When she started working in the Silicon Valley, the designer Roya Ramezani confronted the same gender issues that plague most of the workplaces in America. The men expect women to be less communicative during the meetings. Even when they speak up, they are apologetic and sound self-effacing.
Most of the working women use words like ‘sorry,’ ‘just,’ and ‘sort of.’ These words are deemed undermining by the language experts who believe that these words unconsciously become a part of your vocabulary and make your stance weak. On the other hand, those who habitually use assertive language in life begin to think more clearly and confidently.
Ramezani has presented a conceptual spherical keyboard that suggests more assertive verbs as you type. The concept is quite similar to the Gmail plugin Just Not Sorry that points out the undermining language even as you type.
The spherical keyboard follows the design of an early typewriter and comes with small keys. Ramezani went for a compact design because women are usually more nimble-fingered than men. You can see more images of the spherical keyboard below:
‘Power verb keys’ are highlighted in orange and show words like ‘claim,’ ‘ensure,’ and ‘believe.’ The keyword tracks the word usage, and when a user starts using that verb unconsciously, it is replaced with a new power verb. Ramezani believes her technique is very useful:
“It becomes a game or challenge in a way. Every day you have 10 words that you need to use somehow in your written interactions. I found it to be more effective in changing behavior than having these words on software in the form of a pop-up or suggestion on screen, since more people continued to use the physical key version. The drop-out rate was much higher with the on-screen version. We’re bombarded with notifications on our screens all the time and we tend to ignore them after a while.”
Ramezani has also created a digital ring that monitors the speech and vibrates to alert the user if she uses undermining vocabulary.
“Being aware of what we say and how we say it is the first step to successful communication. In one of my user group workshops, someone told me that she doesn’t realize when she is using undermining language or apologizing for her ideas before they even come out of her mouth, but she notices when someone else is doing it. This was a great insight. We can’t change what we don’t know about, so self-awareness became a goal.”
The companion app for the ring monitors most frequently used words and updates the user of her progress. The ring also keeps track of the speech patterns whereby some women make their sentences sound like a question.
All these product designs are just concepts put forth by Ramezani. She hopes to prompt a discussion about genders in tech via her creations.