Things That Make You Go Mmm

Apr 25, 2012 at 12am

Back in my early 20s, one of the gaudy knickknacks that decorated my bedroom was a flesh-colored vibrator. I thought I was being hilarious and cute in my brazenness, but looking back on it, I may have overstepped the boundaries of kitsch. These days, there's no way in hell I'd put a sex toy out in my home and call it décor, but maybe I'd reconsider if I owned one by Jimmyjane.

More akin to modern art than your run-of-the-mill dildo, Jimmyjane products are so well-designed that you could probably put one on your mantle at your next party, and not a house guest would be the wiser they were placing their drink next to your kinky accoutrement. Jimmyjane's PLEASURE TO THE PEOPLE vibrators look like the latest Japanese collectible vinyl art toys. And their Little Something vibes are made of precious metals, including 24 karat gold.

But the San Francisco-based company isn't just about looking pretty. Partnering with design luminaries, like Yves Behar of fuseproject, Jimmyjane is serious about making products that hit all the right spots and fulfill all the needs a sex toy should. The Afterglow massage candle, for instance, comes in a spouted porcelain container. When lit, the candle liquifies into a massage oil that you can safely pour on your partner without fear of burning sensitive skin (a boner killer, literally).

I spoke with Jimmyjane founder Ethan Imboden to find out more about Jimmyjane and the process that goes into making well-designed sex toys.

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It came immediately on the heels of the moment I realized I wanted to stop creating products that didn’t materially improve our lives. In an attempt to steer my time in a more meaningful (and challenging) direction, I quit my job and started my own design firm. Shortly after I opened the doors, I was approached by three potential clients to look into sexual accessories.

After years of designing much more mundane products – from cell phones and toothbrushes to furniture and footwear – I was intrigued. I decided to venture out to my first ’adult novelty’ trade show. Walking from booth to booth, I discovered that the products relating to our sexuality had received almost no design attention. It seemed to me that if anything should be beautifully designed and made, it’s the products that engage our sexuality.

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Good sex comes from good communication, and good design can open a dialogue, facilitating this essential communication. Before we re-imagined the vibrator, we first re-imagined the communication that surrounds it, creating a new verbal, aesthetic, and sensory vocabulary for sex accessories. 

Good sex also comes from focused attention, and good design can eliminate distractions and guide our awareness. When you’re having sex, you want to focus on the sensations – not a rattling vibrator with confusing controls. We aim for simplicity and clarity in our designs so that when they’re in use, they’re able to disappear into the experience. 

Good sex additionally comes from good health, and good design can protect and improve your wellbeing. We use medical grade materials in the production of our products. 

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Our collaboration was a natural progression of our friendship. Yves and I had talked for years about designing something together, but decided to wait until we found an opportunity to take on a major project. The project ended up being more “major” than intended – we set out to create one vibrator, but fell in love with too many ideas. As a result, the Pleasure to the People series includes three designs (FORM 2, FORM 3 and FORM 4), each with their own unique power to please.

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Innovation takes time, but it’s worth it. Each product takes at least two years to create, from concept to customer. In this industry that’s unusual, but we’re stubborn about making sure our products exceed expectations. For a design to succeed with our customers, it needs to fit into their real lives and real interactions (not idealized ones), it needs to fit their bodies (and no two bodies are alike), and it needs to deliver on its promise.

In the beginning of the development process, our studio is literally covered in sketches. We’re knee-deep in all the technologies that we’re developing and testing. Further into the process we’re all about simplicity, clarity, and usability. Once we enter the production ramp, we’re deep into quality, reliability, and lifecycle testing.

Of course, as soon as the first production run is complete, we go back in and begin ratcheting the product to the next level again – it’s a continual cycle of enhancement. Along the way, we have a diverse group of test pilots we rely on to put our designs and pre-production prototypes through their paces. We require a lot of testing and a lot of feedback before we’re satisfied with what we’re ready to launch.

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Who wants a 24 karat gold vibrator? I don’t know many who would turn one down, but it’s true that this appeals to a particular audience. These customers understand that with our replaceable motor, this vibrator can truly last a lifetime, making it appropriate not just as an object of desire, but also an enduring token of affection. Think of it as jewelry – highly pleasurable, exceptionally functional jewelry.

This story originally ran in Volume 3 of The Bold Italic magazine – SF By Design.

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