Design for a Briefcase Backpack
I was hired to be on the 'Opening Team' for TGI Friday's restraunt from 1975-1977. At one point, six of us on the team traveled in a Friday's van to new sites and conducted training sessions for the new employees. Because we worked different times at the restraunt and there was only one vehicle, I would often walk from the hotel. I carried manuals, notes, and pens. While staying near Cleveland, Ohio, we were in a very picturesque and inspirational environment. I made the mile-long walk several times. I used both a briefcase and a backpack.
• A briefcase is awkward, clumsy, inconvenient and confines one's hands while carrying. Holding the case can be tiresome when walking long distances. Even if there is a shoulder strap, it gets uncomfortable after a while.
• A backpack is convenient and conducive to walking, but it does not look appropriate in a professional business environment. Because the backpack was was soft nylon, it did not protect the materials and manuals well.
• A handy place for pens and pencils, small supplies, and toiletries.
• Waterproof material and a flap for water-tight enclosures.
• Stiff back and bottom to keep papers flat and neat.
• Size - at least 9x12 - to hold a legal notebook.
Solution: Prototype 1
Objective: A more comfortable handsome backpack that could be used as a briefcase. A briefcase carried on the back. Hands would be free.
I had a nylon backpack that I had used for camping in Colorado. It was soft with no internal support, but was just the right size. To address the issue of the soft sides, I bought a styrofoam cooler in Cleveland, for about a dollar, and cut out an L-shaped section that fit snugly into the backpack. The section was square and about the size of the largest materials I would carry. The lower portion of the L served as a base that allowed the backpack to stand up on a chair or next to a table. This allowed easy access into the contents. The back of the L helped keep the papers inside neat and protected. The styrofoam was so light it added practically no weight to the backpack. It worked great.
Solution: Prototype 2
34 years later, backpacks are common and briefcases have shoulder straps. I was still using a soft briefcase while traveling to New York City and on campus at Oklahoma State. But, one afternoon, while I was in Staples, I saw backpacks on sale. I had not thought about backpacks even though I had seen numerous college students (almost all) using backpacks on campus and in the airports. Why not? I should try it. They are on sale. I searched through the wall of options. Most had too many pockets, cords, buckles and were just too busy or casual to work for me:
I found and bought one with no extra pockets, stitching, or gadgets:
The label, JanSport, cheapened the look a little, so I removed it. Now it was more sleek and more like a business briefcase.
I have never been a fan of advertising a company after I spend money to buy their product. That is why I never wear logo teeshirts or put dealer decals on my car - if I am going to be a walking billboard for a product, I should be designated an honorary member of their sales staff and get paid for advertising their product.
Below are some other backpacks that would work in a business environment. The shoulder straps might look awkward on a light-colored jacket or shirt, but would visually disappear on a dark shirt or jacket. It does help to have a handle at the top so the backpack can be carried like a traditional briefcase.
The soft sides of the backpack did not adequately protect papers and folders nor cushion a laptop or iPad. I constructed this foam insert to serve as both a stiffener and a protector.
Some of the foam layers didn't work too well, so I made a few refinements and ended up with this insert that does work well.
But I don't know what to call it
• Briefcase backpack
• Backpack briefcase
• BackPack Case
I still haven't settled on a good name. I most often just call it a backpack.
There were some issues with the Solution 2 backpack that I had been using all semester for teaching and travel - the pocket for gadgets was tough to get into and there was no pocket or sleeve to cradle and protect the laptop (which is why I made the foam insert shown above). And, some of the papers I carried in it got a little beat up.
I saw an ad in The New York Times Magazine for Zuca luggage and clicked on their Business Backpack. Wow, nice - it had a great side door that swung open and out of the way, exposing several pockets and slots. Those would be perfect for lecture gadgets - charger, slide advancer, cables, and connectors; and electronics while traveling. The main compartment had a padded laptop case and expanding files for papers. I ordered it from a store in Tulsa and they shipped it to me, for free, in 2 days.
Alterations made to the Zuca bag
I wanted the case to look more professional and less like a school kid's backpack with all the fancy crap.
• I didn't need the two straps at the back that attach the briefcase to other luggage (the case would be on my back) - those were cut off.
• The front had a big obnoxious pocket that I saw getting in the way as I slid the case under an airline seat - gone, cut off.
• On the left side were two more pockets (who carries that much crap?). I made dry runs and loaded the case with everything I take to class and everything I take to NYC. There was plenty of room in the main compartment and in the gadget pocket, I just didn't need any more storage. The two side pockets also prevented the case from sliding under the airline seat. Those pockets were cut off. Shown below without the pockets.
• Each zippered pocket had 2 zipper handles. Two, when one is adequate. So I removed one of the handles.
• The front of this case had a white Zuca logo. It was stitched into the fabric and too tough to remove, so I blackened it with a permanent marker. One can still see it up close but it no longer screams at you from across the room.
Solution 4: eBags Professional Slim
This option showed up on Facebook - in an ad in my newsfeed. How did the Zucker know what I was looking for? This one is the best yet - it has features that I have been searching for:
• Pocket to hide the backpack straps so it looks like a briefcase.
• Handle along the tall side so it can be carried like a traditional briefcase.
• Pocket to hold a water bottle that can be zipped shut and hidden.
• A good arrangement of pockets and slots for devices, chargers, cables, and papers.
Link to eBags.
Solution 1: April 1978; Cleveland OH
Solution 2, foam insert: August 2012; Edmond OK
Solution 3, Zuca: November 2012; Edmond OK
Solution 4, eBags Professional Slim: