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Innovation By Design

Simple Genius: A Condom You Can Open With One Hand

If condoms were like this, we’d all look a lot smoother in the bedroom.

In the movies, you occasionally see guys do this thing where they tear condom wrappers open with their teeth. It’s a cool move—a seamless segue from foreplay to safe sex—but I’m not sure it happens all that often in real life. Romantic comedy protagonists who work vague jobs in advertising and live in impossibly spacious downtown lofts tear condom wrappers open with their teeth. In real-life, according to sources with first-hand knowledge of the matter, people usually fumble around for a bit before ripping them open with two hands like a bag of Skittles. It’s less than ideal. But Ben Pawle’s design for a one-handed condom wrapper is a compromise between those extremes, a chance for the rest of us to prove our prowess with the flick of a finger.

The idea couldn’t be simpler: Perforate the condom wrapper across the middle, so you can snap it open—both the outer foil and the inner plastic seal—by flicking it with a finger. But the project, at least initially, had little to do with bringing Matthew McConaughey-level suaveness to the uncoordinated fornicating masses. Rather, Pawle set out to design a condom that would be easy to open for individuals afflicted with Hemiplegia, a condition that leaves one side of the body paralyzed.

The U.K.-based designer was casting about for final-year design projects, he explained to me via email, and he knew he wanted one to involve health care. "I became very interested in the idea of being able to … provide a greater sense of dignity through a designed intervention … I stumbled upon the condition Hemiplegia; a stroke of an unborn child in the womb, [and] I found the subject fascinating, particularly the physical problems a hemiplegic encounters and equally the mental trauma/angst this causes. From the research and through feedback, I narrowed the project focus to the experience of growing up as major social anxiety periods—the idea of childhood and young adulthood. The condom was a response to young adulthood part of the project and I guess is just common sense—why is a condom an obstacle and hindrance instead of enhancing a moment?"

Dignity through design is an incredibly noble aim, and something we need more of. But in this case, designing for a disability actually resulted in a product that’s better for everyone. Pawle’s clever idea arrives in a product space where titillation often overshadows thoughtful design. Many concepts for sex-related products, he pointed out, have "a slight edge of the ridiculous." You’re either giggling about what the product is supposed to do or where it’s supposed to go, or guffawing at some dumb double entendre on the mocked-up packaging.

For this reason, Pawle chose to keep his design unbranded, so the focus could be on the experience itself. "I had a list as long as my arm of names submitted by friends and colleagues," he explained, "some simple and cool, others wild but hilarious. In the end I decided un-branded was the only way to really appreciate what the design meant, and to read it on its most simple level; as a relatively subtle intervention intended to improve a 'moment.'"

Pawle registered his design with the U.K. patent office, so hopefully some enterprising condom manufacturer will see the concept and get in touch. For all our sakes. Plus, didn’t anyone tell McConaughey that you’re not supposed to use your teeth as tools?

[Hat tip Dezeen]