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The encore ends, & a new story begins…?

26 Jan

Not disqualified, but not meeting criteria either…

Transcript of dialogue, part II:

Thank you for your detailed explanation and valuable feedback. We have received your Book Bag prototype and must say that your design is very unique. If there is an opportunity, we will re-visit your prototype.

We will not disqualified any entry (including yours) as we value all participants’ efforts and support. However, it is our responsibility to highlight to participants if their entries did not meet the key contest criteria as this will comprise a high weightage in the total score. All entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges.

Once again thank you for your support and participation.


Thank you for taking the time to review the Book Bag and clarifying the situation. I would love to hear any additional feedback from the judging panel, if possible.

I’m also looking forward to future opportunities to work with NLB on higher-order design / design management – of business systems around products/services – such as the possibilities proposed through the Book Bag.

Just to let you know too – I am also in the process of considering an additional, separate submission of a different design.

Thank you for your taking time to reply! 🙂

So what this this all mean?


The righteous pain of the entrepreneurial designer

Early communication is key

This is a key lesson for designers who dare propose design pieces as a larger business proposal to clients without getting prior buy-in or feedback – your client may simply not want your extra effort! Or they may have other business goals in mind which they didn’t share with an outsider. Or they simply think a designer’s place is only to design pretty things and isn’t about making business proposals. Or they may just not be ready to hear what you are proposing and had to brush you off so that they could move ahead with the project. Or they found you meddlesome in their inner operations. Or or or…

No matter what the reason, to be truly effective and innovative, all sides and stakeholders have to buy into it, or else an idea dies at the seedling stage, no matter how ground-breaking or game-changing the innovation is!

I guess in this case, unlike typical outsourced design projects, there wasn’t the privilege of seeking early buy-in due to the contest format. I wonder if there had been anything I could have done earlier on that could have prevented a U-turn like that… though my feel is that the answer would have been the same, even if I had clarified earlier. And I would have still went ahead to design this Book Bag anyway, as I believed in that it’s the best solution to a real-life problem (not the artificial limits set for the sake of the contest). I had bore out a hope that the Book Bag solution would be potentially mind-opening that it could bypass the administrative barriers…but I guess that wasn’t realistic enough.

The truth is…in the corporate world, implementation is the other half of the battle for innovation where the odds of success are even slimmer (than the success of creation of innovative ideas). The other “faces of innovation” – so aptly put by Tom Kelley in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation – are the “Organising personas” such as the “Hurdler” and the “Director” who can overcome the obstacles and make the other half (the implementation half) of innovation truly happen.


Next move?

I’m considering the Book Bag submission as submitted and under consideration for the contest, though I’m not sure how open-minded the judging panel might be in assessing it.

I’m also thinking of sending in a similar but ‘dumbed down’ entry. It feels a bit like betraying the originality and intention of the Book Bag, but does it? I think I made my point through the submission and the email dialogue to and fro, advocating for the holistic perspective behind the Book Bag concept. And there’s little else more to do, but to sit and wait for the stars to align and the “East wind to blow”, as the famous Chinese proverb so said. There may be some conceptual weight left to leverage yet, through a second separate entry. If  the ‘lite/free’ version gets through and gets popular widespread buy-in, then people may want to buy the ‘HD/paid’ version for more value. This is the freemium business model so popular with web-based services such as Skype, Flickr and apps in Apple’s App Store, and analogous to the situation perhaps…

So……another long design journey of the Book Bag version 2 or Book Bag ‘lite’? NO!!! That would be too painful and painstaking. I’ll build on the work done already, and let you know soon if it’s even possible!






The design story encore

24 Jan

“Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.” — Tate Linden.

Indeed. Just when this design story seems to be coming to a close, an encore performance reveals itself. Read on:


ne fine day, I opened up my email inbox and saw that NLB had replied to my email submission. Here’s what they said,




“Dear Jason,

Thank you for your entry and the efforts took to create the brown bag.
Perhaps the contest requirements are not clear and thus cause some confusions. We are sorry about it.
We are looking for a design that will convey the message to encourage library users to return the bag after use. The winning designs will be printed on reusable bags similar to those shopping bags sold by NTUC and Cold Storage.
Hence, would you like to re-submit your design since we have extended the submission deadline to 31st January 2011.

We look forward to your support and participation.”

