Tag Archives: book bag

BBB = Book Bag bento

20 Jan

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” so said Leonardo da Vinci.  And there’s nothing quite like a Japanese bento to showcase the beauty of sophisticated simplicity…


Stop press update

It always sounds so cliché, but like they always tell you,”Always expect the unexpected…” I should have bore in mind those very wise words, ’cause I almost died when I saw the latest update on the NLB website – they extended the deadline to 31 Jan 2011 after I submitted my package! After all those late nights and long hours…… Now somebody kill me……



It’s all in the packaging

OK, I’m recovered from the shock now.

It was fun, fun, fun all the way in the final stages of this Book Bag project, from doing the fashion shoot to designing a slideshow video for ‘selling’ the Book Bag. On top of that, I had also decided to supplement my e-submission with a package containing the physical hard-copies of the final prototype, a few product photos to go with the prototype, and a CD saved with all the design templates, slideshows.

Final submission title Final submission package Close-up of contents - CD, prototype, photos Wrapped and bounded for NLB!

The final package looks very hand-made and rather rough on the edges, really. It reminded me of those school art projects I used to submit, with lots of hand-written/-drawn stuff on cardboard – would this be deemed too “unprofessional” or “kiddy”? I wondered if I was better off actually leaving my submission to just digital format… If only I had more time to do up a really slick package for submission…

Here’s the slideshow and video I did for Book Bag ‘marketing’:


In the end, I decided to submit everything, bento box and all. I’d already done it, and what’s there to lose? Maybe there’s a slight organic beauty about the hand-made quality… hahaha I’m self-rationalising (again).

What do you think? Rustic cardboard charm or modernist slick?


The other fashion shoot

18 Jan

The uncut, unabridged, other version is here! The other shots which didn’t make the cut to the main fashion shoot set of pics…


what happens when you get a call while reading? chief photographer droolz poseur poseur zzzz pondering reading seriously haha in the midst of reading? watch thru the hand snooze snorez u taking me yawn secret hiding door behind ready get set it's hard to tell if this isn't a library slurp are you done yet blurring past again awaiting in vintage blurring past in time lapse blurring past on escalator walking, supersampler style another waiting sitting down awaiting at MRT station hmmm


The Book Bag goes live!

18 Jan

An object becomes alive through the warmth of our touch; the moist breath we breathe upon it; the soulful utilitarian/social/physical/emotional meanings we give to it; the day-to-day human-like interactions we have with it…


The fashion shoot for the Book Bag was great fun! First, let’s thank the photographer of the day, my sweetest girl:

Chief Photographer in rare pose


The location

The Food Republic food court at Suntec City, which is designed to the likes of a old 19th Century European library, was the perfect location for the shoot! I’d like to think that if the Book Bag is a spy, it’s secret hideout would be here. Why? Because one is in disguise as a library, another in disguise as a book – the square hole meets square peg situation!

Hahaha :D… ok ok cheesy humour aside (you might find that a lot here on ths blog…pardon the puns), see how the Book Bag comes alive through these ‘everyday’ shots (taken entirely on the iPhone 4 and various camera apps):

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Obviously you won’t be doing what I did for some of the shots (like ‘reading’ the Book Bag… duh!). But fun was the operating word here. And just how often could you have fun with a darn paper bag?! I hope this presents another level of head/heart/gut engagement with you, who might use it one day… and I hope you had as much fun playing with it as I did!


What is the most book-like book?

17 Jan

It is about tapping on our collective visual memories, our cultural database of archetypes…


But a short digression first…

Well! I finally submitted the final designs and prototype to NLB for the “Brown Bag Design Contest‘! I manage to make the deadline, in email and hard-copy submissions. *phew. It’s a huge relief now that the stress of submission is over. A quick sneak preview of the final product – just for you…

Final submission package

Hard-copy submission of the Book Bag - CD and photos included!

I’ll get to blogging about this soon enough! First let me catch up on where I left off previously…about the making of the final design and prototype.


Pinning down the most book-like Book Bag

A close friend had commented (during my testing stage) that perhaps the generic “book” image used for the design could be changed to an actual book design which most people can relate to. Like say for children, the most easily-recognised book to them might be an Enid Blyton book cover, or Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book cover for children.

