Institutions show a manly face on net

August 12, 2005

As universities seek to sex up their image, they may be forgiven for failing to check whether their websites are predominantly masculine or feminine affairs.

But, according to researchers at Glamorgan University, they are missing a trick because sites are unintentionally gender biased, and most use designs that appeal more to men than to women.

In a study of 32 randomly chosen university websites, researchers concluded that 95 per cent displayed a masculine orientation; 5 per cent showed a female bias.

The telltale signs of a male or female-biased website were identified by Gloria Moss, a research fellow at Glamorgan Business School, and Rod Gunn, a statistician. They asked students of both sexes to rate personal websites designed by their peers.

Men preferred a regular, formal and unfussy layout and content. Women were attracted to colourful websites with a less conventional design, fewer linear shapes and less formal language.

The researchers tested university websites against criteria developed from these findings and discovered that nearly all were more likely to appeal to men than women. More research showed that nearly three quarters of the sites were designed by men.

Ms Moss said the study's findings were bad news for universities because they indicated that their websites were not attractive to at least half their target market.

She said: "Most of these sites are heavily imbued with the male aesthetic. The more female aspect is almost completely overlooked even though the majority of students are female."

Claire Gibbons, web officer at Bradford University, said a range of interested parties, including male and female students, contributed ideas to the design and content of its website.

The research team is planning a series of seminars across the UK to discuss the implications for university websites.

For more information, call 01443 483362, or e-mail gmoss@glam.ac.uk

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