I wasn’t surprised. Nor was I angry or anything. I really wasn’t. Somehow, I was kinda expecting that this would happen. Why? ‘Cause I knew what I proposed was beyond the design brief, but with right reasons. This came as a surprise to the client, hence it’s no wonder that they would reply as they did. In an ideal scenario, as designer I would have discussed and negotiated with them right at the onset of the project (ideation phase) for a design that goes beyond mere stylistics/aesthetics, as I had done through the Book Bag proposal. Taking into consideration the business, technology, people  aspects around a product design, I had quite simply designed a business proposal rather than a product; the Book Bag was a higher-order sort of design, with the “product” as just one of the means of achieving a particular business goal. Sometimes this is called design management.

This is the kind of design that I’m really passionate about, as it’s more holistic in perspective and encompasses EVERYTHING. I’m tired of the pigeon-hole specialisation and compartmentalisation of the modern work-place. Just do your part and let others take care of the rest. Work in silos. Be efficient, but be emotionally removed from the larger picture. I wish to overcome this epidemic sense of myopia and tunnel vision in our every activity and our work, and to challenge myself and others to re-seek that fulfillment that comes from being part of a larger purpose.

So anyway, here’s my reply, not in retaliation nor anger, but in passionate advocacy to clarify the larger perspectives behind the Book Bag:

Click on image to read zooming version.


Next: the design discourse with NLB continues…

This blog is now Xtranormal.

11 Jan

Broccoli Man tells Coffee Girl about the Book Bag, a new superzeroz side-kick to the Library Man. But someone’s going green about the Book Bag……

[Created on Xtranormal]


Brainstorms & Ideation

8 Jan

Unadulterated. Don’t censor. Have fun. More, more, more! Yes, it’s BRAINSTORMING (not what you might be thinking)…


OK! After so much musing, observing and trying to know everything there is to know about bags, libraries and reader behaviour, it’s time to brainstorm ideas for the design concept of the bag. I actually mapped out the scope of the design (or the “design brief”) and linked the ideas together in a really cool, zooming format using Prezi, but to much painful realisation, there isn’t a way to embed it on my post! 😦 But for those interested, you can also click on this link to view it (takes a while to load, and click on the “forward” arrow head to advance the animation). [31 Jan 2011 update: I found a way to host it on blogs! See the cool, zooming Prezi below!]


I’d always been inspired (in a geeky way) by Royksopp’s award-winning video “Remind Me”, in how they had made potentially boring info-graphics into a seriously cool MTV.

So to give you a cool way (I hope it’s cool) to view the design brief of the Book Bag, I created the Royksopp-inspired info-graphic above to tie together all the observational findings and the design criteria. I also didn’t want to forget about the various questions I asked through the past blog-posts, which would be helpful to guide the design concept, so here is it:

So how can I design a library bag which helps the reader and enhance his experience with the library? How can the bag find a natural place within the reader’s environment at the same time, so that it won’t be lost/forgotten?

Can the bag design incorporate some “reading” element or get people to read more?

What has play gotta do with the bag design?

[…] some of the designs are interactive and needing a human user to complete the picture, though by itself alone would also pique curiosity by ‘yearning’ to be completed.

So how can I design a bag for library users to borrow books with, but at the same time can be fun / entertaining to use / durable (since one of the criteria is for users to return the bag, and thus be subject to multiple uses) and lastly helps our public libraries spread their ‘brand‘?


Ideas, ideas ideas!

So after some rough sketching and doodling and incubating, I came up with three ideas for the library bag – here’s the marketing pitch for them (rough sketches included)!

1.  The Green Bag

A tote bag made of high-strength recycled/reused paper fabric. Green is the theme here – everything from the material to its purpose and cause is related to recycling and reuse! Tapping on the heightened awareness for ecological sustainability and the growing market for green products, this Green Bag calls all to action to the three “R”s – recycle, reuse and RETURN [the bag]!

2.  The High Street Bag

A fashionable shopping bag with a cool slick design, and an accompanying reward scheme for every return of the bag. This bag is coolness defined. Expect people giving you double-takes when you carry this bag on the streets. This bag brings book-carrying to a new statusphere of haute coutre. On top of that, this bag pays you for carrying it! With every return of the bag, you accumulate reward points to exchange for free gifts! Now, that’s rewarding!

3.  The Book Bag

A defining experience of a book, that also bags other books. This [book/bag] leads a double life shared only by its other superheroes – a normal book by day, a crime-busting bag by night! By tapping on our everyday visual and tactile memories of  book-like books and the way we hold, use and interact with them, this [book/bag] disguises itself by day and lives our everyday lives with us. But beneath its gentle mien is a character of super-human proportions. With a flip, it transforms into a bag to save us from heavy burdens! Fortified with its tear-proof, weather-proof Tyvek ‘armour’, this [book/bag] pledges to serve us ordinary citizens by easing us of the ‘crime’ of carrying heavy books in hand.


