As a woman who’s been getting my period for a couple decades now, I thought I knew everything there was to know about menstruation. That is, until my team started developing Spot On, a period and birth control tracking app. In the two years since launch, we’ve gotten feedback from thousands of real users. The lessons they had to offer serve as the North Star as we continue to develop the app, and can also be useful for anyone trying to build products that serve people around their periods.
Help me out. Yes, for many people, periods suck. Cramps hurt, remembering tampons is annoying, and the whole thing is inconvenient more often than not. But women have had enough of products that perpetuate period myths and stereotypes equating periods with weakness. They aren’t looking for a pep talk or a promise of chocolate; they just want to be told something useful, like when to expect their period or how to manage their symptoms, and broader advice about their sexual and reproductive health. They want actionable information that’s easy to understand — and specific to their own situation.
Keep it to yourself. According to a recent survey, 68% of U.S. consumers worry about how brands use their personal data — and people are even more sensitive about health data, with 70% distrusting health technology. Whether looking for protection from their information being shared with strangers, or needing an app style and icon that is discreet enough to prevent people looking over their shoulder, people want a worry-free way to understand what’s up with their own bodies.
Period pride. Menstruation can be as empowering as it is annoying. In fact, many of the people we spoke to described their periods as a time to get back in touch with their bodies and take better care of themselves. In early user research, one young woman described her period as “My free rein for a few days,” while another said, “It’s cleansing. We should embrace it. It’s not a burden to have a vagina.”
Please stop with the pink. Regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the vast majority of the users we’ve spoken to are fed up with seeing heavily gendered design in anything and everything period-related — a lesson that most of the products out there, from apps to tampons, seem to have missed. As Mashable writer Rachel Kraus says, “Please stop marketing my vagina to me in a color that reeks of stale marketing meetings, approachability, and tranquility. I’m not afraid of my period, and your app can’t tame it.”
Don’t make assumptions. With all of the sexual health products I’ve worked on, there is one resounding theme in the feedback we hear, especially from those potential users young enough to have grown up with smartphones: they expect their products to treat them like individuals, not like demographics or categories. Regardless of how our users identify, they are wary of anything that makes assumptions about their gender, lifestyle, and sexual activities — including the countless period trackers that default to treating them as cisgender women with male sexual partners.
Don’t be the user—talk to them. It can be tempting to build products that solve the problems that are most familiar — especially when you’re building a period tracker as woman who’s experienced your fair share of periods. But it’s crucial to remember that, as someone working on a product, your own experience is only the tip of the iceberg, and your best guesses about what other people want often say more about you than they do about your potential user. Getting ongoing user feedback, especially if you’re supporting experiences that people often keep private, is invaluable. Whether you’re building something on your own or as part of a big company, find as many opportunities as you can for your team to get some perspective from the people your product will serve. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will get you out of your own head and broaden your point of view.
It’s not one-size-fits-all. Periods are the most normal thing in the world (at least, for those of us who have had one — some dudes seem a little scared?), but that doesn’t mean there’s any “normal” period experience. We talked to some people whose flow came like clockwork and never bothered them. Others got debilitating cramps, and were using birth control to manage their symptoms even if they weren’t worried about preventing pregnancy. Some identified as men, and struggled through gender dysphoria with each cycle. And others still had mostly stopped having their periods thanks to birth control like the implant or hormonal IUD, which can reduce or eliminate periods for many users, and suddenly found themselves feeling a little nostalgic for that monthly marker.
The most important lesson? Whether it’s a cherished marker or one to be avoided, there is no single way to get a period — and our technology has to make room for the full spectrum of experiences.
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