“Good designs should encourage users to gain confidence to self-explore.”

Great design is not one-dimensional: functionality, elegance, and ease of use are all elements that combine to make a good sex toy. Christy Chan took it one step further with her final assignment for university: Her project Joy also explores the political dimension that sex toys can have. How she got the idea for this project, and which other aspects she wanted to highlight – those are the main topics of our interview with the young designer.

Christy, you recently graduated from the Middlesex University in London with a BA in Product Design. As part of your graduation you designed the Joy collection of sex toys / household items. Why did you choose to work on this topic?
Christy Chan: The two main reasons were interest/curiosity and the people who supported me. This project would not have happened without them. As a girl from Hong Kong, I never seem to be allowed showing interest in sexual topics; my family and friends hardly mention things like that. I remember I found a porn VCDs in my dad’s drawer when I was 14, that was the first time I saw something like that. It was empowering, and such a beautiful thing to do, but no one ever talks about it.

I met a few groups of friends; their attitude and opinions about sex made me questioned myself a lot. They even described me as a pervert for joke, because apart from me, all the other girls would never show interest in watching porn or talking about sex casually. I thought maybe I was different, in a bad way.

Until I met a BBC girl (British Born Chinese) at university (who became a friend of mine), she was the first person who freely talked about sex with me. We had so many conversations about sex; I can’t begin to tell how much more I learnt about sex from her than from sex education at school. And we had so much fun when we had the freedom to talk about sex. (Sex had always been a “taboo, wrong, dirty” thing to me, my family, and most people I met.) After meeting her, I started asking people I knew about what they think about sex and what that makes them think like that.

At the beginning of my project for final year, I chose “Home” instead of “Sex industry”, because I was worried what my tutors would think about me, that they wouldn’t allow me to choose it or that they’d even mark me down because of this topic.
Since I did not have much passion about “Home”, I was very stressed and it did not go well.

The week before the first research presentation, I finally talked to my tutor about what I was really interested in (the sex industry). He encouraged me to go for it and he told me that “if it is what you are passionate about, don’t worry, go for it, and you will be fine.” (He is the best tutor in the world!!). My best friends also supported me the whole time and shares lots of private stories of their own for my research. I am so lucky to have such great tutors and friends! Then, I started researching and comparing areas of western and Asian sex clubs, cultures, fetishes, people’s stories, sex toys, and sex shops. Gathering all these insights I found, I came up with the idea of “Normalising sex” as a project.

The Joy collection combines everyday products and sex toys, here: “Dilduck”

Before we talk more about design and your work, could you tell us a bit more about yourself?
My name is Christy Chan from Hong Kong, graduated from the Middlesex University in London with BA in Product Design in 2017. I took a gap year for design internship between the second and final year.

I just went back to Hong Kong after my 9 years’ education in the UK. I am working as a freelance designer, and I have worked with a few companies for graphic design, design & 3D modelling, branding, exhibition design & coordination. Currently, I am working with a start-up company for a few product designs.

Did you have experience in this design category before?
Yes, I did. Between my second and final year of university, I worked for a brand called Soft Paris in London as a design intern. It is a party plan brand for lingerie and intimate toys, and I was designing sex toys for them. It wasn’t my plan to do my internship in this design category. I only applied for the job because I thought it would be funny if I have job in which I’m surrounded by sex toys, and surprisingly I did get the job in the end. Even after the internship, I still did not think this could be an option for my career path. And because I didn’t think my parents would allow it anyway, I never even told them about my internship. They thought I was designing lingerie packaging.

During my 9-month internship, I got to design sex toys, contact manufactures, do quality checks, and having meetings with the design team. I learned a lot about designing in the ”real world”, mostly about communication, money, and time; it was something I would not have been able to experience at university.

Generally speaking, what are the prerequisites of good sex toy design in your opinion?
Function-wise, I think a good sex toys design has to be easy to use and clean. Structure and shape of the product should be well designed; users should be able to understand it without reading the how-to book.
Moreover, good sex toy design should also fulfil the psychological aspect. Good designs should encourage users to gain confidence and self-explore, to open up their options of what they can do, to learn more about their body and feel proud of what they enjoy doing.

