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.
Research into people's pockets showed us that they still like to carry half of their junk drawer with them. I.D., keycards, business cards, credit cards, transportation cards, receipts, club cards, maps, cash, coins, family photos, insurance and registration information all reside in the wallet. Does this wave of technological developments finally offer us the chance to leave this stuff at home? Most of this doesn't need to be carried any longer. As designers we often design to liberate people from the baggage they schlep around, but to be honest we have some liberating of our own to do.
Inspired by these questions we set about the traditional design process of sketching and prototyping to explore ideas.
The following were our initial standout ideas:
Modular solutions allow people to gradually shed baggage as phone-based systems adopt more and more of today's card-based functions.
Nesting solutions acknowledge the time-honored tradition of dudes taking on responsibility of their ladies' I.D. and CC of choice for a night out.
After going wide on form and material explorations, the team unanimously agreed to not to fix what isn't broken, and not burden this everyday object with "features" choosing instead to focus on the details.
The best way to get versed in craft technique is to talk to the experts, so a rapid apprenticeship with Dwayne at Discount Leathers (whose single-minded dedication to his craft is well-represented by wearing a circa 1993 Baja in 2012) let us transition quickly from high-level design concept to ground level details. We came up to speed quickly on the tradeoffs between the different tanning techniques, and were soon able to tell our kid-skin from our kangaroo in tooth and suppleness. Rather than USB ports and pixel resolutions, the technology standards that drove this work were pocket size and bankroll diameter.
Iteration after iteration inched our initial concept closer to the final combination of leather tooth and pattern. Stitch placement and thread choice that we were happy to heat stamp with an A-BOLT. This extended process stretched over months, and allowed us to observe and incorporate insights into the final product that could not have been anticipated. The brand itself draws on the weathering and sculpting of vegetable tanned leather, and gradually emerges on the outer surface over time due to a laser cut label tucked inside the outer pocket.
Our final product consists of the following:
- Vegetable tanned natural kid
- 4-pocket, single sheet construction
We are stoked on the end product, and almost as importantly we are rejuvenated by the process of handling real materials, where thinking is sketching, sketching is prototyping, and prototyping is manufacturing. A literal and seamless process of exploration is simply not practical or possible when defining experiences that are executed in silicon, plastics, and metals.