Which was a good point, because I would need the Book Bag to really resemble a book; to be the most ‘book-like’ in order for the ordinary man on the street to easily recognise the Book Bag for a book.  This reminds me of my philosophy classes in university, where we talked about Plato’s metaphysical theory of Forms, where abstract, non-material ideal types exist as the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Like the idea of a “book”. There’s many types of books – novels, dictionaries, encyclopedia, coffee table books – but what is the concept of “book” which holds all these family of books together as “books”? Physical traits like paper, words printed on pages? Those traits could fit a magazine, not a book… Almost there but not really. Well, I don’t think I do justice to Plato here, but it points towards how we know things as things belonging to a family of things. Famed Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa asked the similar question in his namesake book,

“I wanted to design a chair-like chair, a table-like table… But this ‘likeness’ was something confined to the imagination, and I understood that it differed from person to person. Still, I wanted to design the kind of chair that when people looked at it, they said,’That’s a really chair-like chair.” If you ask people,”What exactly is chair-like?”, they don’t know, but if they see it, they can say, “Oh, that’s really chair-like”; this sensation is one that, as first glance, appears inconsistent. The reason why I wanted to design a chair-like chair is that I felt that, within this ‘chair-like’ sense, there was an element of reassurance. Perhaps it’s a nostalgic sensation. Designers and architects all design at least one chair. Their chair design is thus indicative of their identity. These chairs are not referred to as being ‘chair-like’, but as ‘whoever designed them-like’. So I thought that an anonymous chair was more likely to be thought of as ‘chair-like’. The idea of designing a chair to look like chair-like stemmed from a desire to break away from the ‘this is the chair so-and-so designed’ kind of mind set.”

So to echo his sentiments, it’s exactly that “element of reassurance”, that “nostalgic sensation”, the anonymity set within the imagination, which drives me to find that “Form” of the ‘book’. Which brings me back to the question: What is a “book”? What is the most “book-like” book? Especially to local Singapore?

I pondered. Searched. Asked around for ideas. Looked around under the sheets of bookstores and stock image websites. And one image kept popping up everywhere – a hard-cover, rectangular, portrait-orientation, typically vintage-looking, and leather-bound book. So my initial hunch for going with a leather book cover design as most “book-like”, as the one most generic book image which most people would recognise it and say, “Yes, that’s a book which looks most like a book.” The answer had come full circle. But not a wasted exercise though, because only through asking this question can I be really sure of the spirit of the design is accurate.


The making of

So…with firmer conviction, I ploughed on to finish up the final prototype of the Book Bag for the submission to the library. And added on a few extra useful touches inspired from my very initial ethnographic observation of library users.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


As you can see from the slideshow, there’s now the:

  • Outer clear-plastic pocket for keeping loan receipts – remember how my initial observations showed how library users fumbled with the receipts and found their own ways to keep them properly without losing them (in wallets, in between book pages, etc)? Now there’s a home for all those run-away slips of paper, and a highly prominent, visible and convenient place at that!
  • An inner CD pocket to snugly hold the CD you borrowed above ground level – to minimise impact shock on the fragile disc of plastic when carrying and putting down the Book Bag.
  • ‘Hidden’ instructions on the ‘page’ side of the Book Bag – in 3 simple steps (it’s really just 3, as the 4th step is to say there isn’t a step 4!), the users can read and understand how the Book Bag can be borrowed, used and returned.
  • A mock RFID tag (taken from an old book I bought from a past library sale) to demonstrate a possible position where the tag can be located.

I should really be using Tyvek ® ‘paper’ (Tyvek® is actually all recyclable plastic, which looks and feels like paper) for the final prototype, but it’s not easily found as bookstores don’t really stock them. So I worked around it by using some good ol’ vanguard sheet, and pasting the A4-paper design prints onto the skeleton of vanguard sheet. The accidental quality of using printed paper is the creases and wrinkles that comes with uneven glue spread underneath, which makes the book look even more authentic!


Next up: ‘Fashion’ shoot of the Book Bag, to illustrate how the Book Bag would look like when used in our daily lives. No more studio shots against plain white backgrounds – stay tuned to see the Book Bag go ‘live’!


