While I admittedly dread the seasonal turnover from tinseled holiday wreaths to heart-shaped chocolate boxes, this year I have something new to look forward to. Ti Chang and her team at Crave have recently announced the Crave Bullet, their elevated modern take on the traditional bullet vibrator.
Since its launch in 2008, Crave has made a name for itself developing products for women, by women. Chang founded the San Francisco–based sex-toy company after realizing women were grossly underserved by the products most other companies create. After being the first female industrial designer at two major companies, she made it a priority to not only design products that put women at the center, but to shine the light on other female industrial designers, too.
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Often included as a freebie alongside a larger sex-toy purchase, the bullet vibrator has been a standard in the industry for a long time, usually made of cheap plastic and with an exceedingly short lifespan. “Reimagining [the bullet] has been in the pipeline for a few years,” Chang says. “I’ve been eyeing this product since I started designing adult toys, wondering why someone hasn’t already improved this outdated thing.”
For the Crave Bullet, the first step was to compare a bunch of these existing bullet vibrators side by side. “Across the different brands we examined, we found they are very similar, with nearly identical design flaws and defects,” Chang says. “Cheap plastic material, loud and high-pitched buzzing vibrations, a protruding button on a twist-off cap to change the absurdly expensive button-cell batteries that only last for a measly 40 to 60 minutes. Oh, and—needless to say—this is not waterproof at all.” Talking to users and retailers yielded similar complaints.
But Chang was surprised to discover that despite all its shortcomings, people loved the bullet. Its small stature proved to be its greatest asset, allowing it to work alongside a range of toys and accessories. “In spite of the lack of quality in this product, the industry and users continued to embrace it,” Chang says. “[Its size] became an important part—and the most difficult aspect—of our design brief for reimagining the product.”
Traditionally sized at around 62 by 16 by 16 millimeters, the bullet is a versatile little device, able to fit into everything from harnesses and panties to dildos and plugs. Those use cases emphasized to Chang how important it would be to maintain its diminutive size. “If the bullet is too long, it would extend out of these existing products people enjoy using with bullet vibrators,” the designer says. “With this product, every millimeter counted.”
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So, when it came time to reimagine the bullet, Chang and her team wanted to improve upon all the grievances users mentioned and elevate the design, while still staying true to its original dimensions. One of the biggest gripes about the typical bullet was its reliance on cheap, short-lived batteries that cost $5 to $8 for a set that might only last up to an hour. So Crave’s first upgrade was to make its version USB rechargeable, like many of the other products in its collection. “To have something rechargeable, you need to have the ability to get to the battery with the power source via a cable, while at the same time keeping the entire product waterproof,” Chang says. To achieve that, the team separated the motor from the battery, which allows for direct access to the charging pin when the device is unscrewed. And then when the bullet is reassembled for use, the pin also provides power to the motor, which helped the team meet the size constraints. The two halves screw together with an O ring for waterproofing.
A recessed button was the next design upgrade, as users complained how they would accidentally bump their bullets’ buttons during use. “They hated how the product would accidentally change modes or turn off during use because of the protruding button,” Chang says. Sinking the button into the main body of the device added another layer of complexity to the size constraints, as the team had to widen the sink to make room for a finger to easily access and push it. “Additionally, the button had to include water-sealing features and be robust enough to resist pull and tear,” Chang says. “That’s a lot to manage in such a small button.”
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The shape of the vibrator itself was developed over many iterations of refining the radius and curvature of the bullet tip. “One of the challenges is that when the tip is too curved, the proportions make it appear too tampon-like and it also extends the product length—which wouldn’t work with our space and size limitations,” Chang says. “Also when it is too curved at the tip, it gives the impression that it is insertable, which it is not.”
The final Crave Bullet is machined from metal, a favorite material of Chang’s. “I tend to gravitate toward metals in my designs for aesthetic, durability and tactile qualities,” she says. “Stainless steel became an obvious choice because it is a body-safe, hygienic and non-porous material. It is also very manufacturing-friendly, as it is easy to procure and process.” The body is an extruded thin-walled steel tube about 0.25 millimeters thick that is mechanically pressed and fitted with the other components. Every unit is run through a discharge and charge test to find any issues with the motors and circuitry and ensure it functions properly. Lastly, a compression-molded, removable silicone sleeve is capped over the base of the product, giving users the option of having a softer, more textured feel.
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The Crave Bullet comes in silver and gold, as well as a duotone version that combines the two finishes. While it likely won’t be gracing the Valentine-themed aisle of your local pharmacy any time soon, it’s available as part of a limited release from Crave’s site, where they’ve nearly sold all of the 500 they’ve released so far.
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This article is part of the Core77 Sex-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technology and design are shaping the future of intimacy and sex.