UK’s first female-led product design initiative launched in Bristol

Photo shows: Kinneir Dufort CEO, Merle Hall
Merle Hall Kinneir Dufort CEO. Credit Kinneir Dufort (3)

Bristol product development agency Kinneir Dufort, has launched a new initiative, XXEquals – the UK’s first majority female team designing products for women across the consumer, industrial and medical markets.

Fuelled by the growing need to design more female-centred products, and to improve the gender balance in the design industry, XXEquals is already working on projects including smart femcare solutions, sustainable period products, voice recognition software and futures research.

Kinneir Dufort has previously developed pioneering women-centred products including a revolutionary breast scanning bed.

Comprising a multi-disciplinary collective of Kinneir Dufort experts – 75 per cent of whom are women – XXEquals is pushing for better gender balance across product development, in a move which could benefit millions of female consumers worldwide.

The initiative is helping to pave the way for young women interested in careers in product and industrial design.

Kinneir Dufort’s CEO, Merle Hall, said: “We are incredibly proud to be the first UK consultancy in the product design industry with an arm which pro-actively focuses on products and experiences for women. It feels like there is truly a need to bring more women to the forefront of innovation and product design.

“XXEquals offers female-focused insight and an empathic design approach, resulting in innately intuitive products. We need to develop a deeper consideration of the physiological or psychological differences for female users.

“As an agency with a strong purpose – to design a better world – we feel it is our responsibility to instigate change. We are proof that a better gender balance is possible in the product design industry and we would love to support other businesses driving equality where possible.

“We’re not where we want to be yet, representative of the world around us, but we’re focused on our goals. It’s important to us to remember that men always need to be part of the solution too, so we draw on the brilliant expertise of our male strategists, researchers, designers, engineers and makers, who are well versed in allyship and also very engaged in the initiative”.

Around half of the world’s population is female and women buy 85 per cent of household products, yet data shows only five per cent of the product and industrial design industry is female.

With the femtech market predicted to reach $50 billion by 2025 and 93 per cent of women currently buying over-the-counter healthcare products, the business case for gender balance in this industry is powerful.

Merle added: “Without expert female representation throughout the innovation and development process now, more opportunities will be missed to leverage real life experience and create brands and products which close the gap between assumption and reality.

“XXEquals launches as we are seeing women being adversely affected by Covid, and shortly after the issuing of a Government call-out for views to inform the new Women’s Health Strategy for England, which aims to change the male-by-default approach to health and care system.”

Kinneir Dufort has longstanding partnerships to help solve the design industry’s gender balance issue. One is with Kerning the Gap, a campaign to encourage more women into leadership roles in the industry.

Founder, Nat Maherm, said: “I think XXEquals will be highlighting an issue that has been long understood and long accepted, and it should be accepted no more. But also, what I think KD will do as pioneers is work with their peers to work out how they get better at it. KD wants change for the industry, and not just for itself. That is why XXEquals has my full and unbridled support.”

Kinneir Dufort CDO, Craig Wightman added: “As a man working in design, I have, for too long, felt uncomfortable about the number of situations I’ve observed or been directly involved with, where products used by women are conceptualised, designed and developed by men. That is not to say that male designers cannot design well for women, but why would you not want to have your audience and users better reflected in your design and decision-making team? It just makes sense.

“I have always felt that it’s important to have respect for the people we are designing for. It is about empathy and putting yourself in the shoes of the product user. Having a more gender-balanced team is an important part of achieving that goal.”