Technologies for Reproductive Health

Woman’s Condom design history

Users at the center of product development

Two women sitting and smiling with blue background

Women and their partners helped us design the Woman’s Condom. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

The difference between success or failure of a product is often rooted in the developer’s ability to understand the perspectives of potential users. At PATH, we place user perspectives at the center of our design process.

The Woman’s Condom is the outcome of a user-centered development process that took place over a six-year period (1998-2003). PATH developed the Woman’s Condom with input from women and couples on four continents in collaboration with the following research partners:

  • CONRAD, United States
  • National Institute of Public Health, Mexico
  • Reproductive Health Research Unit, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Department of Community Nursing, University of Khon Kaen, Thailand
  • Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, United States

Engaging users as co-designers allowed us to listen to the needs of diverse individuals and help build acceptability into the device from the beginning. This process resulted in an innovative Woman’s Condom design with features that allow for good sensation and ease of use.

Why a new female condom?

Female condoms offer crucial protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Yet, performance, acceptability, and cost issues with first-generation products have limited uptake among some groups. PATH believes that many of these challenges can be overcome with a second-generation product that women and couples will embrace.

We set out to work with women and men around the world to identify features and characteristics they wanted to see in an improved female condom design. We consulted with women’s groups, health care providers, and donor agencies to create performance objectives for a new design that could foster increased use and acceptability. These performance objectives set the benchmark against which prototype Woman’s Condom designs were evaluated by users.

Woman’s Condom performance objectives

  • Easy to handle and insert.
  • Easy to use (especially for new users).
  • Feels good during sex.
  • Comfortable for both partners.
  • Does not slip or move during use.
  • Easy to remove.

Iterative design process

Graphic showing the iterative design process to test, refine, and evaluate new technologies.

PATH uses an iterative design process to test, refine, and evaluate new health technologies, including the Woman’s Condom. Image: PATH.

To gather feedback from users with diverse physical and cultural needs, we established testing sites in Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, and the United States. Women and their partners evaluated prototypes through an iterative process. Our researchers observed clinical fittings of prototype condoms and interviewed the couples to find out how they responded to each new design. User testing and evaluation enabled our product developers to address concerns about ease of use, comfort, and stability through new design iterations. In the end, we developed and tested more than 50 designs reflecting various solutions to user-related concern.

The final design

Hand holding the Woman's Condom

The final design of the Woman’s Condom. Photo: PATH/Glenn Austin.

Once users indicated that the features and materials had a strong likelihood of meeting their needs, PATH froze design development. The design was then verified in a final user evaluation by couples in Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand.

Through this user-centered design process, women and their partners were active agents developing a new female condom that better speaks to their varied needs and desires. The result is a Woman’s Condom product that is easy to use, has good acceptability, and performs well.

Additional resources

  • Woman’s Condom user-centered development poster (1.15 MB PDF)