Posts tagged “sexuality”

Pleasure Principle


In 2009 I wrote about my visit to Jimmyjane, a company that designs non-crappy vibrators and scented candles and the like. While claiming to evolve intimacy, they lacked any point of view on either the mechanical or the emotional aspects of sexual and sexy.

I’m excited to learn about another company, Minna Life who say they are “bringing user experience innovation to the pleasure product space.” They have one product already (Ola) and are raising funds on indiegogo for another (Limon).

It’s hard to trace the source of their “innovations” – which might just be cool features (or at worst, feature-creep) such as change-how-hard-you-squeeze-to-change-how-hard-it-vibrates, highly multi-purpose form, and recordable vibration patterns.

What’s very cool, specifically with Limon, is that there’s a video that includes people discussing what they like about using it (no, it doesn’t show them using it!) and the text of the site includes quotes from “early testers.”

My initial reaction (e.g., from looking at their site) is that Minna Life is making incremental improvements in their category. Of course, how hard is it to recognize innovation? I’m not a user of these products, so what do I know? Does an innovation have to smack you in the face (if you will)? Do you look at it and immediately understand how it changes everything about how you have been going about a behavior? Or does it sneak in the back door (if you will), arriving in a recognizable form but ultimately enabling something dramatically new? I remember thinking that the iPad was just a comically large iPhone. While I can’t say what in fact it turned out to be, it so clearly was not that and has indeed proven to be something dramatic.

At worst, a company in this category is taking a user-centered and creative approach. At best, there’s a perspective about facilitated sexuality that will bring significantly new experiences to the world.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • UK teen sex education pamphlet emphasizes sex sex as healthy and pleasurable rather than warning about disease – "Health officials are trying to change the tone of sex education. The new pamphlet, called "Pleasure," has sparked some opposition from those who believe it encourages promiscuity among teens in a country that already has high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

    Regardless of what you think of this morally, politically, etc., it's a powerful example of reframing a discussion and challenging closely-held beliefs in order to innovate.

  • Slides and audio posted for “Well, we did all this research … now what?” at BayCHI – BayCHI has relaunched podcasts and my recent BayCHI talk is among the first to be posted. You can listen to the audio, or you can watch the slides with embedded audio."Steve Portigal introduces a framework for synthesizing raw data into insights, and then creatively using those insights to develop a range of business concepts that respond to those insights and integrate a fresh, contextual understanding of a customer's unmet needs."

The Normal Vibrations

In Jimmyjane’s Sex Change Operation I described how Jimmyjane had used design to normalize and shift the meaning of sex and sexuality away from dirty. Although Jimmyjane isn’t mentioned specifically, this article further illuminates this cultural moment:

“What this tells us is we’ve reached a tipping point,” said Debby Herbenick, an author of the studies along with her Indiana University colleague Michael Reece. “Something once regarded as exotic has become commonplace.”

The surveys, conducted in April 2008 and paid for by Church & Dwight, which makes Trojan condoms and a line of vibrators, document vibrator use and the related sexual practices of 2,056 women and 1,047 men; 93 percent of those surveyed said they are heterosexual.

The researchers attribute the widespread use to easier availability and a cultural shift away from the bad ol’ boy, Triple-X-rated sex toy industry. Vibrators are now sold at Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven and CVS; new Internet sites for sex products feature middle-aged models and aim at mainstream couples. Several companies market sex toys to women as young as sorority sisters and as old as postmenopausal golden girls through Tupperware-style home parties.

“You can now buy your toothpaste, shampoo and vibrator at the local convenience store,” Dr. Herbenick said. “They’re not hidden in a dark corner of some adult store.”

This is the first vibrator research based on a sampling reflective of the nation’s demographic mix, so there is no means of authoritatively measuring changing use over time.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.

    (Thanks to CPT!)

  • Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
  • Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.

Jimmyjane’s Sex Change Operation

(Originally posted on Core77)

Ethan Imboden worked as an industrial designer for firms like Ecco and frogdesign, cranking out designs for everyday products (i.e., staplers and monitors), but grew to feel that he had something more to contribute. After starting his own design firm, he went with a client to the Adult Novelty Expo and saw bad design everywhere. He founded Jimmyjane as a response to that, and set out to use form, color, materials and so on to create premium vibrators. Now he’s a visionary creative, with strong ideas about the Jimmyjane brand and how to embody those attributes across a range of products. Imboden fits the Be A Genius and Get It Right archetype we wrote about in interactions. At least, if they are doing as well as they indicated during our recent visit, then they are “getting it right.” But we couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t more that they could be doing.

