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

If you have to moderate a panel discussion about sex, LasVegas is probably the best place on the planet to do it.So last January, I splashed on a littleShalimar, hiked up my fishnets, and headed over to a back hall at the giantConsumer Electronics Show to host a discussion on “Sex and Electronics” with acouple women from Smart Design, who smartly design female-friendly electronicsproducts.

If you have to moderate a panel discussion about sex, LasVegas is probably the best place on the planet to do it.So last January, I splashed on a littleShalimar, hiked up my fishnets, and headed over to a back hall at the giantConsumer Electronics Show to host a discussion on “Sex and Electronics” with acouple women from Smart Design, who smartly design female-friendly electronicsproducts.

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That’s no longer a total oxymoron, although much ofwhat 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 ofthe four founders of the “Femme Den,” Smart Design’s small internal cadre ofdesigners devoted to thinking about the differences between genders and whatthat means for product development.

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The Femme Den aims to go far beyond the traditional “shrinkit and pink it” strategy that manufacturers often employ when targeting thefemale market.Not only has thatapproach been offensive to many women, but it misses the larger point: womenhave legitimately different physical needs than men, as well as a lowertolerance 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, Smartwas trying to help Nike figure out why sales of their line of watches wereflagging. The all-male team brought in two female colleagues to see if theycould crack the problem. Turns out women athletes were buying men’swatches because they wanted the added functionality, and struggling with theclunky size on their smaller wrists.When Smart redesigned the watches to be both technically advanced andgood looking, sales soared.The Femme Den was born.

The original group included four women and anhonorary guy, Smart Design co-founder Dan Formosa (“Femme Dan”), anearly supporter.Today the groupstill numbers four–Eden, Agnete, Yvonne Lin, and Whitney Hopkins (whoreplaced Gina Reimann, an original founder). In less than a month,Agnete will move to the company’s Barcelonaoffice to carry the message to her European colleagues.

In October, Agnete speaksat the Design Management Institute’s annual conference on “Sexand 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. Readmore about them and about how designing products with women in mind has a hiddenbenefit for men, in this story by Kate Rockwood.And tune in all week, as they launch our Masters of Designcoverage with a week’s worth of guest blogging.

Smart Design’s Femme Den-enabled Greatest Hits:

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Cardinal Health Endura Scrubs

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Nike Imara Strive

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OXO Good Grips Pruning Line

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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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