Craig Battin
manages all content at Grand St. Invents things in his spare time.

Producer Focus: Q+A with Crave

We chatted with Michael

Topolovac and Ti Chang, creators of the Duet, about their experiences bringing to market products in a category that was begging for better design and innovation.

Crave - Team Working

What was the inspiration behind creating Crave?

M: I was talking to a few female friends a few years back, and when I asked why they didn’t own a vibrator, the collective answer was that shopping for one felt like a ‘dirty’ experience. Ultimately, the takeaway was that women wanted a richer experience around buying and owning these products, and that was the key inspiration.

T: The inspiration began when I came to terms with the lack of quality products available for women. I believe that something so important and intrinsic to who we are as human beings should have more options – we have more options for hair nets than there are quality toys for women.

In a few words, how did the design of the Duet evolve as you built, tested, and iterated? What were some of the most important lessons you learned during this process?

T: There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pleasure. Prototyping, testing, and retesting is incredibly valuable, but asking the right questions is paramount. When we conduct research, we can’t observer the experience, so it is super important to ask the right questions and have a dialogue with the user to get truly rich information.

M: The original concept for the Duet came out of some research we did before designing anything. The whole battery thing was a real ordeal, and the charger situation created issues. So, nobody said “create a USB-rechargeable vibrator,” but we discovered that women wanted to create something that eliminated confusion of carrying a charger just for this specific product. Also, we’re lucky to have a pretty robust set of development tools and facilities here in San Francisco, and the Valley in general. There’s a great Maker community here, along with a bunch of great designers. A combination of my background, the Valley being rich in that DNA, and the

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tools have evolved considerably to make prototyping easier.

Crave - Inventory

What were the biggest design and engineering obstacles in building a product that was better than other vibrators on the market?

T: One of the biggest challenges as a designer is fully grasping how sensitive materials affect the vibration performance in such an object. Vibration and the amount of material being moved can greatly reduce performance and affect other aspects, such as sound. When I create the silhouette of an object, I have to understand how materials matter and how the sculpting of an edge can really affect the feel. The clitoris is highly sensitive, so something as small as a 1 or 2 mm radius

can make a huge difference.

How many years of design work went in to developing the Duet?

M: About a year and a half of just market research (60-70 women), mapping the landscape, and figuring out what customers wanted. That was the prelude. Then, once we started on the Duet, it took us about a year to get from initial concept to final production units.

Crave - Designer

You source parts and materials from all over but assemble and test all Crave products right in San Francisco. Are there parts of this process that you’re trying to improve upon? What are some of the biggest “kinks,” if any, in the process that you’re working to refine?

M: Most people who make consumer products work with a contract manufacturer in China, but we wanted to figure out how to scale up such that we could meet market demand. We like that we can deliver quality that you normally wouldn’t achieve until later in the manufacturing game. We’d like to decrease the window of product innovation from a year down to 3-4 months. If we can prototype faster and then get feedback, we’ll be able to convert that into more immediate production.

You successfully crowdfunded the Duet on a design funding platform back in August 2011. Any advice for others in the sex toy category that you’d care to pass along?

T: Get more women involved. Don’t let technology ‘run the show.’ Ultimately, it’s all about the experience.

M: We were the first crowdfunded product in this category, and by a fairly large margin. It was a bit of a challenge to find a platform that would allow this (although now Indiegogo allows it). It’s a great way to get feedback on your product, and to get users to engage early on. Some of the crowdfunding projects out there are not as supportive of backers as they probably should be. It’s really important to be utterly transparent about where you are as a company and where the product is at. Really try to engage your users and treat them well. This depends on your product, but it’s up to you to decide how to do that.

At a recent trade show, you set up a “Build-a-Vibe” DIY assembly line where visitors could create their own vibrators. Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this and the connection it forms between the product and the person.

M: It’s been incredibly well-received every time we’ve done it. There’s definitely an increase in people’s collective curiosity around how things are made and how they work. It’s crazy to watch people’s reactions as they watch a product come together and see how complex these things really are.

Assembly Line

What are some of the exciting milestones on the horizon for Crave?

M: We’re working on a bunch of new products which we’ll be releasing over the next year (they’re still very hush-hush), probably every 3-6 months. We’d like to introduce things that provide new experiences and feel more accessible to suit different tastes and provide different values at different price points, as well as others that enter new categories.

Is it

a constant challenge to keep your brand intact? What’s one way you go about doing this?

M: It’s a category that’s historically been in ‘the gutter,’ so people still tend to look at these products through

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materials we use. Also, making things is hard, and making things in the U.S. is especially hard. You can’t get everything you want made here, but we’re constantly trying to find ways to have as much done here as possible, because that’s really

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important to us.

Crave - Boards

Who is your favorite inventor or product designer today, and why?

T: My top 3 contemporary designers: Naoto Fukasawa, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and Tobias Wong. Naoto for his poetic approach to objects, and for the way he tells a story through his products. I love his Issack Miyake watch and his Deja Vu stools. The Bouroullecs for their approach to the environment and furniture – their work is true to the materials used – very distilled, and innovative. I lust after their Steelwood chair, and one day…it will be mine. Lastly, Tobias Wong was a conceptual artist who made cheeky statements with objects and he was absolutely brilliant. His humor was not just a one-liner, but thoughtfully and meticulously executed – it made you question whether this is a product or a piece of art.

Read more about Crave’s Duet on Grand St. –