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  • 09.21.09

Introducing the Femme Den: Going Beyond “Shrink it and Pink it”

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.

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.

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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. 

femmeden

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
.”

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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:

femmeden2

Cardinal Health Endura Scrubs

femmeden3

Nike Imara Strive

femmeden4

OXO Good Grips Pruning Line

femmeden5

PicoCricket

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About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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