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Cindy Hodnett

GenderBlend product designs are 'covertly female'

LAS VEGAS - His-and-hers might work for closets, but Tracy and Tom Hazzard, creators of GenderBlend and owners of HazzDesign, think that furniture manufacturers should create "covertly female" products if they want to improve their bottom lines.
"In the furniture industry, most product development is done by men, and women's needs are underserved in the market," said Tom Hazzard. "But we are not trying to develop ‘female' products. Instead, we help manufacturers create ‘covertly female' products that appeal to a greater number of consumers. Men don't even realize that the product has been designed to appeal to women."
The Hazzards said that the principles of GenderBlend, a design philosophy that addresses the differences in product features desired by women and men, can be utilized by a predominantly male product development industry to create female-friendly products.
One example of a chair developed in accordance with the GenderBlend process is featured here in the Golden Oak/Whalen showroom, A-853. The CushionPlus Adjustable Leather Chair is an office chair that combines "female consumer interests" with a "traditionally overstuffed, overstitched, masculine office seating industry."
The Hazzards, graduates of Rhode Island School of Design and a husband-and-wife design team, are presenting a "Gender Blending Design: shrink and pink is not a plan" seminar at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the World Forum, on the 16th floor of Building B.
The Hazzards worked in for furniture manufacturers prior to starting their design firm and used their experiences at Herman Miller, Bush Inds. and True Seating as a starting point when developing their GenderBlend design principles.
"Manufacturers are being pushed really hard by buyers and retailers to create female-friendly products," Tracy Hazzard said. "But the manufacturers are struggling with the definition of what female-friendly is, and the definition is the most important part. Once that definition is down, then the manufacturers can begin to implement it.
"You have to address the gender gap," she said. "The buying pattern for women is different, and there are differences in how they see color and products. Women influence more than 80% of all furniture purchases, and manufacturers haven't realized how much better sales could be if they would implement new strategies."
Despite statistics that underscore the influence of women on furniture purchases, manufacturers have been slow to change their modus operandi in the product development phase. The Hazzards say there's a lack of female participation in both domestic and international factories.
"We spend five to six weeks in Asia every year, and it's rare to see women in product development or engineering," Tom said. "The female interest of a product isn't considered."
The design features of the CushionPlus chair incorporate GenderBlend principles to update a classic furniture piece that was once a key component of a predominantly male environment.
"Most office chairs are designed for a six-foot-tall male who weighs more than 200 pounds," said Tracy Hazzard. "These big chairs often have big arms, because they were designed for CEOs with secretaries, and these men didn't need to get close to the desk to work on a computer. The chair we designed has flip-up arms, so you can get close to the desk. It also has an adjustable lumbar pillow because we know that men tend to like lumbar support around their kidneys, while women like it a little bit lower. It is a chair that appeals to both women and men."
Although the purchasing power of women is quantifiable, the Hazzards think that many manufacturers struggle to break out of decades-old business models.
"Consider it this way," Tracy Hazzard said. "Women think about every detail when they are getting dressed. This attention to detail carries over to things like the caps on furniture coasters. Men might think ‘just get the cheapest one; it's on the floor anyway.' Women will notice the caps and how they look.
"Think about the ongoing debate between men and women over technology storage," she said. "Women want to hide the television and men want to show it off. What we recommend is a compromise between two polar opposites."
The Hazzards say that implementing gender blending principles is a good first step toward increased sales and profitability.
"We tell companies that if they want to understand women and why they decide to buy, then they need to have women on board," said Tracy Hazzard. "If they don't have women on board, then they should get feedback from a group of women in a focus group. Then they can incorporate features that appeal to women."
"Gender blending involves breaking paradigms and changing how product development is done," Tom Hazzard said. "It is a very difficult thing for any company to do, and it has to start at the top. It's championing a different kind of process."
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