I love hearing about the various paths people take to become product designers, particularly the more unusual ones.
Last year Mike Bratcher rolled out of L.A. on his motorcycle, a Honda dual-sport XR650L loaded up with traveling gear. In his rearview mirror was the job he'd recently quit at the Parts division of a major auto manufacturer. During his five-year stint he'd risen to Sales Manager and learned a lot about business, before ultimately deciding the demands of a career in sales were not for him.
But Mike wasn't fleeing L.A.; he was taking time off to see America. Nearly four months later, he rolled back into town with 17,048 more miles on his bike and the URL for a Tumblr page where he'd photo documented the trip. "The United States is much bigger and beautiful than I could have ever imagined," he concluded. "Three-and-a-half months is not nearly enough time to soak up this country, but it was a good overview at the least." Perhaps most amazingly, he'd not spent a single night of the trip in a hotel or motel, but instead carried everything he'd need for life on the road.
You can see a detailed breakdown of the insane amount of things he had to carry here, but there is one item in particular that's most relevant to this entry:
That's a simple tool roll Mike made for himself. "There's a lot of tool rolls out there, for like 10 or 15 bucks, but none of them were exactly right for me," he explains. "They were all way too generalized, so I just made my own." Bratcher had been making things for himself since growing up on a farm in Indiana. By junior high his classmates were surreptitiously making bong parts in shop class; Mike, more interested in chess than weed, made himself a chess board and the 32 playing pieces to populate it. "It wasn't easy," he laughs, remembering. "Sixteen pawns, four knights, four rooks...."
Always curious to give a new backpack a try in my quest to find the perfect bag, I didn't think twice about agreeing to review Booq's "Mamba Shift" when they reached out to us several months ago. Only afterward did it occur to me that there are actually two kinds of perfect bag: the go-to, everyday pack that becomes an extension of one's body, and those that fill—or rather, can be filled to serve—a specific need, patiently awaiting their intermittent calling, at which point they will humbly fulfill their duty (i.e. a frame pack). Read on to find out if the Mamba Shift proved itself worthy of that elusive upper echelon of faithful utility.
My first impression of the Mamba Shift was that it looked pretty slick—judging a Booq by it's cover, perhaps—with its unconventional vertical detailing on the front, which is bisected by a seam that runs the length of the panel. A pop color peeks out from the top half of the split, concealing the functional pleat of the expandable front pocket. The pocket is big but the zipper is a little awkward, as it runs along one of the two slightly curved seams along either side of the centerline; it's also hard to see what's in there. (Similarly, diagonal stitching conceals a slash pocket on either side, their openings limned by red piping.) The general aesthetic is minimal but still a little overdesigned for my taste.
The front pocket is also lined with the pop color
Personal preferences aside, the materials and construction exude 'premium product': the 1680 denier nylon feels largely impervious to the elements and the Mamba Shift feels entirely sturdy, albeit a bit heavy at three pounds. The Mamba Shift boasts substantial padding throughout, and the Nylex-lined laptop pocket, in particular, accounts for some of the weight: it's incorporated between the main compartment and the back of the bag, like a giant laptop sleeve (indeed, a separate sleeve would be overkill). A foam pad between the laptop pocket and the breathable Airmesh padding adds a bit of structure to the backpack. No complaints here: it's easily accessible and feels safe, even cozy.
The turtle shell-like exterior of the bag belies its highly partitioned interior: the main compartment is divided into no less than ten pockets, plus a removable nylon pouch. Lest it seem like that Booq design team has lined the inside of the Mamba Shift with as many pockets as they possibly could, each one is a slightly different size, material or dimension. While it's at the consumer's discretion as to what, if anything, goes in each one, the sheer number of permutations—nylon or mesh lining, velcro or elastic enclosure—seems a tad superfluous.
