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The World's Most Beautiful Vibrator: Jimmyjane Fuses Design and Sex

Sex objects don't look like themselves anymore. While the industry of personal sexual satisfaction is still dominated by glittery phalli and plastic rabbits, a handful of companies that challenge the anatomical form factor have started to emerge. And San Francisco-based Jimmyjane has been one of the driving forces behind this new design of delight.

Launched in 2004, the company first gained attention from the design world when founder and ex-industrial engineer Ethan Imboden teamed up with the renowned Yves Béhar (whose firm fuseproject designed the OLPC, among other things). The pair's first collaboration was the Form 6, the first of the FORM series. (The most recent is the FORM 3, following the FORM 2 -- confusing, we know.) Then Jimmyjane went on to collaborate with artists such as Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz and The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart on special editions, picking up design accolades like the IDEO and I.D. awards along the way. The company has almost singlehandedly paved the way for a new sex toy paradigm -- high design that's sexy, utilitarian, and accessible to the mass market.

We caught up with Mr. Imboden to ask him about his process and working with Yves Béhar. Oh, and he's got a treat for our readers, too.

Switched: So, what was it like to work with a design star like Yves Behar? Whose idea was it to collaborate, and how did sex come into the picture?

Ethan: Yves and I had been friends for a long time, and had often discussed collaborating, but were waiting for the right opportunity to do so. That came a few years ago when Jimmyjane decided to expand its FORM line of waterproof rechargeable vibrators. The technology, design language and material palette I'd created for FORM 6 served as a jumping-off point for the work that Yves and I did together. Once Yves and I dove in, we found we had too many ideas to put into a single product. Rather than try to develop a single design that was all things to all people (never a good approach), we expanded the scope of the project, and set out to create a series of three vibrators, each with its own unique power to please. This decision enabled us to offer something for everyone, while ensuring that each design would be exceptionally effective. And that's how "Pleasure to the People" [the pair's three-piece collaboration] was born.

Switched: What were you doing prior to Jimmyjane?

Ethan: Prior to founding Jimmyjane, I spent over 10 years in brand and product development. I worked with a whole host of firms, including Arnell Group, Ecco Design, Frogdesign and Plink, and consulted for clients ranging from Motorola and Dell (sexy, I know) to Herman Miller and Nike. Before beginning work as a designer, I studied Electrical Engineering as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins and received my Master's in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute. As an engineer, I worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where I collaborated on the development of an ultra high speed DNA sequencer and other crazy gizmos for the Human Genome Project.


Switched: As someone who has an electrical engineering and industrial design background, how did you decide to create something so intrinsically personal?

Ethan: It's tricky! Our sexuality is as individual and intricate as our fingerprint. While we're all inherently sexual, we each have our unique interests, hesitations, histories and ambitions. Distilling sex down to a pleasurable interaction for a person or couple requires intuition, empathy and experience. Oh – and trial and error. The nuance and complexity of the subject matter makes this easily the most challenging design campaign I've ever undertaken... which is exactly why I enjoy it so much.


Switched: What do you think makes Jimmyjane so unique in the sex toy market? What do you think your company focuses on that other producers don't get?

Ethan: In the past, most sexual accessories were conceived as "novelties", and as such were functionally deficient, aesthetically unappealing, made of unsafe materials and not designed to last. All of this undermines the experience you're seeking. By contrast, Jimmyjane offers the same standards of design, quality and durability that you'd expect from the other notable designs in your daily life -- from the apparel you wear to the watch on your wrist and the cell in your handbag. Simply put, if anything should be beautifully designed and made, it's the objects that engage our sexuality. Though many appreciate our vibrators for their aesthetic, we believe that it's what's inside that counts. Our company is built around an in-house design studio which is focused on innovating from the ground up.


Switched: Tell us about your actual process. Can you walk us through the cycle of creating a pleasure object? What comes first?

Ethan: Each product takes at least two years to create, from concept to customer. For a design to succeed with our customers, it needs to fit into their real lives and real interactions (not just idealized ones), it needs to fit their bodies (and no two bodies are alike), and it needs to deliver on its promise. In the beginning of the development process, our studio is literally covered in sketches and we're knee-deep in all the technologies that we're developing and testing. Further into the process we're all about simplicity, clarity and usability. Once we enter the production ramp, we're deep into quality, reliability and life-cycle testing. Of course, as soon as the first production run is complete, we go back in and begin ratcheting the product to the next level again.


Switched: As a man, what factors do you want to nail (no pun intended)?

Ethan: As a man, I want to nail the seamlessness of the experience. We've all had the experience of stumbling and bumbling with condoms, bra straps and other impediments... the last thing we need is more distractions. Jimmyjane is supporting cast – a key grip, if you will – not a line-stealing costar.


Switched: What is the history of the creation of the FORM line? What is the difference between the FORM 2 and FORM 3 and what is next? FORM 4?

Ethan: We launched the FORM line with our award-winning FORM 6 vibrator. It was the first truly waterproof rechargeable vibrator on the market, and to this day is the most powerful vibrator of its kind. The technology, design language and material palette that I'd created for FORM 6 established the foundation of the FORM line, and the starting point for the work on the Pleasure to the People collaboration with Yves. The FORM 2 was the first in the Pleasure to the People series. Its ears look much like those on the popular Rabbit vibrator. However, instead of vibrating passively, each ear has a motor in the tip and continues to vibrate strongly when in contact with the body so it can deliver more than twice the sensation. FORM 3's slim, curved profile flexes to meet the body; press in the center, and the soft silicone touchpad extends, focusing the vibration exactly where it counts. As for FORM 4 – you'll just have to wait and see! I can't divulge much, other than that it rounds out the series well, and our testers have been very enthusiastic about its performance...

Tags: design, ethan imboden, EthanImboden, features, form, form 6, Form6, frog+design, frogdesign, interviews, jimmyjane, sex, sex toys, SexToys, top, vibrator, yves behar, YvesBehar