Back in the ‘90s, when Web 1.0 was all about broadcasting, Heidi Dangelmaier was pioneering social media platforms for corporate clients. That’s because Dangelmaier invents for feminine needs.
She’s the owner of GirlApproved, an invention and design company that helps create products, services and campaigns. Dangelmaier maintains that women and society itself are not even concious of the feminine needs that are hidden from us. And she’s worked with major packaged brands such as Playtex, Unilever, Nokia and Rubbermaid with great success.
Dangelmaier is an inventor who is in the very small club of women patent holders. At Princeton, she worked on a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science. In the design, video and invention worlds, Danglemaier says she had to create her own place--in female innovation and design. After Princeton, she launched a digital production house, Hi-D that worked on projects for Samsung, Time-Warner and Capitol Records.
For the last few years, she has focused on understanding those unmet female needs, as she says, “We don’t include the feminine dimension in our world.” Doing so, according to Dangelmaier, will not only deliver business success, but solutions to some of our bigger problems.
As most of us have figured out, the world’s values, priorities and preferences are majority male. Dangelmaier says, “When our world advocates values of quantity (vs. quality), hierarchy (vs. equality), analytics (vs. intuition), physicality (vs. emotion) and competition (vs. collaboration), we are skewing the manufactured world (and our own identities) towards masculinity.” She says that including the feminine will help integrate the feminine and masculine mind and help restore balance to everything.
Incorporating the feminine dimension even changes the world of science. Dangelmaier tells of Lynn Margulis’ groundbreaking work in biology that countered Darwin’s survival of fittest. Margulies conceived of a more collaborative cell model that explained how cells evolve through symbiosis. Once dismissed, her theories are now fully accepted. Incorporating the feminine is not limited to women; Dangelmaier explains Dr. John Sarno’s less-accepted theories into the links between pain and repressed emotions; his books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and have ardent defenders.
For Dangelmaier, it all started in graduate school. “When I was sitting down with bunch of men, they’re inventing stuff that makes cars blow up, and I’m making emotional graphs. I saw things being made that were dangerous--not killing people, but developing bad habits,” she said. Dangelmaier says she felt a great tension as a scientist--that she had perceptions no one else did and that there was no language to talk about it. “You feel like you don’t fit, in," she says. "In these climates, the danger becomes that you shut down. This is where we have been as women as creators.”
She noticed this tension as well in product development and advertising and realized it was within women themselves and all our systems. So she started working with girls born after 1988, the generation of social media. Along with her teams of young women, whom she calls post-88s, Dangelmaier has spent six years working to understand the young women of today, with some of the findings expressed visually. They're independent, have a powerful sense of self and are unlike any girls before. Dangelmaier says, "They have a greater resistance to losing their femininity and were willing to stand together to try to understand what was broken and how to fix it."
Dangelmaier explains the difference in her design process: it comes from the inside out. “We start with what the big needs are. We have a shared tension, and this tension has exactly this shape and size," she says. "Then you can go to the physical world you actually identify small changes in physical world can make changes in your feelings.” As an example, she cites how office design with corner suites and cubicles encodes hierarchy instead of collaboration. She asks how women feel working in such environments.
Current methods won't be able to access feminine needs, "To find them, we have to radically change the way we understand the human psyche." She says that GirlApproved has created "a process, a reliable, repeatable trusted methodology that can be used to make and satisfy unmet feminine needs."
Discovering women's hidden feelings will change the way everything looks--even school mascots. A recent GirlApproved project involved sport training clothing and a new distribution system. Dangelmaier explains that she and her designers didn’t notice there were no girl mascots in the catalogues. “Your brain is on autopilot; we are conditioned not to see ourselves,” she says. Yet mascots are on all the clothes and paraphernalia and embody school spirit. So Girl Approved investigated what feminine power would look like: would it be mother and cub? Physical? Intimidating? Would it show cooperation of the sexes? No language of design exists for it. So GirlApproved is actually doing an open source call for female mascots.
Likewise, GirlApproved has successfully excavated the feminine dimension for men. Dangelmaier relates how she worked on the AXE hair line. Previously, men's product was very high end or regarded as gay or effeminate. Axe managed to give men permission to own their feminine dimension, without talking to them about hair as women would. By doing so, Axe succeeding in crafting a new male category.
“The process is about finding buried needs we lost words for and connections to,” says Dangelmaier. “When you open up those feminine connections to design, you end up making innovation. It can take off and grow explosively.”