For decades, men were the primary product designers in this industry, and it showed. There seemed to be a catchall design in women’s products—large, pink vibrators that didn’t always deliver the punch they promised. The designers overlooked one vital point: All women do not derive pleasure the same way. There was also a shameful stigma attached to the purchase of such products, which were usually sold at seedy adult toy stores.
Thankfully, the landscape has shifted tremendously, with women leading the way. They are designing better products made with safer and more comfortable materials, sold at retail and online shops that are now socially acceptable for women to peruse. Here we talk to Chang about how she and her business partner sold their first Crave product via Crowdfunding, and her journey into designing pleasure products for women.
Chang studied industrial design at Georgia Institute of Technology where she received her BS, and she earned a Masters in Design Products from Royal College of Art in London. She worked with large consumer brands such as Goody and Trek, designing the Ouchless Hairbrush for the former, and a tandem bicycle for the latter, among other things.
What inspired/motivated you to design intimate products for women?
There has been such a dearth of well-designed products for women, not just in sex toys but in general consumer products, and I decided that I wanted to help change that. Women should not have to put up with bad sex toys.
Shouldn’t the product you take to bed with you deserve good design? There is no reason why a vibrator should be any less sophisticated than, say, a camera or phone.
The company was started by crowdfunding. Tell me about this and tell me a little about your business partner, Michael Topolovac. How did you know you guys would be a good fit to start a business, especially a sex toy business?
I met Michael at an industry trade show just after I’d started my own company, Incoqnito. He was in the process of establishing Crave, but was seeking a female lead designer, as he also believed there were already too many male voices in the adult industry. We shared the same vision to elevate adult toys, but I already had a company, so Crave acquired Incoqnito to bring me on board as co-founder and head of design. After joining forces in 2011, we decided to try crowdfunding to help with the manufacturing cost of our first product Duet, and to see if the idea of an entirely new luxury USB rechargeable vibrator got any traction. It definitely did. We set out to raise $15K and ended up with over $100K, but more importantly, we gained fans all over the world who supported Crave before we even launched.
How does the process of designing an object start? What is the inspiration and kinds of research do you start with?
The idea for a product can come from many places: the market, user insights, technology, or design, but ultimately it needs to deliver a great experience. Regardless of where the idea begins, our process is very user-centric—all of our ideas are developed through many iterations of prototyping and user testing. All product concepts are tested multiple times before it becomes a product for production.
Your products are so different from what we’ve traditionally associated with vibrators—the shapes and materials … how did you know, for instance, that the Duet would be viable?
Again, user testing is so important. We are a group of designers who strive to deliver great experiences through our products. Before we release any product, we prototype and test multiple times with a diverse group of women of various age groups, body types, and sexual preferences to evaluate product viability. That said, not everyone is going to agree – sexuality is incredibly complex and what works for one woman may not work for another. No one can create a perfect vibrator that fits all women, so our goal is have a variety of products that each deliver a different experience.
The criteria for a great sex toy depends on the experience it aims to deliver—sometimes it is all about the power or it’s about the sensation, but overall the most important one is that it pleases!
How do you choose the materials that you use for the products?
With all of our products we carefully select the best in class materials to use. We not only research the materials, we also visit and carefully research our manufacturing facilities, so we know where our products are coming from. For example, we do nickel-testing on all the metals and plating to minimize potential issues. We often use silicone, which is a body-safe material often used in medical applications.
Your jewelry, such as the Vesper and Leather Cuffs are so beautiful, yet no one would really know they have a dual function. Are you creating more products like this?
Jewelry is definitely a key category for us, as is vibrators. I started designing foreplay jewelry with my company Incoqnito, and later designed the Vesper as the first product that is both a statement necklace as well as a functional vibrator. It is one of our bestsellers and it seems to really resonate with women. We hear from our customers that it feels “naughty” and “empowering,” yet at the same time it’s also a great conversation piece.
I feel like the sex toy industry has really broken barriers in recent years to make it more socially acceptable for women to buy self-pleasuring toys. Do you think it has a lot to do with the design of the toys themselves?
Design is a reflection of culture, and our society is experiencing a dramatic change in the way we think about sexuality and talk about sex.
People are shedding stigmas and taboos around sexuality and they are beginning to explore their curiosities. As the stigma fades, women are demanding better toys and designers are creating more modern products that reflect a fresh and healthy attitude towards sex. Naturally the convergence results in sex toys becoming mainstream.
July 26, 2016
A Special Thanks To