What is it like to design for people’s pleasure? Bremen-based FUN FACTORY is the only sex toy manufacturer that designs and produces its toys in Europe. Are We Europe spoke to Kristy Stahlberg and Simone Kalz, who lead the company’s communications and product development teams, to find out more. They spoke to us from the “Smartballs Room” in their headquarters—named after one of their famous toys.
We always have a lot of ideas. We have a really creative team, and a community of nice customers and end consumers who constantly give us feedback. Sometimes they even make drawings themselves and send them in, and occasionally we take their suggestions on board. So we always start with a lot of questions, discussions and talks with different people. We talk with our buyers, asking them what they want. We talk with our creative people about how it could look. And then we talk with doctors—urologists, gynaecologists and sex therapists. We work with a huge network of people which is super interesting—and sometimes very weird! But we want to be sure that we’re giving the end consumer something they like and that makes sense.
So the initial stages are very easy, but once you put all the ideas together and start working with the designers, it’s a long process. Some ideas may not really be suited to the body. With those that are, once we move into the construction phase, we go to the model-maker, make the prototype, and test it with our user groups. Depending on the toy, we may have between 20 and 500 anonymous testers. We ask them many questions, such as how they used it, whether they have experience with sex toys, and so on. They give us very detailed feedback and we take that information to go back to the drawing board and make the toy better. Then, we repeat the process. Whether it’s single people, couples, different age groups and different countries—we test our products hundreds of times with all kinds of people, until everybody’s happy!
What does inclusive design mean to you?
In the sex toy industry, you mostly find gendered toys. You have toys for women, and toys for men. For marketing purposes and SEO—search engine optimisation, ed.—keywords, we still use those categories, too, but we hope that will change soon. But as a manufacturer, we design products primarily for the body. For the inner or external clitoris, for the perineum, the penis, or the prostate—we try to think up products to fit certain hotspots.
If you have a light touch vibrator, for example, you can use it anywhere. You might want to stimulate your body internally or externally. Another example is a cock ring. If you don’t have a penis, you can use it with your finger. Our designs are versatile, and we encourage people to be really open-minded when it comes to stimulation and exploration, so they discover entirely new ways to use our products through play.
What’s the biggest challenge when designing sex toys?
The most important thing is to make something that people will love from the first time they see it. Creating a product that speaks for itself and that gives people the impulse to buy it—and use it! We want our products to talk to people in the same way as a plate of beautifully arranged food makes you want to eat it. That’s why we always aim to have a professional design language that people recognise. This means the same button or logo, the same interfaces, along with similar looks and shapes. We have a series of details, such as different diameters, especially curves—we won’t bore you with the exact numbers—so that when you see one of our toys, something goes off in the back of your brain and you think: Yeah, this is really sexy and I really want it! And then, once you have it in your hand, you can appreciate how it feels. Is it heavy? Is it light? Is the surface smooth or sticky? Press the button and give it a wake-up call and you’re ready to go.
Why did you choose to manufacture your sex toys in Europe?
Derek and Michael, who started FUN FACTORY 25 years ago, lived in Bremen, and that’s still where we are today. For us, this has many advantages. Having our product development teams and our production facilities in the same place means that when we have a new idea, we only need to walk down the corridor to get someone to put it into 3D, and show it to the model-makers across the hall. In the same way, whenever there is an issue with production—like if a machine isn’t working, or a batch of silicone isn’t behaving as it should be—we can react to that really fast, solving problems and making changes. For a factory, that’s the best production process you can have. It is also the most sustainable thing we can offer the industry and our customers, because we don’t have to fly to faraway production plants. We outsource certain processes, like assembling technical parts or packaging, to local companies and people who support us. Of course, we pay European wages and respect European working standards. But we’re part of a community, and that is really important to us.
What is it like to design for people’s pleasure?
It is the greatest job in the world! But it comes with a lot of responsibility. We’re talking about people’s bodies, the G-spot, the P-spot, the A-spot, the clitoris, from the inside, from the outside. There’s a lot of very specific knowledge that goes into these toys. For example, how the prostate works, and how the blood flows and how it can be stimulated in a pleasurable way. We need to know and think about how things work, in scientific terms, to find out how we can help people get off. So it’s really important that we’re aware of the power that comes with our knowledge. And it’s not enough to make something that looks good and is functional. In the end, what we put into the products are feelings. Because you have to really love what you do.
Why do you think sex toys are more popular today?
Women, and people in general, have started to speak more openly about their desire and their lust. They’ve started to explore and experience that they can have a great sex life. That they can get a toy or ask for a partner to touch them where they want to be touched, and to have the sex that they want. We see this in relationships, too. Many couples come to us asking for sex toys for vaginas, vulvas, penises, or for the anus. So the understanding of what good sex looks like has changed for many people. Of course, not everybody likes what we do. It makes some people uncomfortable But all we want to do is to help people have a little bit more fun. We really don’t want to claim to be a substitute for a partner. Our toys are a plus, an add-on! We want to get the message out that if you know your body, or if you change your routine, you might get a fuller, broader, more satisfying orgasm. People today want to live more intensely. This starts with food, with exercise—and also with sex!