“Art is like masturbation. It is selfish and introverted and done for you and you alone. Design is like sex. There is someone else involved, their needs are just as important as your own, and if everything goes right, both parties are happy in the end.”
— Colin Wright
For any product — and I’ve worked on a wide range — the process varies depending on the scope of the project and creative freedom given to the designer. In my current genre of products, sex toys, I strongly believe in the ethos that form follows function…and emotion. The last part is one that is what I believe to be the key ingredient to what I do.
So before I design anything (meaning putting pen to paper and conjuring magical forms) this is my process:
Let’s be honest
Is this a plastic bucket? A luxury watch? A life-saving medical device? In each of these types of products there is a parameter (functional, aesthetic) that often is the driver for the experience of the product. For a medical device, it needs to function reliably at a reasonable cost. You can’t have an industrial designer specifying a crazy shape and force engineers to create something that ignores that parameter. It is a mishandling of priorities and will set projects back more often than not. For a luxury watch, does the status overshadow the functionality? In that case, aesthetics will need to drive the execution more than engineering. Figure out the experience you want to provide and let that be the guiding light.
Get the technical parameters
I am the lowest common denominator when it comes to technology — so I ask a lot of questions. These questions help both me and the engineers to flesh out what this product is designed for. Perhaps the battery doesn’t need to be very big, or the motor can be smaller. This becomes a conversation about the pros and cons of the technical constraints on the product experience. Often the parameters are more nuanced and both need to be negotiated. It’s not about a power struggle between design and engineering, because we always work from the point of view of the product experience and it removes the ego from all sides to get to the optimum product.
Get the feels
The emotional component of a product often has a place, but how high does it belong on the ladder will vary. This is often informed by the attitude of the user towards this type of product, the marketing positioning (price), and product context. This is the most difficult part for me — as it requires me to be in tune with the most intangible part of the process. I often need to be in a headspace where I am removed from operational type activity (I am a co-founder of a company). Mood boards are helpful, and shopping is actually helpful — I’m serious! Being surrounded by beautiful things that you can feel and touch can ignite ideas.
Each industrial designer has their own process, a logic to how they create a compelling visual aesthetic for a product. Some are manufacturing process-driven (think the sexy video of Jony Ive for Apple), some are more poetic such as Naoto Fukasawa, whose work embodies a quiet and keen observation of the world. Some are personality-driven like Philippe Starck — whose wit and irreverence has earned him an international reputation. Others have a particular aesthetic such as Ross Lovegrove, renowned for his sensual, biomorphic curves. All of the above have successfully elevated a product beyond its functionality and manufacturability to a realm with a distinct approach that is synonymous with the designer.
It’s important to reiterate that all of the products are mass produced, so at the most basic level all of these had to overcome manufacturing / functional hurdles. This to me is the magic of successful industrial-designed products, and only some become iconic products. As a designer, I think we all strive to achieve that iconic status, but only the time and commercial viability will determine that status.
Ti is an industrial designer / entrepreneur passionate about designing products for women. She is the co-founder and VP of Design of CRAVE, a San Francisco-based company specializing in discreet and luxury sex toys. Prior to Crave, Ti founded INCOQNITO, a line of intimate accessories that double as fashionable jewelry which was acquired by CRAVE in 2011. Since then, Ti has continued to lead the concept and design for the company’s full line of products which has won numerous awards, including Red Dot, IDEA and Good Design. She is best known for the design of Vesper, a vibrator necklace, one of the most celebrated and innovative sex toys disrupting the adult toy industry and changing the conversation around sex. She has been featured in numerous publications including Fortune, Forbes, HuffPo, and New York Times and is a former POPTECH! Speaker. She co-chairs the Women in Design section of the Industrial Designers Society of America, where she organizes events to support the community of women in industrial design. Ti holds a MA in Design Products from Royal College of Art in London and a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Institute of Technology. Ti grew up in Atlanta, GA and now enjoys life and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.