Life & lemons

14 Jan

When life gives you lemons, you don’t have to make lemonade! Sometimes we can’t choose what the cards we’re dealt, but we can ask if we even want to play (instead of the usual ‘wise’ latter part of that phrase where “we can choose how we want to play”). When things go wrong (they inadvertently always do), how differently would you want to play (or not)?


Beta test-cum-ethnographic experiment FAIL

OK, so I had planned to take the 2 prototypes of the Book Bag to the public library and do a little social experiment-cum beta testing.

It was meant to be ethnographic in nature – I place the Book Bag next to the book check-out counter with some instructions printed on a sheet of paper on how to use the Book Bag. I walk away but hover nearby to observe, camcorder in hand. Library user comes along, oblivious to the little experiment. Library user checks out books. Library user sees Book Bag, and reads the instructions. Library user curious, then takes Book Bag and fiddles with it. Lastly library user tries to borrow Book Bag, like other library books, by placing it on the sensor tray of the check-out computer. At this precise moment, I step in, inform the library user that you can’t really borrow that Book Bag as it’s not [RFID-] tagged yet, and go on to explain what I’m doing.

OK so it’s a little devious to trick harmless ordinary citizens into having false hope of actually being able to borrow the Book Bag to help ease the burden of carrying the books home. It even smells like something “Candid Camera” or “Just For Laughs Gags”. But believe me – no humans were harmed in the process! I came up with this experiment as there’s only so much you can get from interviewing people by showing and telling them about the Book Bag, like what I did with my friends. Useful nonetheless, but the totally unaware user would be the best way to show if the design is effective – it’s just simply a really effective way to test if people get it easily; getting the idea of the Book Bag being a bag that can be borrowed like the other library books. If they get it,  then the obstacles to ‘consumer market acceptance’ would be small.

Haha but before you hammer me for pulling such gags in the name of scientific research, let me say that I didn’t quite even manage to test it properly. True I got the set up done nicely and all. But as I was standing back waiting for the first ‘bait’, a librarian in charge of shelving/re-shelving books passed by, saw at a distance something of a left-behind book at the check-out counter, and promptly went to the counter in attempt to take the Book Bag to be re-shelved. Only to be intercepted by poor me, explaining my intentions. But alas! I would need official permission to do something like that! Red tape had be drawn, and now my little social experiment falls into tatters. Realising that there’s nothing much I can do now (I have to write in “somewhere” to get official permission it seems), I gently concede, and go off sulking in a corner. Hahah ok I wasn;t exactly sulking, but wondering how else I can proceed. There’s really no point in walking around the library and interviewing people about it – I could do that outside the library and that wasn’t the whole point of the experiment. Well…. I pondered and thought that instead of making do and getting by with interviews, I don’t really have to ‘play’, do I?

So I didn’t!

Not in defiance of authority, but in fact just not making it an issue of ego, but instead to “flow like water” through it. Well I figured it’s also good to not to put NLB in a difficult position, since they might not wish to be represented in any way through the experiment. The librarian had also been nice and she was simply doing her job, so I didn’t want to make her day difficult.


Finding a natural home in the library for the Book Bag

When stuck, do something else; something different altogether.

So rather than stubborning try to do the experiment head-on, I decided to just do something different and went to a quiet bookshelf in the library where I won’t obstruct reader traffic, and took some pictures of the Book Bag prototypes ‘being at home’. And true enough, they look very part of the book landscape! (If you’re reading this, NLB, please rest assured I did arrange the other books back neatly!)

This also got me thinking about the librarian who saw the Book Bag (first prototype that is, the folded one) and thought it was a book. When even a librarian can mistake the Book Bag for a book – now that’s pretty telling about how ‘naturally’ the Book Bag fits into the library environment, isn’t it? So this trip was not for nought, after all! One data point, but a good one at that! Hahahah… 😀

I also went to browse through the CD section to check out the range of sizes and shapes of the CD covers, as I’m also adding on a CD inner pocket in the Book Bag. Seems that all the CDs comes in standard covers, so I borrowed 2 which I liked (and would try reading!) to use as references for the inner CD pocket.

