St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

Gender-Sensitive Design of Children's Media

Guideline for format development

The research project "TraEx - Transmedia Extensions - Gender-Sensitive Storytelling for Children" at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences investigated current media formats for children. The specific potential of transmedia storytelling forms for gender-sensitive format development was explored.

The results of the analyses and experiences from practical implementation have now been prepared in the form of a guideline for the practice of format development.

Pink ponies, red racing cars

"Markets for children's media are segmented to a high degree along gender boundaries. One knows from relevant research that girls more often read books and listen to the radio, whereas boys above all use computer games and comics”, said Astrid Ebner-Zarl, research associate in the Institute of Media Economics at St. Pölten UAS. In addition, according to Ebner-Zarl, gender-specific themes and design features are set early. The clearest examples are: pink ponies and princesses on the one hand and frightening monsters and red racing cars on the other.

For media companies, this situation creates two problems. The first problem is that it is often difficult for them to address children in the other segment and thus expand the market. "Publishers often complain that they hardly reach boys with their publishing products, whereas the computer game industry has difficulties in addressing girls as customers", explained Ebner-Zarl.

The second problem is that the media industry is faced with the accusation of contributing to the reproduction and solidification of gender-specific differences through the strong orientation towards gender-specific stereotypes in the design of their products. 

Guidelines for gender-sensitive media design

In order to help solve these problems, in cooperation with Austrian media companies, St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences has developed guidelines in the TraeX project for the creation of gender-sensitive media formats for children.

The guidelines include, among other things, avoidance of a separate target-group approach for girls and boys as well as avoidance of gender-specific, especially, misogynous clichés when developing characters, in addition, avoidance of stereotypical graphic design.

Transmedia storytelling cosmos

Stories in the media are increasingly being developed and told in transmedial formats. In TV series, there are Facebook pages for the main characters, film action is expanded to computer games or people can help shape programmes. The TraeX project has investigated how such concepts of transmedial storytelling can be adapted for children's media. 

A special focus in the project and guideline was therefore assigned to transmedia storytelling strategies. In contrast to cross-media marketing, stories are not merely transformed from one medium into another but are told cross-platform. The project has analysed the extent to which transmedia formats equitably meet the different usage habits of boys and girls, while at the same time stimulate interest in using so far unused new media to question gender roles and try out alternative identification proposals.

"In transmedia forms of storytelling, the story cosmos emerges at first from the overview of all media. Only then can the whole story be grasped. From our perspective, transmedia formats offer great potential for the gender-sensitive design of children's media. At the moment however, there are hardly any transmedia products for children on the market", said Andreas Gebesmair, head of the project as well as the Institute of Media Economics at St. Pölten UAS.

The results of the project are intended to encourage media companies to design their products not only to be genre-sensitive but also to be cross-platform. The guideline also provides instruction. 

Project TraeX: Transmedia Extensions

The project was funded by the Bundesminsterium für Verkehr, Innovation und Technologie (Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology) in the framework of the programme FEMtech FTI Projects. Partners in the project were the Institut für Jugendliteratur (Institute for Youth Literature), Markus Wiemker Game Design, the Jungbrunnen-Verlag (Fountain of Youth Publishing Co.), the Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft (Institute for Journalism and Communication Science) at the University of Vienna and children's book author Rosemarie Eichinger. Download the guideline (in German) and further information on the project: http://traex.fhstp.ac.at.

Broadcast about the project in the Campus Talk of the Campus & City Radio 94.4 on Soundcloud

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