Open Source Backpack

As someone who deals with the digital presentation layer from day-to-day, being limited to the screen creatively can be…well… limiting. Don’t get me wrong, I love designing apps and interfaces but sometimes it feels good to make something with your hands, ya know? To feel the fruit of your labors in your hands, to interact with them, share them, and most importantly to learn from the process of making them. Which brings me here, the open-source backpack—a simple sewing pattern that can be used as a springboard for making your own kick-ass rucksack.

Over the coming months I’ll be travelling quite a bit and need a good bag. If all goes as planned, I’ll be visiting family, attending the Smashing Magazine conference in Germany, co-working with friends in San Francisco, seeing the American Northwest and blogging along the way. That in mind, having something sturdy, comfortable, and stylish to carry my life in is so necessary. Rather than purchasing another Air Force-1 by DQM x SAGLIFE, I decided to make one using the skills I developed in the sewing classes I took this summer.

Sewing you say? Wait, aren’t you a UI designer? Yes, yes I am and I can whip up a pair of trousers, hem a shirt and make backpacks. Okay, neato, so then why are you posting this on a blog that’s typically focused on tech? Simple—because I want to share how I was able to produce this using techiniques I’ve honed as a UI designer. I’m also sharing it because I believe it’s important for “creatives” to work in mediums that are vastly different from one another. Being proficient in multiple areas not only allows you to make some pretty neat stuff, it also gives you the ability to solve problems from a varieity of directions.

OS Bag – Alpha

Like any good designer, I started by defining some base requirements:

  • Capable of carrying at least a week’s worth of clothing
  • A built-in pocket for my laptop
  • Side access zipper to easily access stuff
  • Comfort, durable and stylish (of course)

Once my requirements had been established, I did a bit of competitive analysis to see what others were doing. Since I already had a good idea of what I wanted, something similar to my old bag, the Air Force-1, I was able to just pick the things I liked and drop that which was out of my ability or scope in order to achieve the MVP (minimum viable product).

Next came some napkin sketches so I opened up Paper, the kick-ass iPad drawing app, and threw down some very rough ideas.

Afterwards it was time to come up with the architecture for the bag or it’s wireframe. Rather than creating a traditional pattern, which I don’t really know how to do, I laid out a template with all the pieces as if I were putting it together in the same way that we do with our high-fidelity wireframes. Pockets on top of panels, straps next to back supports—this really helped me to visualize the end product and think about how to approach the construction of the components, such as the laptop pocket, the interior pockets, side zipper, and straps.

Then it was onto building my first prototype. In a very agile fashion, I built in sprints and tackled each part of the bag individually, starting with the straps because they were the most complicated. The alpha was produced using an inexpensive material, muslin, which allowed me to quickly and efficiently try things out without concern for budget—tactile throw-away code.

With the alpha complete, I shared it with friends for user feedback and found that my dimensions didn’t accomodate all users, particularly those who were shorther than me. The solution would have been to revisit the measurements and strap placement, which, given my schedule wasn’t feasible. So I opted for a more custom experience and decided to factor these users in at a later date.

OS Bag – Beta

With my alpha complete it was time to get real and build a production version. I began by gathering all the materials, assembling them into components, attaching the components to their parent structures, and finally tying it all together in a final build.

It wasn’t all ponies and rainbows—I broke a lot of needles, stitched through my finger and struggled with a machine that wasn’t quite strong enough in some situations. But I made due, sacrificed when I needed to and finished with a complete working product in the end.

It’s striking how similar the design and production process of the backpack was to designing and producing web applications. I was able to apply many of the practices I use every day at Intridea – like rapid prototyping, agile design and iterative development.