Product Design by Femme Den
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By Carren Jao / Published by Dwell
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At this point, it's virtually ingrained in the popular consciousness: “Women make up 50 percent of the population and 85 percent of purchase decisions," says Karena Cameron of Femme Den, a design collective ensconced within a thirty-year-old design consultancy Smart Design. And yet, "all the men are doing the designing without regard for our needs." Cameron aims to change that.
Karena Cameron, Director of Smart Design and Femme Den.

Karena Cameron, Director of Smart Design and Femme Den.

Whitney Hopkins of Femme Den.

Whitney Hopkins of Femme Den.

Yvonne Lin of Femme Den.

Yvonne Lin of Femme Den.

Erica Eden of Femme Den.

Erica Eden of Femme Den.

Agnete Egna contributes to Femme Den from their Barcelona office.

Agnete Egna contributes to Femme Den from their Barcelona office.

Frustrated at the quality of products available in the marketplace, four women—Whitney Hopkins, Agnete Enga, Erica Eden, and Yvonne Lin—formed a small design lab geared specifically to the needs of women consumers in 2005. Since then, the team has brought over 90 percent of their designs to market, working in an impressive range of industries: athletic wear, health care, electronics, even automobiles.

The team has since honed their thinking on gender-sensitive design and continually campaigns against clumsy solutions. “Typically, big companies have resorted to a ‘shrink it and pink it’ philosophy for women. If it’s smaller and aesthetically pleasing, they’re sure it’s going to capture the female audience. Of course you know that’s not true,” says Cameron, “It’s not so much about changing a superficial element, it’s actually getting in and understanding what the unmet needs and desires are that are going to drive the emotional connection with the brand or the product. [The answer is] not making things pink.”

Here is a selection of products Femme Den has helped realize:

Nike watches redesigned by Femme Den.

Nike watches redesigned by Femme Den.

Nike Women’s Watches

When Nike’s women’s watches (shown above) fell below sales expectations, the athletic company turned to Femme Den to help its all-male team figure out the underlying problem. They discovered that women were shunning Nike’s “shrinked and pinked” watch versions and were actually buying from the men’s line because of its extra athletic features.

Cameron explains, “Some women prefer men’s sport watches because they reflect how they want to feel in the moment. Like men, they want to feel fierce and confident while working out. The difference is that women want to feel feminine too.” What resulted from their research was a watch that high in fashion, but also in performance.

Pyrex Easy Grab Bakeware

Femme Den redesigned the Pyrex baking dish.

Femme Den redesigned the Pyrex baking dish.

Femme Den helped Pyrex redesign their signature bakeware for Gen-Y home cooks. The redesigned product still offered a timeless design, but with stackable features and cut-out handles to help prevent accidents while passing dishes from one hand to another. The New York Times summed it by saying, “The changes are subtle and profound: the glass is clearer, the handles are deeper and more biomorphically shaped, and the lines are elegant. And heck, it's just prettier.”

Sally Hansen Beauty Tools

Sally Hansen product packaging before and after a redesign by Femme Den.

Sally Hansen product packaging before and after a redesign by Femme Den.

When Walmart threatened to cut Sally Hansen’s La Cross brand of tweezers from the shelves the personal care company asked Femme Den to see how they could bring back interest in their product.

The team redesigned all of the line’s tools (which included tweezers, scissors, nail files, clippers, and nippers). They added grips to enhance use, and precision tips for performance. The new packaging design allowed a 360-degree view of the product and a window to aid in exploration of the tool. To add an emotional connection, Femme Den also added unique product names and educational communication on the packaging. The redesign won the bronze award for International Design Excellence Awards in 2012.

Cardinal Health Endura Scrubs

70 percent of workers in an operating room are women, but traditional scrubs are made for an XL-sized man. Women have wider hips, typically shorter legs and rise, and need more chest coverage. The traditional scrubs don’t allow for that. One male surgeon Femme Den interviewed during research said, “I have seen every nurse’s boobs in this hospital.” The re-designed scrubs featured collars that don’t gape, waistlines and inseams that adjust for male and female bodies, angled pockets that prevent tools from dropping, breathable mesh panels for circulation, and adjustable leg lengths. They are durable and stretchable and no longer look like pajamas.

OXO Good Grip Tools

Oxo tools by Femme Den.

Oxo tools by Femme Den.

Femme Den helped OXO develop a suite of tools that appeal to women, but still work for men. No pink implements are in sight in this toolbox. Instead, they developed 20 tools that were ergonomic and comfortable to use. The line received more than two dozen awards including Design of the Decade Gold Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. The line is has since become a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Pico Cricket

The Pico Rocket by Femme Den.

The Pico Rocket by Femme Den.

The Playful Invention Company (PICO) and Femme Den team developed a gender-neutral robotics set that appeals to both boys and girls. Named PICO Cricket, the computer and components kit spins, lights up and plays music. Instead of simply focusing on cars and robots, Cricket also emphasized art, music and creative materials.

Memorex App Enhanced Portable Stereo Speaker

Knowing that moms appreciate no-fuss and no-muss technology, Femme Den helped design a portable stereo speaker that fits in any part of the room—whether in the kitchen counter, in the office desk or bookshelf—and removed extraneous parts that children could break.

Carren Jao

@carrenjao

Carren Jao is an arts, architecture and design writer from Manila, Philippines now based in Los Angeles. She’s written for local and international publications like Bluprint, Contemporary Art Philippines, Angeleno and the Architect’s Newspaper. She relishes exploring new cities by walking its streets, taking public transportation and listening to its residents’ stories. Find out what else she’s up to at http://carrenjao.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @ccjao.

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