The slash pockets are split into four, with the dedicated pen and business card slots at left; the opposite face of the compartment (bottom of the picture) has the other five pockets
The abundance of pockets certainly presents a variety comfortable homes for cords, tablets and other periperhals, but bulkier objects pose a problem: a DSLR fit best at the bottom of the main compartment, which can be difficult to reach when you've loaded up the upper pockets (I was also baffled by the decision to put dedicated business card and pen slots near the bottom). Nevertheless, the zipper runs along a full three-quarters of the Mamba Shift, enabling easy access when completely open—flaps of nylon prevent stuff from spilling out the sides—but the usable volume is limited by the stiff exterior panels, which offer extra protection at the expense of capacity.
Raise your hand if you know what a "title block" is.
I don't think I've physically touched a blueprint since the '90s, but apparently they're still around, presumably unfurled at job sites and the like. Hence Geoffrey and Valerie Franklin, the Oregonians behind Walnut Studiolo, designed this spiffy leather blueprint case.
Originally designed as a one-off for a map-carrying friend, the Franklins figured their had to be a market for those who carry rolled goods, and the leather-tanned tube is now for sale on their Etsy page. But good things come to those who wait, and their Blueprint Carrying Case is no exception—being hand-stitched, it's got a one-month lead time.
If your job, hobbies or extreme clumsiness make big, bulky protective iPhone cases a must, you've got to check out LunaTik's TAKTIK. MNML's Scott Wilson, the immensely successful creator of the TikTok + Lunatik and the Touch Pen, is now on his third Kickstarter project, with current pledges tripling the original $150k funding goal with a week and a half to go. Can't say we're all that surprised.
While that original concept was largely unrestricted by current technical and material limitations—i.e. component size, weight and thickness—Wilson has astutely translated the design language into an outboard case to complement the technological prowess of the wizards in Cupertino. Insofar as good design rarely lives up to functionality, Wilson and his team at MNML have once again achieved their distinctive aesthetic with TAKTIK, which is loaded up on both.
We can't believe it's already June 1st! In New York City that means we're entering the full-swing of the summer season—backyard BBQs, concerts in the park and the sweet arrival of Italian Ice pushcarts on street corners around the City.
This Sunday, the Lower East Side hosts the first street festival of the season with DayLife. Promising to transform three blocks of the LES into an "urban backyard," the event features neighborhood food vendors and retailers hawking treats, DJs, live music and activities for your whole hipster crew (ping pong, skate ramp, DJ lessons).
For the occassion, Dub Studio Architects created a prototype for a new kind of pushcart. The modular carts are made of components that are easily assembled, moved, stacked and positioned. When closed, the carts are occupy 12 sq ft. When opened, the carts expand out to 120 square feet (the equivalent of a parking spot.) The pushcarts offer a smart, cost-effective solution for city street fairs, and will be reused in the fall for subsequent events.
The event is the lovechild of LES BID and DUB Studios Architects brought together through the great work of desigNYC. designNYC connects designers interested in civic engagement with extraordinary nonprofits to improve the lives of New Yorkers through the power of design.
See the push carts in action this Sunday!
LES BID and DUB Studios present... DayLife
Sunday, June 3rd
Noon - 5PM
Orchard Street between Houston and Delancey
We last checked in with San-Francisco-based Astro Studios to cover their Minus 8 watches. Since then they've decided the clock is ticking on another commonplace object: The wallet, whose days may be numbered with the rise of digital payments and NFC technology.
"The last major modifications came with the invention of the tri-fold in response to credit card adoption, circa 1950," Astro writes. "The time is right for a reconsideration of the wallet."
Motivated by the recent energy around digital payment methods (Square, 'triangle' for paypal, surely 'circle' for mastercard is next) [we] decided to focus on the evolution of the wallet. The process, covering the better part of a year, resulted in a solution based in traditional materials and craft but with a fresh twist—an ultra textured and tangible contrast to the inevitably virtual future of our transactions.