In addition to vibrators, Jimmyjane sells other products intended to bring sex, sexy, and sexuality forward. They’ve got candles with a spout so you can pour out melted lotiony goo for a sexy massage, heating tray doodads for the same goo that double as massagers, feel-good and smell-good lotions, etc. etc. They’ve got a soft eye mask with an embroidered Z on one side and an embroidered heart on the other: wear the mask with the Z outside when you want to sleep; put the heart on the outside to announce your interest in blindfold panky.


Despite claims that the name Jimmyjane represents their intent to serve everyone, the product line leans heavily towards the feminine, and appears in retail at places like Sephora. Meanwhile, limited-edition vibrators laser-etched with work by named artists, or covered in diamonds or platinum obviously serve an extremely narrow range of customers.


Considering all this, Jimmyjane starts to emerge as a Victoria’s Secret-meets-Harley brand. They play around the edge of naughty: you can’t buy the vibrators at Whole Foods, but you can pick up some candles. The Jimmyjane retail display in Whole Foods lets shoppers have a private bit of shocked delight when we can connect a everday purchase in a grocery store to a risque activity – and needn’t ever engage in that risque activity ourselves to get that little buzz. We can buy a Harley leash for our dog, or a wallet, or cross-brand for our truck, and get a taste of the Harley feeling without engaging in the core activity: driving a Softtail. That public/private sauciness was a driver of Victoria’s Secret growth; here, instead of underwear, Imboden is offering the halo effect of vibrators.

We saw their Theory of Everything Venn diagram that tries to map candle scents to emotional attributes of attraction, thus creating a product line logic that is slightly arrogant in its delusions of grandeur. Being led by design instead of the customer need starts to isolate the vision from reality and from bolder and bigger possibilities. Imboden told us that they don’t want to be evangelists who try to convert people to use vibrators, etc. But we asked if they were trying to lower barriers and we were met with a puzzled stare.


But Jimmyjane (or someone else who sees the opporunity) has huge potential to do some more barrier lowering. They’ve already done a tremendous reframe of sex toys from dangerous, cheap, embarrassing crap, to high-end, well-designed chic. But they are toying with reframing sexuality as part of our culture, by bringing bits and pieces of it from the backstage to the frontstage.


To grow the market (and thus their business) by bringing more people into this realm means seeing the opportunity for barrier-lowering and then doing the hard work it will take to understand how all their customers (current and potential) are perceiving those barriers. But Jimmyjane has a limited customer feedback loop (consisting of input from retailers and Ask Jimmyjane on their website). We heard about the packaging for the Rabbit vibrator (a product Jimmyjane did not design, but is selling, or as they put it, curating): because they plan for customers to have a great out-of-box experience, all products are cleaned and stocked with batteries before shipping (and the batteries are separated by a small pull-tab so they don’t run down before purchase). But they heard that customers were taking the Rabbit out of its box and after seeing that it had batteries in it assumed that it was used. Yuck! They are now redesigning the packaging to display the batteries and give the purchaser the opportunity to load the batteries themselves: it’s add-an-egg for the new millennium.


That’s a simple usability failure and it’s easily fixed, once discovered. But it suggests potential mismatches between how Jimmyjane conceives of and produces products and how customers are buying and using products (and that’s just the ones who are buying). The opportunity for growth, by revisiting what sexuality means and how products can support it, is enormous, and the possibility of Sexual Revolution 2.0, a world where sex, sexuality, and sexiness might be experienced on both sides of the green door in a more fun and carefree manner, is well within reach for a firm that has already done so much.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Twitter's suggested users for you to follow – This lacks any personalization and reinforces the unfortunate star system that (social) media supports, but it's a good example of a "how to get started" scaffolding that I've written about before
  • Jimmyjane's Sex Change Operation – my article on Core77 – We were invited to designer-sex-accessory firm Jimmyjane to learn more about their history and their approach. My thoughts on the company and its mission are posted on Core7.

    "Ethan Imboden worked an industrial designer for firms like Ecco and frogdesign, cranking out designs for everyday products (i.e., staplers and monitors), but grew to feel that he had something more to contribute. After starting his own design firm, he went with a client to the Adult Novelty Expo and saw bad design everywhere. He founded Jimmyjane as a response to that, and set out to use form, color, materials and so on to create premium vibrators. Now he's a visionary creative, with strong ideas about the Jimmyjane brand and how to embody those attributes across a range of products. Imboden fits the Be A Genius and Get It Right archetype we wrote about in interactions."


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