With items like “Icetease”, Chan wants to encourage an open discussion about sex and sex toys

How should I imagine your development process, and could you briefly explain the items that you created?
Joy is also a political statement: Sex should be seen and not to be hidden – instead, people should realise the importance of having a fulfilling sex life, as sexual activities are emotionally and physically beneficial. It is a revolution of nomalising sexual activities, repositioning sex toys to be domestic products, therefore – no Amore taboos about sex.

As for the JOY products: Dil-duck (Bathroom) – A body brush with a rubber duck vibrator and a semiotic handle as a G- spot dildo.
Ice-tease (Garage) – Window wiper with an attachable silicone brush as a tickler. Semiotic handle as a dildo.
Vibe-egg (Kitchen) – An egg timer with an inbuilt vibrator. Eggcup with semiotic leg of female genital form. Assembled together as a clitoral massager, it simulates the performance of 2 female genitals caressing each other.

The concept of JOY was based on the from imbalance between male and female in the Western and Asian sex industries. Through the design process, this project solves the problems that many women have; they want to have a more inspiring and fulfilling sex life, but they are held back by the perception of others and their own shame. Ignoring judgments by others is very hard, most women found it uncomfortable into walk in to sex shop and were worried about what their partner might think of them if they asked to try sex toys together. JOY addresses the issue of taboos and gives women the freedom to enjoy sex anywhere, anytime, and to have a more fulfilling sex life.

JOY is also a political statement about the subject of sex. What do you hope to convey with your designs?
Sexual topics and personal sex stimulation have been unjustifiably seen as taboo. Why are condoms always sold in the special corner? Why is masturbating everyday being dirty and ‘obsessed with sex’? While many women are having an uninspired sex life, the sex toy industry definitely has the potential to enable women to lead fulfilling sex lives.

However, many of them seem to have a moral objection to the use of sex toys. JOY is a design to confront these challenges, breaking taboos by transforming sex toys into everyday life domestic sexual objects. The aim of JOY is to encourage people to have open conversations about sex, to find new opportunities for a wider range of sexual activities, find out their favourite way to pleasure themselves, improve their sex drive, and get new inspiration for sexual fantasies for the different rooms of their home (e.g. Kitchen and garage.) That is a great step on the way to having a more fulfilling sex life.

Moreover, sex toys should be sold in home department stores; they should be seen as normal products, therefore no more judgment from others and no more shame when you buy sex toys.

Vibe-egg: egg cup, egg timer, and clitoral vibrator

Would you agree, that good design also means to offer something more than just a product that ”gets the job done“?
Yes, I do. I believe good design could do more by making changes in our world. In terms of perspective, communication, fetish, freedom; there are so many issues in our society where design could possibly make a difference. And I believe that it is the designers’ job to no just design for “general” problem for large groups, but also designing for particular insights for specific people.

When you look at the products available in the erotic market today, from the perspective of a young designer, what are the things you are noticing? Is there anything missing in your opinion?
It is great that there are more sex toys designed for female beginners and more types of toys for women, but there doesn’t seem to be a wide range of products for men in my opinion.
A few guys have told me that “I think my penis is doing fine, I don’t need those toys, thanks! ” when I suggested sex toys for them and their partner. I believe there are taboos and perception problems among men as well, so maybe men also need more products to help them break away from these taboos.

What are the chances that your sex toy designs will become products that people can buy one day? Are you planning on continuing to design erotic products in the future?
I am working on a few innovative sex toy projects with a company; hopefully it will be out soon – maybe within the next two years. Yes, I would love to continue designing erotic products. I think I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work on fun erotic projects that I love. I will work hard, do my best, and learn as much as I can. I would love to develop my own brand in the future.

At the moment, there are so many areas I want to study, for example psychology, the physical and cultural side of sexuality, and there are also a few other design areas that I am interested in. Hopefully, I will be able to work on as many of those areas as I can, that might help me build a brand of my own in the future.