July 10, 2018

On The Design Process: Inspiration, Timeline, Testing

On The Design Process: Inspiration, Timeline, Testing

Both Tom and Nik are designing various new bags and smaller items—everything from new backpacks to new travel bags to new organizer pouches. And that, of course, prompts questions: When will they be released? Will all the designs turn into real bags that will debut someday?

There's an easy answer: we don’t know. But why do we not know? And further, how can we be comfortable with—and actually admit to—not knowing?

First, we might identify the various impetuses behind the new designs, as the origin of their inspiration does impact the design process and timeline of development.

The inspiration for Tom and Nik's new designs is influenced by:

The development timeline of new designs is influenced by:

Updates on Just a Few of the Designs We're Working On Right Now

Last month, Tom sewed a prototype of a new backpack/briefcase design so he could use it on a weekend trip. In line at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the guy standing behind Tom told him that it was a great looking bag and asked him who made it. Tom replied that he, in fact, had made it, and that while he appreciated the feedback, he'd already redesigned the bag over the course of that short trip, and it would end up looking a lot different. Tom made something like five design changes to the bag after using it on trips—that's how his design process works. Even when that process results in a longer development timeline, we think it's worth it. We'd rather take our time and meet our own standards of perfection.

Or, take the Luminary backpack: we were 100% sure its design update was done when several different people testing the bag told us an additional interior pocket against its front face would be useful. And, upon first consideration, Tom thought that could be a good idea too. But by that time, he had shifted his focus to working on other new designs, such as the aforementioned briefcase/backpack, which are now nearly done. His plan is to complete those designs and then work on samples of the Luminary with the new pocket so we can see if it's a good idea in reality.

The same process can apply to materials—and it's not uncommon that we have to wait on the development of a new material that's necessary to make a new bag design. Tom's currently developing a new fabric and a sample of it arrived from our mill. It looked exactly as we had envisioned it, but it didn’t Taber test as well as we had hoped. We expect to spend weeks investigating those Taber results in an effort to identify and solve the problem.

To Sum it All Up...

As usual 'round here, there's a lot in the works. And when a design is really, really done—and its debut it scheduled—we'll let you know about it.

Until then, we remain grateful for your feedback, support, and interest in our little company and what we make. The more work we put into what we do, the more we get out of it, and the more you share with us (whether a review of your bag, photos from a trip, or constructive feedback), the more we're inspired to take on new projects and make things even better than they are. Thanks!

*Dies and die cutting
A die is, most simply put, a sharpened steel edge bent into a specific shape: think of an industrial strength cookie-cutter. We use dies to cut small fabric parts like pouches, as well as foam and plastic parts. Dies allow you cut out parts with a very high degree of accuracy and speed. We use a 20 ton press (called a “clicker”) to push the dies through whatever material we’re cutting. All of our dies are custom fabricated to our specifications.

A folder (also sometimes called a binder) is an attachment to a sewing machine, typically made of stainless steel or chrome-plated steel, which sits in front of the needle and feed-dogs (mechanisms that pull the fabric through the machine). The folder/binder effectively mimics the hands and fingers of a sewing machine operator, locating or placing various parts in very specific and consistent orientations relative to one another. Folders allow many of our sewing operations to take place with near-perfect consistency, and at high speeds. We have folders that keep the edge of zipper tape in the same relative placement to the sewing operation, at the same time folding the cut edge of the fabric and holding that folded edge consistent to the seam and zipper as well. We use several folders that fold the various narrow widths and types of fabric tape (effectively light weight webbing) that we use to cover the cut edges of fabric inside our bags, preventing those cut edges from fraying apart. Many of our padded handles are created by using folders. All of our folders are custom fabricated to our specifications.


Fay Vulcan - June 8, 2022

I bought your PIKA. Lovely idea and shape, but here also the strap was too narrow. So here’s the hack: my husband replaced the strap with one of your wider straps. Eureka! My neck feels free! I enjoy your designs and show them off to friends.
TOM BIHN replied:
Glad to hear the bag overall works for you (even if the original strap was a bit of a miss)! Do you mind sharing which replacement strap you ended up using? :)

fay vulcan - June 2, 2022

I bought two Sidekick bags over the years. I like them: the design suits me. My problem is that the strap that comes with it cuts into my shoulder. Recently, I bought two wider straps from you at $16.00 each and my husband connected the straps using carabiners (he is very handy!). You might consider offering a choice of straps. I enjoy and recommend all the items I bought from you.
TOM BIHN replied:
Sorry to hear the default straps didn’t work out, thank you for the feedback on the wider straps! We will look into this.

TB Crew - November 19, 2019

@Yuragon Hi Yuragon!

No estimated timeline yet. As perhaps is the case with any unicorn, we anticipate it will be a unicorn to some and a horse to others. :)

Yuragon - November 19, 2019

Is there any estimated dates about this new backpack/briefcase design? Hope it’ll be the one bag, the unicorn to rule both world: comfort of carry backpack and easy access of shoulder bags.

Joslyn - November 19, 2019

@twosandalz That is what I was thinking, I need that zipper folder for my Babylock Grace machine at home! It certainly would lower the amount of cash that ends up in the swear jar…

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.