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Wingman soars on the wings of desire

An interview with Paul Breur, founder of the Wingman Condom company and designer of its eponymous condom, which won the 2014 IF Design Award, one of the most prestigious international awards.
Wingman soars on the wings of desire
Wingman soars on the wings of desire

How did the Wingman concept come to life ?

The Wingman concept was born of the personal frustration of a group of friends who were former engineering students at Delft University in the Netherlands. We could not accept the fact that there had been no major developments in the use of condoms for over 100 years. 
Despite the many developments made in terms of colours, scents and textures, a fundamental problem remained: such an indispensable and commonly-used product as the condom was not actually that easy to use. With this in mind, we conducted a study with around 1,500 users with the aim of finding a technical solution to the problem.

What did you learn ?

The study's outcomes confirmed our initial intuition. Above all, they revealed the practical obstacles to the use of condoms. One of the main concerns raised by users was that it was sometimes difficult to correctly put on the condom. Also, these difficulties often caused an interruption that disrupted the act and made intercourse less spontaneous.

 

 

What "technical" obstacles were at the root of these difficulties ?

There are many and they sometimes appear from the time of opening the packaging. When you have it in your hand, it is not always easy to see which side, is which. This confusion leads to potential risks. For instance, if the user puts it on backwards, he will be unable to unroll it. And if he tries again, there is a risk that the external side will have come into contact with contaminating fluids.
Some users complained about the unpleasant smell of latex that remains on their fingers. Others complained about the fit, which was either too loose, or too tight depending on the size of the penis.
Finally, we found that many of these concerns, which were deemed to be disruptive during intercourse, reflected a feeling of insecurity.

Did these findings encourage you to improve the product's reliability ?

They definitely did, but not in the way one might first imagine. Nowadays, condoms are safe and reliable products in that they are subject to very strict standards. Most failures are not related to manufacturing defects but rather to misuse. Most pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are the result of improper handling of the condom, specifically when it is damaged by fingernails or jewellery.
Our aim was to develop a condom which was not necessarily stronger, but which could be put on more easily and faster in order to prevent handling errors by design rather than through the use of precaution.

What solutions did you envisage ?

The key to solving the problem was avoiding all contact between the fingers and the condom. With this in mind, we first designed several different prototypes of applicators whose effectiveness was evaluated by users. A preliminary version of our applicator was developed in 2006, as an accessory. 
There was no future in the concept, of course! Who would have bought a clip in which the condom had to be inserted first in order to unroll it more easily and faster?

 

But you did not abandon your initial concept ?

No, because the solution soon revealed itself to us when we studied the problem, in terms of manufacturing. We developed an applicator in the shape of little wings that is pre-assembled with the condom. As such, it perfectly meets the expectations of the initial specifications.
The shape of the wings provides good visibility on the direction in which the condom must be unrolled, a feature which is fundamental to its proper use although no other brand saw fit to improve upon it.
Another advantage is that it is no longer necessary to touch the condom. Just hold the wings with one or two hands and the condom can be unrolled to the base of the penis, at which point the wings automatically come off. No direct contact, and therefore no unpleasant odours and no damage to the product. This enables us to offer ultra-thin condoms that provide a more natural feel without compromising safety.

Has the plastic clip forced changes to be made in the condoms' design and manufacturing ?

The Wingman applicator concept does not affect the design of the condom. The manufacturing technique for the base product, prior to lubrication and packaging, remains essentially the same. However, assembly of the condom and the applicator at the factory, and the packaging of the whole required some changes to be made to the final manufacturing process.

Was plastic the first choice? Did you consider using other materials ?

We considered using several other materials to meet requirements in terms of strength, size, weight, shape and cost. However, the use of plastics quickly became a necessity.
The wings and the hinge of the applicator on which the condom is rolled up being very thin, we needed a material that was both flexible and strong. It had to withstand the pressure of an adult sitting on the condom when it is in their back pocket, for instance. In addition, we had high requirements in terms of surface, as the applicator has to be very smooth in order to avoid damaging the condom and, most importantly, in order to enable it to be easily unrolled.
Finally, processing costs had to be low enough to be able to offer a complete product able to compete with traditional condoms. Polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) meet these requirements, but other polymers could also be used.

You only currently sell natural latex products. Is your "clip" compatible with polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms ?

Yes, our applicator is ideal for polyurethane or polyisoprene latex-free condoms, provided that an appropriate lubricant is used during the manufacturing process. 
We have not yet launched a range of latex-free condoms due to purely commercial reasons. If demand for latex-free appears to be significant, we will most likely consider launching a Wingman of this type.

 

How have resellers and users reacted to the Wingman concept? Has it made a place for itself on the market opposite recognized brands that are strong competitors ?

 We launched the Wingman condom at the end of 2013, focusing on our home market, the Netherlands. We have focused on online sales through our website.
This first phase of commercialisation has shown us the high level of satisfaction among customers, which has been confirmed by their repeat custom.
A few months ago, we launched a new phase of commercialisation through a network of resellers, both brick & mortar and online. Because we are competing with extremely well-established brands, we select our partners from among resellers who are the most enthusiastic about the Wingman concept.  Those who have taken the plunge have every reason to be satisfied because their sales of condoms have shot through the roof.

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