Sticky smartness

It’s always the little things that you’ve never seen before that make you sit up and think “hey, that’s smart”. In my case a simple photo, used to provide context, was enough to trigger this, and it’s so simple an idea that I’m surprised that something similar isn’t in wider use. Read on, MacDuff, to find out what the chuff I’m blithering on about this time…

As alluded to a few days ago, I’m currently hunting for THE laptop bag, one that will set me apart from the standard “black briefcase style” masses and move me into the same arena as all those elite, übercool kids, you know, the ones who are probably toting MacBooks. I spent a couple of hours browsing various stores in an effort to find something that suited but soon stumbled across a consistent problem.

Having thought more about what I really need from a bag, I now know that I want something that will hold a laptop, accessories, my usual accumulation of guff and occasionally my camera, all whilst remaining small and reasonably compact. Add in my mantra – Nothing is any good if other people like it – and it gets tricky. My mantra allows me first refusal on many items without any real grounds for rejection, other than pursing my lips and scrunching up my forehead in concentration, then muttering “yeah… but… nah.. I just don’t like it… because… well it’s hard to put my finger on… it’s just NOT RIGHT”.

You can see why my wife HATES shopping with me, and why I do most of my research online.

In saying that, I suspect that she thinks I ‘over-research’ such things as, when a mutual friend of ours recently asked for my advice as to which digital camera she should buy, her opening line was: “you know how you research everything to death… well..”. Alas there was no witty comeback from me. It is true.

When searching for personal accessories, or clothes for that matter, I have three basic criteria. Two of which will negate the other, but the third can never ever be fudged.

  • Price – I work to a budget. That budget depends on various factors, including the type of item I’m looking to purchase, and can sometimes be negated by…
  • Design – I’m very fussy in most things, particularly when it comes to design. If I REALLY like something, I’ll break my budget and buy because I like the design. However, above a certain threshold, design is negated by price.
  • Practicality – This isn’t the be all and end all but depending on the item has relative importance. For example, if I’m buying a shirt, it has to be long-sleeved. Price and design don’t matter in that respect. Similarly if I’m buying a car, if it doesn’t have the features I want, price and design don’t have a look in (honest!).

Nothing earth-shattering there then, I’m sure most of you conduct your shopping in a similar manner. Of course, buying things online adds a level of complexity, particularly when choosing the design – will it really look like it does in the photos? – and the judging the practicality – it says it has four tabs, but are they all the same size? – and as every online store does things differently, well that’s when it gets really interesting… or confusing… or both.

Most online stores provide photos of the item you are buying. It makes sense to see what you will be purchasing, and from the photo you can get a sense of the design. Similarly the item will have a price listed on-screen, so you can easily see if you’re way over budget. For most online stores your eye is deliberately drawn to one or other, and so they become interchangeable. You can then use either criteria as the first “tick” when choosing to buy something – it’s either cheap enough, or looks good enough – and so you look to the third criteria.

Practicality is harder to judge. Like price, everyone will have their own scale. Some people will be happy that the cutlery set includes fork, knives and spoons, others will want to know the size of the spoon, still others will want to check how easy they are to clean. Of course, your measure of practicality changes over time, so it’s not set for a specific item at a specific time. Take my previous bag, for example. I no longer use it because I don’t get the train to work anymore, so I don’t need to carry three books, nor the pedometer and map, umbrella or gloves, or my iPod. I now have a much smaller bag which holds a book, some painkillers, a blank CD, and my lunch. Pendrive and phone go in my pocket, and I rarely take my iPod with me. My measure of practicality has changed.

Anyway, back to laptop bags and the entire reason behind this post. One bag that caught my eye was the Pakuma Choroka K2 Messenger Bag. Aside from wondering where on earth these companies get their names from – although if they didn’t think up something exotic, I guess there are only so many different ways you can name a bag, other than just calling them all “bag” I guess – the one thing that immediately grabbed my attention was the second photo on the page. As well as the standard “this is what the bag looks like” shot, they include a “this is what the bag looks like when it’s open and there is stuff in it” photo.

“Hey, that’s smart!”

This was the first site I saw that did this, and now that I have I wonder why other sites haven’t done it too…after all, whilst I do want to know what the bag looks like from a design point of view, I also want to know if it’s practical enough for my needs. That’s typically very hard to do online, but this is an excellent step in the right direction.

That got me thinking about other products that would benefit from this approach. One thing that I usually struggle with is visualising the size of something. “Smallest ever shape!” screams the flashy badge on the website but if all you offer me is a flat photo of the item, with nothing next to it to offer scale, then it could the size of a house for all I know.

And no, giving the dimensions of an object isn’t the same. Whilst I can grab a tape measure and mentally sketch out the size of an object, it’s still not the same as, for example, placing a 50p next to an iPod Nano.

This, quite neatly, ties into a section of “Make it Stick” which suggests that building on the mental blocks that already exist in people’s minds is a far easier way of conveying information than relying on cold hard facts.

So, telling me that a bag measures X by Y isn’t as useful as showing me a bag with an iPod, an notebook and a pen inside.

Simple. Smart. Why don’t more sites do it.

3 comments

  1. i needed a bag for my laptop when i went to valencia last year and so went hunting around with Q who was strict on the padding, which is understandable when the laptop was going through security checks, etc. also, due to my back, i really needed a back-pack bag and settled for a black samsonite which has ample room for the laptop, charger, headphones (for skype), my diddy camera plus more.

    hell, there was even room for my plane tickets!

  2. On a size note, I ordered a dress from ASOS the other day which claimed to be 30 inches in length. Obviously I wasn’t organised enough to measure what that would actualy be in terms of my height of 5ft 6. Now I have it, I realise it barely covers my bum. It made me wonder about the height of the model in the photo – was she a gnome?

  3. Jason Fried of 37Signals spoke of this at Webvisons 2004. He used a cell phone site as a typical bad example as they make all the photos of the phones the same size so every phone looks exactly the same size.

    I need a new laptop bag, let me know what you end up getting and I’ll by the same.

    Have you seen this post? Ok it’s a lot of comments but some good stuff in their.

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