Just before I left, I managed to sneak in a quick picture (while I was borrowing my CDs) of how the Book Bag would look like if placed at the check-out counter to facilitate ease of loan. I believe being next to the check-out computer would be best ‘home’ for the Book Bag.  The pictures of the Book Bag being shelved together with other books also made me wonder if that is the other natural place where the library can ‘stock’ the bags, so that readers can easily and simply just take the Book Bags off the shelf where they are, use the Book Bag to carry the books around the library and out after check-out.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Well! So the final design is confirmed – the folded one! (by virtue of the librarian’s perception). Not utterly scientific again I know, but what to do when there are on-site constraints to user testing? Sometimes for certain products there may not be luxury of complete user testing (for reasons like confidentiality, high danger to test users, or red tape…), but move ahead we have to and we shall! 🙂


Next – finalised design for submission! The deadline (15 Jan 2011) is approaching! Stressed!


This blog is now on YouTube.

12 Jan

Another social media platform devoured! Yum yum yum munch munch munch…


[Tune in to our channel by clicking on the TV.]



Beta karma

12 Jan

The virtuous cycle of prototyping, beta-testing, feedback & reiteration is part of enlightened product design, liberating us forward to an ultimate salvation from the hell of useless objects…


The holistic harmony of participatory co-design, & relations with the social work field

Armed with the mini prototype, I went around as many friends as I could to gather comments about the Book Bag. Design thinking methodology tries as much as possible to include users as early on as possible to co-design and co-create the product. This is one good way of ensuring that whatever goes out as a final product had already been accepted by customers, and thus less risk of investing in technology and marketing when it won’t ‘sell’.

This is one of the best parts I like about design thinking – trying to achieve a holistic balance between desirability by customers, business feasibility and technological viability. IDEO proposed this method in their Human-Centered Design Toolkit, a free innovation guide which they produced together with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for social enterprises and NGOs worldwide [you can download the free toolkit intro here.]

Source: Adapted from IDEO HCD Toolkit Intro


I’m a firm believer that for-profit business have lots to learn from such a framework built for not-for-profits, especially now. Often in the past, we can hear of not-for-profit organisations expressing some form of ‘business-envy’, and they try to emulate business systems and quantitatively measure the ‘market numbers’, which can get pretty difficult and tricky in the very different and human-centered social work field. I respect that both sides can and should learn from each other, but I believe consumers are increasingly seeking qualities which these traditional helping professions are really good at – empathy, customised help and care, focus on benefiting clients not system efficiency, and sharing resources through inter-organisational collaboration.

Anyway, I digress again! Design thinking, combined with my passion and previous job in social work field, is juicing me a lot creatively!


Hear ALL about it!

I’m listing the comments gathered from my friends – I’d forgot who said what, so if you’re reading this and one of the comments belong to you, please stand up and comment on the comment!

  • Have 2 variations of the prototype to compare and choose, in order to get the most honest opinions. It’s just like the proverbial situation where the wife asks the husband whether he likes the dress, and he’s damned if he does and damned if he don’t. Better to have 2 so that people can state their preferences of one over another, and not have to criticise just one option (and thus potentially making things defensive or socially awkward).
  • Bag handles – opinions were mixed. Some preferred handles from years of shopping experience, some were okay with a slot-type handle.
  • Most expressed a curious interest at first look even before I said anything about the Book Bag.
  • Most liked the idea of integrating a book and a bag, and appreciated the aesthetics.
  • Most were skeptical about whether getting people to borrow it like a book can work.
  • Add-on ideas included instructions for use on the bag, incorporating some ‘reading’ on the opened pages itself.
  • Someone pointed out that only right-handers can complete the picture – something I didn’t realised! Since most people are right-handed, I’ll go for it! Moreover, when it comes to carrying bags, don’t we frequently switch hands when one hand is tired?


Book Bag beta version 1.2 and 1.3

So I quickly made some improvements and made full-sized prototypes. It ended up being pretty nostalgic process; of youthful primary school days during the 80s when we worked on “science projects”, using vanguard sheet, UHU glue, colourful ‘magic pens’, cutting, pasting, colouring…… It was strangely comforting getting re-aquainted with those activities again – so fun! If you have a keen eye, you’d realise that I made a mistake when scaling up the ‘floating’ hand – it’s too small! Haha…. it can be rectified easily but to capitalise on the mistake, I got my lovely niece to model her hand for the prototype – see how the picture gets completed through the human user? I made 2 versions )open book/portrait vs closed book/landscape) to compare and choose.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So what do you think? Which one would you choose? More beta testing needed, this time in real time and place – the library!