Blending Form, Function: 2

Matt O'Conner
In part one we examined the origins of the sex toy industry. Today, we'll take a closer look at the design and development process:

Looks Not Everything
Designing a product to hit all the right spots "is definitely a must," Al Bloom, director of marketing for California Exotic Novelties, told XBiz. "If it won't work or do what it's supposed to do, we lose credibility. Since California Exotic Novelties is a woman-owned company, this is very important."

All of the toy companies interviewed for this story solicit feedback from customers and continually make design improvements or even discontinue a product based on what customers tell them. Good Vibrations takes its dedication to making sure the toys it carries and makes deliver the goods a step further by having a doctor of sexology on staff.

"I have seen prostate toys not long enough to reach the prostate [and] g-spot toys too flaccid or bendy to allow the kind of pressure most women require to feel real g-spot sensation," Carol Queen, Good Vibrations' expert on sexual anatomy, told XBiz.

"In my view, everybody in our industry could use more information on sexuality, and one of the things that makes Good Vibrations most distinct is how devoted we are to that idea."

Queen added that Good Vibrations is less concerned with eye-catching designs than making sure a product gets the job done, which is a function not only of obvious design elements such as shape and contours but also the ever-changing technologies behind toy design, including the development of new materials and advances in electronics.

"My best example, though a bit outdated now, [is] the miniaturization technologies that allowed for such great sellers as the Fukuoku and Itty Bitty class of vibes and all their cousins and imitators," Queen said. "When I started at Good Vibrations, you had to have two or three C cells in your vibrator to get much kick... and now a substantial amount of vibration power is available via watch batteries."

Doc Johnson's Shamel said his design team also is constantly striving to create products that will give customers better orgasms, whether that means ergonomic design to help enthusiastic customers avoid carpal tunnel complications or waterproof numbers that make bath time more fun.

It's an effort that CEO Braverman is personally involved with and which has led to the development of proprietary materials such as Ultra-Realistic 3, a synthetic that is incredibly lifelike and can be stretched repeatedly without fear of damage. Today, UR3 is the secret behind top-selling Doc Johnson products like the Jenna Jameson Love Doll.

And Doc Johnson isn't the only adult toy maker that experiments with space-age technology. In fact, many of Phallix Glass's products are literally ripped out of NASA's play book: The dichroic material Phallix artists use to craft their pieces is the same stuff that goes into the windows on the space shuttle.

"The key is understanding and knowing what's on the cutting edge and available by staying close to the top talented raw material developers, then deciding on the techniques for manipulation," Plank said. In the case of Phallix Glass, the technique might be a Lattachino method developed hundreds of years ago in Venice, Italy, or a more innovative method never attempted anywhere before.

While raw materials such as dichroic open the window to breathtaking design possibilities, they often serve even much more important functional purposes. For example, because dichroic can withstand temperature fluctuations and is nonporous, it can be cooled in a freezer as well as heated in a microwave or warm water, giving customers added possibilities for pleasure.

From Draft To Bedroom
With so many variables involved, toy design can be a labor- and time-intensive process, albeit one that's been streamlined by the use of computers.

Shamel said Doc Johnson's toy makers use most of the popular design programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop but added that software is more helpful when it comes to backend activities like making lastminute color changes and sending files to printers than it is to the design process itself, which more often boils down to a designer putting pen to paper. Computers, he said, come into play much later in the process.

California Exotic Novelties' Bloom agrees. "[The design process] usually starts with a simple drawing," he said. "[Then it] progresses to a clay model, to a prototype. After than, colors are chosen, mechanisms are decided on and a final prototype is produced."

While the products themselves might use cutting-edge materials, the process through which they are born is quite old-fashioned. As a result, it takes "six to 12 months [to create] more complex designs and electronics," Bloom said, "simpler items, three to four months."

Pipedreams' Orlandino gave a similar time frame for development, adding that his customers, retailers and e-tailers "won't accept anything less than perfect, [and it sometimes] takes us more than a few shots to get it perfect."

Doc Johnson's Braverman added that his company has taken as long as two years refining and improving products toget them just right.

The often-lengthy toy-making process can have competitive drawbacks, according to Orlandino. "Time is of the essence when you're creating products for a marketplace as crowded as this," he told XBiz.

In this respect, Phallix Glass has an advantage most toy makers don't. Because glass blowing is a one-man operation, "We can pull a guy off the piece he's working on, give him a drawing, explain the goal and, within a few hours, have a prototype," Plank explained.

On the other hand, none of the companies we spoke with seem to be overly concerned with churning out mass quantities of products. Rather, they prefer to see themselves as boutique operations in the business of crafting specialty items — toys designed to bring pleasure to an endless variety of individuals with an equally diverse array of kinks, turn-ons and sexual orientations.

"When I'm designing a product, I ask myself, 'What other kinds of products does this person buy, and what do they look like?' " said Jon Duede, a product designer at Topco Sales. "The end result is a product that says we understand your specific, unique needs, and we have created something just for you. That's always the goal."

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