Men and women behave differently online. Their goals and motivations are different, and this leads to differences in the products they use and how they interact with different design styles and UI patterns. Knowing how these gender differences affect how people interact with your designs will allow you to create better designs. In this article, we look at some of the gender factors to consider when designing your next app. Let’s go!

Know your users: The gender gap online

Who are you designing for? This is one of the most basic questions and one which cyberpsychology will help you with. In other words you need to understand the motivations of those users with whom you want to engage. Studies have shown that in general males and females use the internet in different ways and with different objectives.

If you are designing a platform or app which appeals to both genders, then you need to factor it into your design. Males use the internet primarily for leisure and entertainment whereas females use it for communication and educational assistance. On a very basic level, it helps to think about how you will engage different types of users. Therefore, you will need to use different methods to motivate different types of users and it is only by understanding these users that you will achieve this. While designers are very good at implementing user personas as part of the design process, the psychological variance across genders is one aspect that do not play a part in many user personas.

Statistics show that online activities by men and women are pretty similar, but if you dig a bit deeper there are some startling differences.

  • 41 % of US women use Pinterest while only 16% of US men use the same platform.
  • 39% of US women use Instagram while the figure for men is only 30%.
  • 74% of US women using Facebook as opposed to 62% of US men.

Sure, everyone needs to look after their finances you might say while Instagram is only to let your friends know what you had for lunch or how great your new outfit looks.

More importantly, the way men and women interact on sites like Instagram are fundamentally different. For example, men often engage with other users by liking their post whereas women are more likely to comment on the15.4%) post. But, even in terms of the comments, the engagement is very conventional: ‘so cute!’, ‘beautiful’, ‘amazing’.

Men are more likely to open an email from a women than from a man. It would make sense therefore, to send your on-boarding emails from a female account. If you don’t believe me just set up two accounts and a/b test this.


In our own a/b testing we found that the open rates for on-boarding emails from a female account (27.4%) out performed the open rates from a male account (15.4%).

Regardless of the nature of communication, several studies have shown that females communicate more than males online. This is the single biggest difference between the two genders in terms of online use and is a factor that should be included when considering any new products or new features.


One size does not fit all. If you want to be able to engage as many of both sexes as possible then you need to consider every aspect of your on-boarding experience. What works for one group will not necessarily work for the other. Men are on a mission while women are on a journey.

Why do men and women behave differently online?

Is there a reason for the behaviour variations and is it something that designers can use to improve engagement with their apps?

One significant difference between men and women comes down to their motivation for online activity. Men are more utilitarian (they want to get something done) whereas women are more hedonic (they want to enjoy the process). This one difference has huge implications for on-boarding. If you want to engage male users you need to give them a mission and present them with the shortest path from first engagement to purchasing. With women they need to understand the reason behind the mission, so you need to present them with a journey and present them with clear confirmation that they are making progress.

The main reason why this is the case may seem like a cliche but it is applicable nonetheless. Men are simply not as proficient at multi-tasking. If you give them too many options or tasks then you will lose them. If you present women with more options and paths then they are more likely to remain engaged.


Always create two paths for your users. Women are more likely to follow those paths which demonstrate the importance of the journey whereas men are more predisposed to follow those paths which will get them from start to finish as quickly as possible.

The proteus effect

One theory that is very helpful to make use of is the Proteus Effect. This is a theory that has been around for some time but one which has not always been utilised by designers outside of gaming. This is a theory which states that users become more like their avatars and take on characteristics associated with their avatars. They do this in order to present an online self.

Men and women are used to seeing very different avatars in many app platforms. Be careful that you do not amplify the differences by your choice of avatars. For example, in many games female avatars are presented in a highly sexualised manner. When we also consider that game designers are predominantly male, it is clear that a lot of these designers are not designing for both genders.

What can we learn from this. Encourage your users to be creative with the selection of an avatar. The normal process is that you are given an option to upload an image. Simple enough. More tech savvy users may have their own avatar and may already be benefiting from the Proteus effect. Others may be signed up to a platform such as Gravitar which allows them to use the same avatar across multiple apps. Make sure that users who have customised an avatar are able to use it on your app.

But, one option when designing the profile settings is to nudge users in the direction of a certain avatar. For less tech savvy users this may mean giving some custom built avatars which are easily customised.

So, one example might that you allow a user, or even encourage them to chose or adapt their avatar so that it includes the activity that you want that user to undertake. This solves one problem which many users face. Namely, I can’t do x. But, if they are able to visualise themselves doing x then you have moved them at least mentally towards taking a certain action.


Make your users feel good about themselves. A happy confident user is going to feel a lot more positive about the platform that makes them feel ten feet tall.


Gamification is an umbrella term for the use of video-game elements in non-gaming systems to improve user experience and user engagement (Deterding et al., 2011).

Users will decide to give up on a platform, or rather not to chose to progress, at an early stage: normally within minutes of arriving. Even if they sign up, which is a big step, getting them to return is not easy. One means to achieve this is gamification of the user profile.

So far so good. Except, there is one tiny problem. One rather significant factor will decide on how effective this gamification whether your users are male or female. Let’s be optimistic and assume that you have a mixture.

Existing research consistently shows that gender differences exist in the motivations for game playing, game genre preferences, play style during the game, and emotions experienced during the game (Codish and Ravid 2017).

The key benefit of gamification is that the user is competing with no one except themselves. As they complete tasks, they progress. By providing the user with the feeling of accomplishment they likelihood that they will remain engaged increases.

Codish and Ravid (2017) also demonstrate that there is a difference in the way the genders respond to gamification. Whereas males veer toward leader-boards and competitive scenarios, females like to accumulate badges which recognise their achievement. Women like to feel they are making progress while men like to get to the end.

Perhaps, leader-boards/ badges are simply two sides of the same coin? One is more playful and the other is more reward based. But, for a designer you need to be aware that both are necessary if your onboarding is going to be effective.


Don’t design a one size fits all on-boarding process. If you want to attract as many men as women then make sure that the process appeals to both sexes.


We started this article with a quest to demonstrate the importance of understanding gender when it comes to UX design. We have looked at examples of online behaviour and how it between gender and across platforms. By looking at the Proteus effect we have shown you that you can have a powerful impact on your users and by simply ensuring that you cater for both genders you can make them feel very good about themselves. Finally, we looked at gamification and demonstrated how it varies according to gender.

By understanding how men and women behave differently online, you can optimise your design solutions to cater for your audience in more gender specific or gender neutral way.

Read our complete series on Cyberpsychology…