Insight - 09/11/23

Design Object Series N. 007

2 min

By Meghan Day

Janese Swanson and the Password Journal

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. While many design objects featured so far have been from the 19th and 20th centuries, we don’t want to overlook the more recent contributions women have made to design. In this issue we salute Janese Swanson, an American inventor and the founder of Girl Tech toys.

Janese Swanson always loved technology. In high school she was the only female salesperson in the Sears electronics department. In her doctorate degree in organization and leadership, her thesis was on gender issues in product design. In the 80s she worked developing children’s games for a software company, at the same time developing her own ideas and gadgets for her daughter. 

Girl Tech

She founded Girl Tech toys in 1995, certain that boys weren’t the only ones who could appreciate tech-based toys. Girls could, too, though the market wasn’t catering to them. She created a line of affordable electronic gadgets for girls. What set Girl Tech’s toys apart was that they challenged the gender stereotypes prevalent in the toy industry. The designs were not pink or centered around dolls and ponies, but rather appealed to the universal interest in playing with gadgets. Swanson believed that girls have unique play styles different from boys, and that there should not be any stigma around this difference. 

Swanson’s toys often address the themes of privacy and independence, providing girls with a sense of a secret life. This concept stemmed from Swanson’s childhood experiences, where she valued her privacy and personal space. Her own childhood was marked by limited access to toys, leading her to invent and create things on her own.

Her toys, manufactured under Radica Games’ Girl Tech brand and later purchased by Mattel, included products like the Door Pass, which prevented unauthorized snooping, and the Beam-It flashlight, a mini projector. However, her most popular creation was the Password Journal, a voice-activated diary accessible only with the owner’s password. Swanson’s theories proved correct. The Password Journal launched in 1999 and became a top-selling toy in the youth electronics category, climbing to the top ten that year.

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