Products in desperate need of greater female appeal generally don’t get it. Why wouldn’t your company/department want to tap into the greatest potential for sales with the largest buying demographic?

Typically, the answer is fear. Fear of getting it wrong. Fear of alienating the male consumers. Fear of having a sexist debate about what women (and men) want.

It is perfectly okay for women to buy and use men’s products – we have been doing it for years. We wear your Converse and use your razors, but most men would never use a pink razor in the gym locker room without risking ridicule. It’s not manly, even in today’s acceptably metrosexual male world. Afraid of risking market share, product developers and marketers default to male-centered or gender neutral non-design. They steer clear of feminizing their product, even if it might double or triple sales.

How can you both capture the female consumer’s attention and keep your current male demographic from bailing?

Genderblend Design: Shrink and pink is not a plan

This series of blogs recaps our seminar, presented at the Las Vegas Market in July, including four product examples of Genderblend Design. Two of these – the Golden Oak  Cushion+ Adjustable Office Chair and Dyson Vacuums – have been successful bridging the gender gap from both directions. We will also review two products we feel have not been successful – Bose noise-cancelling headsets and Weber grills.

These case studies might be similar to what you are struggling with in your marketing or product development group, so be sure to read our tips on how Genderblend Design  bridges the Gender Gap for help.

Covertly Female – Golden Oak® Cushion+ Adjustable Office Chair

Genderblend Design | Golden Oak Chair | Hazz Design

Golden Oak CushionPlus Office Chair

Furniture retailers challenged Hazz Design to produce an executive office chair that appealed better to female consumers without jeopardizing sales. To tackle this, we reviewed all the conventions of the traditional male black executive office chair, breaking the criteria into three categories: color, ergonomics, and function/use. After debating their relevance and importance to men and women, the result is a chair that is covertly female, adjusting to both men’s and women’s bodies. It also features attributes that meet the way we actually work in today’s technology-heavy, administratively light offices.

Our Genderblend Design inspiration and debate follows here:

Anything but Black – More than 50% of retail executive office chairs feature black and chrome. To stand out competitively, the Golden Oak chair needed to reinforce the message that it is not your father’s office chair. To retain the positive characteristics of dark leather (dirt hiding and easy cleaning), we warmed up the color, making it more complex and rich. The result is a deep Espresso Brown bonded leather — effectively, “off-black.”

We had quite a heated debate over the finishes men and women prefer. Chrome implies metal, usually preferred by men, even though it’s often painted plastic. But, faking it isn’t really our style. We prefer to either celebrate a material, or, allow it to become something new and unique.

In this case, we valued the male preference for metallic, but took that to a more complex level. The Warm Mica paint finish we developed hits that male preference, but appeals to women because its greater depth and flexibility means it can coordinates with nearly any environment. Pull up a Warm Mica chair and it looks good with a traditional oak desk or modern metal and glass table.

His & Hers Ergonomics – Men and women are not created equal physically Acknowledging that is not anti-feminist; it is recognition of our differences and turning them into opportunities. The biggest miss we saw in today’s male-dominated retail executive office chairs was size.

BIFMA test standards require office chairs to hold the 95th percentile male, who is 6’1” tall and 225 lbs. With the average 5’10” male taller than 98% of women, the traditional executive office chair fails to fit more than 90% of users properly. Compounding the size disparity, office chairs for the home often need to work for mom, dad, teen or Nana all in the same day. Their sizes (heights and weights) might hit both extremes.

Traditionally, “executive” chairs were designed to be large private office leather chairs for someone who sat at a large desk and held meetings. Smaller “task” chairs were meant for subordinates. Today, both men and women want to be powerful executives, especially in our own home offices. The challenge for us was not simply to make a chair that fits women, but to make an executive chair that fits women and a wider range of men.

While brainstorming ways to create an adjustable fit, we remembered Tom’s experience as an in-house designer for a major office seating company. All employees sat on the company’s best-selling executive chair. For many of the women, this meant figuring out personal solutions to accommodate the poor fit — sweaters or small throw pillows from home stuffed behind their backs. This observation jump-started our concept for the adjustable pillow. It takes up the critical distance in the seat for shorter legs, relieves stress on the back caused by pressure behind the knees, and it’s removable for taller users.

Current Context – Women and men don’t work the same way they did ten years ago, let alone 50 years ago. An executive office chair is for more than powerful meetings across a desk and the average home office chair might support everything from hours of concentrated computer work to quick e-mail or Facebook checks, to kids’ homework or craft time thrown in. The chair might be located in the living room, family room, basement, spare room or even the kitchen– wherever we can squeeze in a little workspace.

So even though we might not solve all the demand and flexibility problems magically in one chair, we believed through Genderblend Design we could significantly improve the feature and function of an executive chair. Ironically we wanted an executive chair that appeared large but wasn’t going to take up too much space. We also considered it imperative that an executive chair allow for proper ergonomic positioning when computing, i.e., the ability to get close enough to reach a keyboard without strain. After all, no one in a home office has a secretary sitting in a task chair at the next desk ready to type.

Our specially designed flip-up arm was the first of its kind in the retail market, providing an adjustable solution to both concerns. Flipping up the arm allows the chair to fit closer to the desk for optimized computing positions and creating more room when unoccupied. Leaving it down gives you cushioned elbow support for using a keyboard shelf, or kicking back to talk on the phone or use an iPad on your lap.

All aspects of the Cushion+ Executive Office Chair are Genderblend Designed to be covertly female: Adjustments without buttons or gadgets function in a low-tech intuitive way. It allows for smaller sizes without sacrificing the appearance of executive power; and home-coordinating colors and finishes. With these attributes, Golden Oak® has a female-friendly Genderblend Design solution that men didn’t know could be so good.

Next up in our Genderblend Design series – how vacuuming became macho thanks to Dyson.