~10min long segment specifically dedicated to Apple's commitment to fitness, any simple mention of women's health metrics as they factor into our total fitness picture was noticeably absent.
On both the watch and the iPhone screens, I had the immediate thought that I'd love to see a simple reminder to take my Basal temp immediately when I wake-up (on an aside, no connective device exists for that today), a little bunny icon (what one 3rd party app does) above the weather report on days that I'm ovulating. The app I currently use (with the little bunny icon), was created to track fertility—but that metric is also often tracked by women, for totally un-related reasons. I'm tracking my own ovulation to chart hormonal abnormalities... and it feels infantile & awkward, that most of the 3rd party apps created to track reproductive health metrics are pink, floral, or themed like nurseries with bunnies, baby bottles, cows, etc.
Again, guys—no squeamishness. These are real, valid data-points for most women, and a real market issue. As a designer, I'm tired of having this conversation in rooms full of straight-faced women and giggling men. We're product people, and adults. 23% of the American population are women under 55 and over 15 (via 2012 Census stats). That's a significant percentage of Apple device users.
Please, Apple: you're doing everything else so spectacularly well in the wellness tracking realm. Your commitment to the marginalized Deaf and Blind populations has gone well beyond ADA compliance guidelines, and has been heroic. Please be the first to include women's health tracking. We're not a marginal percentage of the population, but we are at best marginally represented, in the Quantified Self space.