Book Review – Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Perez

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Overview:

I bought this book on Audible after listening to the author talk to Roman Mars on his podcast – 99% Invisible) and listened to the audio book, which the author has read herself.

The book is primarily about three things:

  • Design
  • Data and
  • Women


The entire book is about how designers have ignored the role that gender plays in designing their products or services and how by not collecting data about how the design interacts with half the world’s population, we are blind-sighted of the huge implications of ignoring this demographic from our design research.

Ease of reading:

The book is a slightly difficult read, not because the language used is not simple but because the book is full of data from various research reports and is like one side of a debate on the importance of not just collecting data about how our designs interact with women but also how we design products, services itself.

What I loved about the book:

This book is about a topic that is most relevant in today’s world we live in. This book is a social critique of how we treat women in the society as such and how that creeps into the design of every aspect of the social fabric (architecture, government, toilets, refugee camps, urban town planning, music halls, cars, medical schools teaching about critical care, traffic management, public transportation and many many more).

The book clearly lays out what is wrong about the current world that we inhabit. Reading this book (listening in my case) opens your eyes and you then see the gender bias that the book espouses everywhere you look. Its like something that once seen that cant be unseen. Once you read and understand the argument that the author makes, you can see the proof of her diagnosis all around us and cant unsee it anymore.

The question then is what are we going to do about it. As designers and creators, it is each and everyone of our responsibility to address this gender bias in everything that we create.



I’ve decided that every design that I am going to get involved going forward, I will work hard to make sure that this gender bias is addressed in as effective manner as the team can address. I do hope that all the designers that I know and work with will do the same.

What would I have done differently:

The only thing that I would have done differently is to find some proof of areas where the system does work better and addresses the gender gap and show the contrast between two systems (one that has the gender bias inherent in the design of the system and one that addresses that) and showcase the difference in the effectiveness.

That said, I can also understand why that might not have been possible as there are very little areas where gender bias is not prevalent and credit where it is due, the author does talk about the contrast (for example when she talks about the design of cooking stoves and how one team that actually spoke and watched the women cook in their natural habitat, before designing the stove and the success of the stove).

My personal preference also would have been not to quote so many research papers but to show examples wherever possible. This is due to the fact that there are a host of readers who gloss over results from the research papers as most of the research papers are also biased in themselves and it makes for a very boring & a difficult read. Instead stories from her experience or from the experience of women would have been more interesting to read while at the same time the research could have been quoted in the appendix.  But again, this is my bias and each author has their own style and each book requires a certain style to be adopted to make the case strong and effective.

I must say that the author has indeed made her case very effectively and many readers will be compelled to act (which is what I think defines the success of any book).

In Conclusion:



— Reading this book has brought to light the inherent gender bias in almost every design that I can see around me. This has also moved me enough to make a decision to ensure that the bias doesn’t infiltrate in anything that I create or design. This I think is a big success for the author. Also, I will never forget her rant – “Why can’t women be/act more like men?”.

— This is a 5 star book for me.

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