We're impressed by the ambitious design of the Arkiv Field Pack, a modular bag system allowing "for easy customization of space and organization with the secure and simple attachment of independently weatherproof accessories utilizing unbreakable steel hardware."
Designed by San-Francisco-based Mission Workshop, the Arkiv system consists of a main rucksack-style bag offered in two sizes—a 20-liter-capacity Small and a 40-liter-capacity Large—and a series of satellite bags to choose from: A laptop case, a tool pouch, a cell phone holder, a folio for documents and writing materials, and a couple of add-on pockets meant to hold water bottles or random objects. There's even an optional additional shoulder strap, so you can turn any of the satellite bags into an independent one.
We wish that the following video offered a little less style and a little more explanation...
"How come travel wallets have always looked like man-bags that don't even fit in your pocket?" asks Australia-based Bellroy, the company dedicated to designing better ways to carry things. "These over-sized 'purses' force you to keep your passport and tickets in a bag, far from the most secure place when traveling."
Their solution is the purpose-designed Travel Wallet, sized to hold everything flat you'd need to get through the hell of JFK or the bliss of Incheon.
Your passport gets the separate compartment it deserves, there's space to hold four credit cards, and the extra-long lengthwise slot means you can stick your boarding pass in there without creasing the barcode, not to mention hold currency from those countries with the weird doormat-sized bills. There's even an included micro-pen that tucks into the spine, so you can fill out that form where you lie about the fact that you're smuggling infected livestock and genetically-enhanced seedlings while carrying more than US $10,000 in cash.
The Travel Wallet's done up in vegetable-tanned leather, in both a dark "midnight" color and a lighter cocoa, the latter of which will more quickly gather that Indiana-Jones-like patina.
After unpacking at the hotel, the Dry Red No. 5 laptop backpack I was testing out was emptied and refilled with slightly different goods. (And no, I didn't carry that plastic grid with me to the hotel; the photos I took there were poor due to the hotel room's lighting, so I re-shot these photos back at my apartment, post-trip.)
For the plane ride the bag needed to hold a few, mostly large items; for its next intended use, serving as a journalist's bag to cover an event, it would need to hold a variety of smaller items, some of which I'd need to access quickly.
Here we see I've got the laptop, my eyeglasses, a pen and pad, a business card holder, a thumb drive, assorted cables and chargers, a camera, an audio recorder, a backup camera battery, and backup SD cards.
For the review of Crumpler's Dry Red No. 5 laptop backpack, I'll be using it in two capacities: First as an airplane personal carry-on bag, where its job is to hold things I'll need during a seven-hour flight. Secondly I'll be using it on the ground as a sort of journalist's bag to cover a press event.
Packing for Travel
I keep my carry-on bag as light as possible, for reasons mentioned in the travel methodology post. I don't carry adapters, chargers and cables in there, as I'm rarely in an airplane seat with an outlet. Just the bare in-flight essentials.
For me that's (clockwise from center) a set of noise-canceling headphones, an inflatable travel pillow, a print book, an iPad, my laptop, eyeglasses, a writing pad, a business card holder and a pen.
While Crumpler's Dry Red No. 3 rolling carry-on wound up providing a surprising amount of space, now we turn to another bag you'd rightfully expect to provide generous cargo room: Their Spring Peeper with Wheels, a duffel bag perfectly sized to carry-on standards and featuring a retractable handle.
If we put the unladen bags side by side, they seem to occupy the same-sized footprint.
However, being a duffel bag the Spring Peeper doesn't have inherent structure on the sides, and this flexibility allows you to swell the bag up to its full 40-liter capacity (versus the 27 liters of the No. 3). The top and bottom panels are stiff and the retractable handle's frame provides stiffness on the bottom, which is what enables the bag to keep its shape.
I'd be testing a selection of Crumpler bags out on a multi-day trip to the west coast. As per my travel methodology I honed in on the two-wheeled carry-ons in Crumpler's vast product line-up, and two models came to the forefront: The Dry Red No. 3 carry-on and the Spring Peeper with Wheels. (Crumpler's nomenclature is quirky, to say the least.)
