If you have to moderate a panel discussion about sex, Las Vegas is probably the best place on the planet to do it. So last January, I splashed on a little Shalimar, hiked up my fishnets, and headed over to a back hall at the giant Consumer Electronics Show to host a discussion on “Sex and Electronics ” with a couple women from Smart Design , who smartly design female-friendly electronics products.
That’s no longer a total oxymoron, although much of what was shown in those vast temples of gadgetry still radiated a Y-chromosomey vibe.
The panel’s stars were Erica Eden and Agnete Enga, two of the four founders of the “Femme Den ,” Smart Design’s small internal cadre of designers devoted to thinking about the differences between genders and what that means for product development.
The Femme Den aims to go far beyond the traditional “shrink it and pink it” strategy that manufacturers often employ when targeting the female market. Not only has that approach been offensive to many women, but it misses the larger point: women have legitimately different physical needs than men, as well as a lower tolerance for obtuse design than their male counterparts. But they also influence 80% of household purchases, so companies ignore their needs at their peril.
Those very issues led to the Den’s founding. In 2005, Smart was trying to help Nike figure out why sales of their line of watches were flagging. The all-male team brought in two female colleagues to see if they could crack the problem. Turns out women athletes were buying men’s watches because they wanted the added functionality, and struggling with the clunky size on their smaller wrists. When Smart redesigned the watches to be both technically advanced and good looking, sales soared. The Femme Den was born.
The original group included four women and an honorary guy, Smart Design co-founder Dan Formosa (“Femme Dan”), an early supporter. Today the group still numbers four--Eden, Agnete, Yvonne Lin, and Whitney Hopkins (who replaced Gina Reimann, an original founder). In less than a month, Agnete will move to the company’s Barcelona office to carry the message to her European colleagues.
In October, Agnete speaks at the Design Management Institute’s annual conference on "Sex and Sensibility ."
We’re so enthusiastic about the quartet's message--and its results--that we awarded them a slot among this year’s Masters of Design. Read more about them and about how designing products with women in mind has a hidden benefit for men, in this story  by Kate Rockwood. And tune in all week, as they launch our Masters of Design  coverage with a week’s worth of guest blogging.
Smart Design’s Femme Den-enabled Greatest Hits:
Cardinal Health Endura Scrubs
Nike Imara Strive
OXO Good Grips Pruning Line
Read the Femme Den blog