Women are "fastest emerging
market" for designers


Women represent "fastest emerging market" for designers

News: women are the world's "fastest emerging market" and will transform the design of everything from products to interiors, according to a leading design strategist. Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.

"What's the fastest emerging market?" said Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Eight Inc. "It's not China, it's not Brazil, it's not India, it's not Indonesia. It's actually women."

"Globally, women are probably the greatest growth opportunity," added Kobe, who has developed design strategies for companies including Apple, Virgin Atlantic and Citibank.

Kobe, best known for helping Apple develop its retail strategy, made the comments in an interview with Dezeen at the Inside interior design festival, part of the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last week.

"One of the things that we've seen with the companies that we work with is that traditionally the brand really focuses on the functional aspects, and to a large degree thats really targeted towards a male's sensibility and behaviour," Kobe said.

"But as women become more and more influential in the marketplace, so places like hotels and airlines and retail have to shift towards more of an emotional brand ideal versus a functional brand ideal."

Kobe made the comments in an interview following a discussion on luxury design at the Inside Festival, chaired by Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs.

Also taking part in the discussion was Paul Wiste, Asia Pacific regional director of development and design for luxury resort group Jumeirah, who spoke of the growing importance of women travellers to the luxury resort chain.

The group recently introduced women-only floors at some of its Middle Eastern resorts, anticipating demand from Saudi women. "But it's been completely booked out by groups of Western women," he said.

Women represent "fastest emerging market" for designers
Sadie Morgan of dRMM: "Women are the next big thing" Main image: Tim Kobe

Architect Sadie Morgan of London practice dRMM, another Inside festival speaker, agreed with Kobe's comments.

"I think women are the next big thing," she said. "Women are now much more self-possessed, we have the ability, we are professionals, we have the money and my goodness do we have the energy."

Five years ago it was the pink pound," she said, referring to the emergence of gay consumers as an economic force. "Women are the next big spending power."

"We are absolutely fired up, our generation, and we want spaces that reflect our needs and our preoccupations. People building hotels, retail, housing have to start responding to a much more feminine community."

In 2009, women controlled an estimated 27% of global wealth, worth $20 trillion, according to a 2010 report by Boston Consulting Group. The figure has been rising by 8% per year and will soon outstrip the combined economies of India and China. The number of women in the global workforce doubled between 1980 and 2008 to 1.2 billion and continues to grow, while their earnings are catching up with those of men.

Kobe said that the growing influence of women would improve design. "I think we're going to see a lot more work in that area, where people are actually focusing on the female customer and delivering an experience that's actually better for everyone," he said. "Women tend to have a different set of sensibilities and I think its going to change all of those categories."

Kobe said he is working with hospitality industry clients who have already identified this shift and are starting to redesign hotels around the needs of women as a result.

"If you look at the way most hotels have been set up, it's for male business travellers," he said. "There's the typical bars, there's the typical location, there's the fundamentals of the experience that are there to cater to the male business traveller.

"When that becomes a female business traveller, the ways that you interact with them, the kinds of experiences that they're looking for, the issues of sanitation, all of these components that are part of the hospitality experience have to be considered differently and that's changing the way people think about creating a new type of experience."

Kobe said he believes the design of interiors and products "will start to shift" as a result of the emerging female market. "We do a lot of retail that's targeted towards women," he said. "But if you look at hospitality and airline travel, [those] products and services will naturally have to follow suit."

Morgan said: "Girls are so much easier and so much more full of life and energy and they need environments that aren't too stuffy, and that are much more relaxed. If we are going to a hotel or a space that we're paying to stay in we want to make sure that it responds to what we want and not what our husbands want."

She added: "Our husbands are not paying for us any more. We're paying for ourselves."

See all our coverage of the Inside Festival and the World Architecture Festival, which were both held in Singapore last week.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I thought they emerged twenty years ago. Where have these people been?

    • AFZ

      Women have been in the shadow! They have been active but powerless, and they have been a minority. In many cultures women are still marginalised, ignored and repressed.
      A lot has to be changed, and a lot of time is still needed for the equality between genders to become a reality and not only a trend.

  • LizNieve

    …?? And I am not entirely sold on the idea that women need all sorts of products specifically designed for them. As a woman, the first thing that comes to mind are women’s razors. Why do I need a pink one? (I do not need a pink one). It becomes pandering.

  • Otto Shelley

    This entire article reads like it was written 50 years ago. “But as women become more and more influential in the marketplace, so places like hotels and airlines and retail have to shift towards more of an emotional brand ideal versus a functional brand ideal.” The stereotype of emotional women and practical men, seriously?

    • D

      Exactly my feeling!

  • Fastest emerging market target

    Oh I’m a woman and I feel so emotional right now, where’s the little pink hankie I can cry in?

  • JayCee

    I also hear that black people can sit at the front of buses now.

  • D

    I would say these people are about 50 years behind…

  • I am all for recognizing women as full-rights actors in the marketplace, but not from a sexist and pejorative perspective.

    Women do have products that are designed with them in mind even now, but in a terrible way. Nowadays, when designers make something for women, they take something that was originally thought for men and make it less durable, less functional and add a colourful print. This goes for clothing, cosmetics, beauty products, gadgets, cars, and many more types of products.

    Have you guys noticed that men’s clothing is cheaper and better quality, whereas women’s clothing is not thought to last more than two seasons? That’s because there is this false idea that women LIKE to buy new things and replace their old ones much more often anyway. Well guess what, if we had stuff that looks good even after you’ve washed it once, we wouldn’t need to go shopping so much more often. Women are under constant societal pressure to look good and presentable at all times, while at the same time they still earn much less than men.

    As a woman, I do not like the idea of a bunch of designer guys brainstorming amongst themselves and deciding on what I want. I want to be asked and allowed to join in the design process. I like functional products as well, I hate only having the “emotional” options available. This way of thinking of men as logical and practical and of women as emotional and frivolous really doesn’t go with the open mind that designers have to have in order to get good results. Women are not animals governed by hormones and moon phases.

    Designers, you don’t have to dumb your designs down and cover them in pink to make women buy your stuff.

    You just have to come around to the revolutionary idea that women are people too. (/sarcasm)

  • Paul Nathanson

    This proposition might well divide feminists. Some feminists like to believe that women are “different” from (read: superior to) men. But others insist that there’s no such thing as an innately female (or male) sensibility; femininity (and masculinity) they argue are nothing more than social constructs. They’d denounce this proposition as a retrograde one that serves commercial interests but reinforces gender stereotypes.

    Considering the history of art and architecture (and not only in the West), it would be very hard to argue effectively that men have always favored the “functional” over the “emotional.”

    I can’t speak for women, but I can speak for myself as a man. In my opinion, Mr. Kobe’s attitude flatters women (in order to seduce new customers) but indicates contempt for men. Surely, he could express himself in a way that doesn’t contribute to sexual polarization.

  • lbj

    If Tim Kobe were Tina Kobe I’d take this article more seriously. Please, a man thinking he knows what women want as though there’s one type of woman. If you replaced the word woman with black, he’d be a racist.