The Dry Red No. 3 was the closest thing I could find to a standard box-shaped rolling carry-on with a retractable handle, though its tapered shape suggested it was sacrificing a bit of carrying space for style. I wasn't sure it would efficiently max out my carry-on allowance for the longer trips I mentioned in the "How I Travel" post. (Thankfully I was proven wrong.)
The Spring Peeper with Wheels, in contrast, is a duffel bag, albeit a wheeled one with a retractable handle; while it is still within the constraints of a carry-on size, its 40-liter capacity (versus the No. 3's 27-liter storage space) promised to swallow anything I'd need to bring.
As a reviewer I had the luxury of borrowing whatever bags I wanted, rather than agonizing over which to select. I chose them both for a side-by-side comparison, though I would only be bringing one on the actual trip.
I'll start with the Dry Red No. 3 and some of its design features. First off, the top handle is integrated into the design of the bag itself, not a discrete piece:
Air travel is a wondrous miracle that's led to experiences I'll treasure forever. It's because of the Wright Brothers that I've been able to bask in a Hawaiian sunrise, travel by dog sled through a neverending Arctic sunset, quaff Scotch in the Highlands, down mojitos in Havana. The list of things all of us are able to see, experience and accomplish by getting on an airplane is incalculably valuable.
That being said, I still hate it.
Modern air travel's long list of minor annoyances adds up into one royal pain in the ass. What's most frustrating is that so many of the inconveniences are out of our control: Officious staffers, mechanical problems, overpriced sustenance, logistical inefficiencies that have you spending hours in the wrong location. To say nothing of the unpleasantness of today's overcrowded flights.
While traveling there's only a couple of things you can control: The luggage you select, and the things you put into that luggage. While those seemingly minor choices won't ensure your plane is on time, they can go a long way towards making you more comfortable.
We've got a Crumpler bag and luggage review coming up, and before getting to it and explaining the bags we opted to borrow, I need to explain how your reviewer typically travels. All of us have developed our own traveling methodologies, and my idiosyncratic needs will surely overlap with yours at points and diverge wildly at others.
How I Travel: Two Types of Bags, No Checked Luggage
Crumpler has an absolutely bewildering array of product that we'd need to narrow down to two or three bags. Which begs the question, how do you select what types of bags to travel with?
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, a short trip or long, if it involves a plane, a train and/or pavement I always travel with two specific types of bags: A laptop backpack and a rolling carry-on with two wheels rather than four. (I also carry a smaller third bag of my own design, a sort of day bag that folds up into one of the two other bags, but it will not be relevant to these reviews.)
Dror Benshetrit brings his quirky brand of innovation to a product area that sorely needs it: luggage. The new Dror for Tumi line, which has "TransForm Follows Function" as its tagline, consists of eight different pieces that cover every travel need you could possibly have. But as the tagline suggests, it's not the diversity of the line that's most impressive: It's the diversity within the bags themselves, which transform into different sizes and configurations. Check it out (the backpack in particular looks pretty awesome):
Well, it's almost a first: an industrial designer is poised to redefine product design by using a crowdfunding platform to launch his killer timepiece-inspired accessory for an iPod Nano.
The twist? It doesn't go on your wrist—it goes in your pocket. Obsolescence aside, the wrist is (or was) just one of at least two appropriate locations for a personal chronometer, and Melbourne-based designer Edwin Conan prefers the nostalgic appeal of the original place: in the pocket.
I have been wearing this very pocket watch everyday. Every time I pull it out to check time, it feels like I've actually traveled back in time and the world become black and white. It feels, special.
The iPocketWatch is a time instrument; it is also a time machine. And here I am, sincerely inviting you to share this unique feeling with me. With your support, not only can we make this iPW a reality, but we may also, and this is just a hope, bring the idea of the pocket watch back to life.