I think I’m having TOO MUCH FUN!!! Hahaha… okay okay, cheesy marketing puns aside, what do you think of the three? I’m inclined toward the Book Bag at this point…. and not just because its a “superhero”! 😀


Quick & dirty research

30 Dec

Inspiration musing (aka research) the quick and dirty way…


To get my design journey underway,  I did what most travellers would do for planning – Google! Images search was truly helpful to start off, and with each image linking me to more sources of inspiration, it became a viral way of getting quick information. Not only did the images offer design concepts, but also materials used, functions/purposes for bags. It was pretty fun learning about the myriad of uses and forms the ubiquitous shopping bag had become!

It was particularly entertaining to see how clever some of the designs brought out the brand feel and create buzz just by being carried around. Many ‘compilation’ type of blogs/websites frequently feature posts which show such like “30 Brilliantly Innovative Shopping Bag Designs“, or “Unusual and Creative Shopping Bags” . I especially like how some of the designs are interactive and needing a human user to complete the picture, though by itself alone would also pique curiosity by ‘yearning’ to be completed. I see this as one of the good examples where designers are tapping on how we are all hard-wired in our brains to organise visual elements into “unified wholes” (see Gestalt principles of visual perception) – especially in this case of Blush’s X-ray bag, giving a cheeky preview of Blush customers’ innerwear, or Panadol Extra’s bag showing how headaches sometimes feel like someone pounding on the top of your head. It’s great fun carrying these bags around, isn’t it? After seeing all these interesting, attention-seeking shopping bags, I’m surprised I don’t see much of such types making their way around town. Why Singapore, why?

Online sources also gave some good ideas on materials for shopping bags, especially since I’ll be designing a bag for books, which tend to be heavy and having hard corners (which might pierce your usual ‘soft’ plastic grocery bags). There’s so many choices, it’s baffling! Looking at materials like jute, polyfabric, and Tyvek had been pretty educational though – for some reason I love learning about random everyday stuff! It’s also fascinating how shopping bags are evolving in form, especially how since most are carried by women, the design for shopping bags are going more fashionable, like these fabulous Tyvek-made CheekyGreen bags- they look so good I think they qualify as normal fashion bags to carry around!

The main learning point from these online musings seem to be simply “FUN” – just because it’s a commonplace object doesn’t mean that the shopping bag has to look boring (think “brown”), or made of the usual suspects (think “paper”). Haha…

So how can I design a bag for library users to borrow books with, but at the same time can be fun / entertaining to use / durable (since one of the criteria is for users to return the bag, and thus be subject to multiple uses) and lastly helps our public libraries spread their ‘brand‘?


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (or bag)

27 Dec

book bag So it is.


I came across this poster while at the library one day and was curious. How ubiquitous an object for a design project! What an interesting challenge it would be to design for something so commonplace and ‘normal’ that sometimes it’s almost ‘invisible’ in our everyday lives.

Though having said that, the “brown bag” is an almost blank slate which has a lot of room for a designer’s input in terms of form and function. There’s some striking similarity I can draw between the design of a brown bag, and the design philosophy in an inspiring design book I read recently called Super Normal. It’s frankly quite refreshing to read about how the designers Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison are aiming to bring design back to the roots of “improving” the “man-made environment” and deepening the simple and beautiful (“normal”) relationships certain commonplace objects have with us in our everyday lives:

“As designers we can aim at achieving the Super Normal by being less concerned with visual aspects of an objects character, by attempting to anticipate the objects likely impact on the atmosphere and how it will be to live with… perhaps the continuation of a good relationship that has been around for a long time is better than anticipating something new. I think maybe the moment this hits us is what Super Normal means. “

So already there’s a lot of food for thought for this design challenge. I’m also excited at the prospect of applying some of the techniques and methods I had learnt about design thinking – the ethnographic study and deep empathy for the user, rapid prototyping, cross-fertilisation of ideas with seemingly non-related industries, synergistic collaboration between engineers, designers, users, manufacturers, etc etc… Though without the benefit of a “hot team”, I can already envision roping in friends as a dynamically-knitted team collaborating through Facebook and over dinners. What fun! I’m truly excited now!

Other design criteria outlined by NLB included physical specifications of 20cm x 30cm (which is about A4-sized), and most interestingly, that the bag has to encourage users to return the bag after use. That would add on a extra tasty texture to the design challenge!

Can’t wait to get started!