Designing Websites For Gender Equality

Wendy Kelly
Jul 16, 2014
Designing Websites For Gender Equality

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

It starts with this book: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, written by Dr. Leonard Shlain. Dr. Shlain is a really smart guy. He's a surgeon, and he wrote another book called Art & Physics, which was a bestseller.

So since he's so smart, I listened to him. (Embarrassing but true.) I tend to listen to credentialed smart people, sometimes more than I listen to my own heart or my own common sense. I think we all do that. If you don't believe me, you should check out this classic study by Milgram about how people listen to authority even when it's not in their best interests. Even when people get hurt.

Here's how this book impacted my life, and why I think it is important for everyone:

Dr. Shlain provides a compelling argument for the idea that linear words-on-a-page is a very masculine concept. His idea is that, pre-words-on-a-page, we were a visual society, governed by feminine ideals. The Goddess. Patriarchy blossomed and came to fruition with the advent of the word.

Holy Cow. As a feminist writer who gender-identifies as female, this was earth shattering. The book has seriously changed how I educate my children (boys) but also, and interestingly, allowed me to question and consider the importance of visual design.

Content is more important than the design which supports it

Design Word Cloud

Or so says Smashing Magazine. Sure, that may be true. And since Smashing Mag is pretty much the authority on web design, I listen to what they say without question (see above).

But here's the thing: my gut tells me that Smashing Magazine may be wrong.

I believe the culture is changing. We are acknowledging that, at heart, we are visual creatures, and this linear-word-thing we did for a few hundred years isn't intuitive. It isn't a great fit.

Here's something funny about what I consider to be an inevitable transition to the visual: this article by Hubspot on how important visual is. The funny part? (In case you missed it) There are no visuals in the article. The stats themselves are awesome, though, and make a clear case for including visual elements in your prose.

We're in transition.

And, as another piece of evidence that we are in transition, I submit this article letting us know that too much visual is a bad idea. Well, yeah. Too much disorganized visual content is confusing to us. We kind of know that, though. Yellow highlighter + flashing neon animations, anyone? 

Good visual design can be learned

That's the good news. I'm learning, every chance I get. I think for anyone attempting to communicate these days, a good primer of basic visual design skills is as important as that dog-eared copy of Strunk & White you've got beside you at all times. Unless, of course, you've memorized it.

Over on Convince and Convert, Melanie Davis agrees with me about the importance of using the visual in your storytelling. And we also agree that it's a learnable thing. 

I would say, though, that you should find yourself a good designer to help you learn the ropes. I don't believe that crappy visual design is okay. For the same reasons that I cringe when I read crappy writing. If you are visually-challenged, don't just throw up some random stock photo you found. Run it by a designer. I learned this from experience. I run nearly everything by our design director, Ben Groulx, and I am much the better for doing so. 

I'm also learning. 

And so can you. Good luck, and I hope to see your gorgeously designed visual content soon!

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