ThinkPad Case Study
Family of ThinkPad cases
ThinkPad carry cases are a special kind of "software" design that my team supports. Forget pixels, icons, scrolling and clicking. This is more about fabric, straps, zippers and snaps. The design requirements and constraints for carry cases are also very different from the typical hardware or GUI project. By comparison lead times are quite short, very little tooling is required, and we don't know exactly what will be on the inside. Obviously they must provide a nice place to hold and protect your ThinkPad, but everything else is up to the user. Part of our design process includes field testing of prototypes in order to gather user feedback and tune the designs. When I travel I usually have my airline tickets, passport, travel AC adapter, cell phone charger, digital camera, pad of paper, pens, pencils, business cards,tape measure, and of course my ThinkPad. I don't carry much else in my case. The trick for designing one of these is to allow for flexibility. If the compartments are too object specific they may not map to the users needs. It's also important to choose materials that are both durable and useful. The interior of our cases are a silver grey nylon, not only to enhance the appearance, but to also make it easier to find things inside. Have you ever tried to look for that tiny black USB key, or similar object, buried deep inside a all black case? This is even worse in a dimly illuminated airplane cabin. The light silver interior really helps out. We also use materials that are more durable in the areas that are subjected to the greatest wear potential and add corner protection devices where appropriate. My favorite case, and the one I use daily, is the ThinkPad backpack. I like it because it neatly holds the things I carry and it frees up my hands when I'm using it. This is of extra importance to me on those days I ride my motorcycle to work. I prefer to wear it rather than stuff it into some bike mounted case. This is the very backpack I used when I rode half of the Trans-America Trail earlier in the year. It's Trail tested tough, with no issues to report.
The backpack has a simple profile with a TrackPoint inspired zipper pull
ThinkPad backpack interior with a myriad of compartments and a handy removable pouch
Ventilated padding and a "secret pocket"
All of the bags share an aesthetic theme, storage features, and design details. They do, however, vary in terms of configuration and materials they are constructed from. Most are primarily made from industrial strength nylon, but we do offer an executive genuine leather model. Leather is always interesting because it aquires a patina and softens over time. All the cases use an integral air cushion to protect your prized possession from extreme abuse. An elastic belt and velcro closure holds it securely in place.
Safe and snug
TrackPoint inspired zipper pull and related sheath
My favorite detail is the TrackPoint inspired zipper pull that appears on the bags most prominant compartment. The spherical shape looks great and makes it really easy to grasp, especially when compared to a more traditional flat pull. We tried to invent a way to use a real TrackPoint cap on the pull, so it could be used as a spare in case of emergency. We finally had to give up on the idea, we just needed more time to invent a way that guaranteed it wouldn't fall off when you used it as a pull. Maybe the idea will resurface on next generation models.
We chose to blind emboss the ThinkPad brand into the case and the shoulder straps. I like the embossed branding for it's subtle quality and stealth factor, although at times I want it to shout ThinkPad a bit more. Maybe we should consider a high quality enameled badge for future cases?