The Rhetoric of Pink

Context: One of the designers I work with was working on some promotional skins for 3rd party LinkedIn widgets. The LI brand identity often strikes me as being aggressively masculine (cultural bias: business = male to be taken seriously). We thought this was a great opportunity to demonstrate that LinkedIn can exist in many different brand climates: not just Serious Business Sites, but also on gender-neutral; female-targeted; aggressively masculine; etc.

That said, we didn’t want to rely on the old canard that to be “woman-friendly” a visual design has to be pink. The design had to convey business = women and avoid the pitfall of Barbie-fying (thus trivializing) the use of business intelligence on a woman-focused site.

Jesse sent his first pass on the female-targeted skin with this email:

From: Jesse Venticinque

To: Ellen Beldner

Subject: Is this what women want?

Seems too stereotypical - though i went with the color

My response:

So:’s visual brand is sort of Avril Lavigne / Rocker punk. It’s kind of this post-feminist embracing of an uber-girly color scheme (50s / Barbie Doll pink — modes that feminism was rebelling against if you’ve ever read The Feminine Mystique, and if you haven’t I highly recommend it) and combining them with the power-femme 80s generation that wore black and fluorescent yellow and hot pink. The 80s were really the first time when 60s feminism (“the radical notion that women are people” — and it really was radical at the time) had been around long enough to permeate the culture somewhat. It was a time of power suits.

These days, there’s a sort of combo post-feminist attitude. For good or for ill, there’s this embracing of pink as a metaphor: I can embrace this traditional feminine trope and ALSO be powerful, strong, badass, punk rock, etc. Embracing pink doesn’t mean that I have to give up the carbon fiber, guns, and steel. Think about Marissa. Think about Avril Lavigne. My first snowboard was bubblegum pink with silver stars — and I wore it with all-black tight ski pants, a black turtleneck, and a white helmet that has a sticker of a she-devil-as-50s-pinup on it. Corine is tiny and cute and she scares the living shit out of me. It’s that kind of dichotomy that so many modern women are trying to embrace. At the end of the day, the message — the rhetoric, with our audience as men and other women — basically comes down to “I can have a big salary and make intellectual contributions to the world around me, AND still attract men.*” It used to not be that way.

  • This is really about gender constructs, so it assumes a heteronormative standard. GLBT relationships operate under somewhat different cultural expectations & constructs.

So: that was mostly me waxing philosophical and dusting off my cultural studies nerd hat. As I’m looking at a few brands / sites, here’s what I observe: Pink AND black, and a healthy dose of white:

Martha Stewart has an interesting cool-toned scheme: She defines the look of good taste (East Coast) for women everywhere.

Planned Parenthood is primarily corporate orange and blue, but they’ve got a hot pink bus:

Interesting point: Look at the way that Wonder Woman has evolved over the years:

And for the new & recent redesign:

I think you’re on the right track. The color scheme in this widget speaks to extremely broad cultural issues: the whole history of feminism and women’s liberation and redefining femininity as both powerful AND attractive. We don’t necessarily HAVE to attack this widget from this perspective (I.e. “chick-friendly”) but I think it’s a cool mini-project. And you’ll get to really delve into the rhetoric of visual design & color choices for a set of people that is not you — always a good challenge. Consider incorporating orange; orange + pink is a strong color scheme that works for “femme”.

Try a rev that speaks to the issues above. It’s probably got black in it. It may have a textured background or a background pattern. Think Sucker Punch.