Why what you carry can tell us who you really are

September 16th, 2010 in .Behind the Scenes at ASUS
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“We are what we eat” is a quote most of us are familiar with and it certainly holds some truth. However, few people also remember that the things we carry around with us each day also play a part in our persona and how others perceive us.

This may sound like some sort of social theory, but there are some practical design considerations attached to this idea. Peeking into people’s bags, for example, can give some useful insight into what they consider important for both the work and leisure sides of their lives. This information can be invaluable when it comes to creating innovative new product designs, particularly when an unfamiliar group of users is being targeted.

The challenge, of course, is gaining access to such personal information, since few people will allow a complete stranger to nose around in their personal belongings. So, one approach used at ASUS Design consists of a number of bag silhouettes and images representing the different items that people typically carry inside them. We then ask volunteers to choose a bag that resembles their own and then populate it with the items they usually have inside it, giving us the information we need without making them feel uncomfortable.

research bag tool

Whats in your bag research tool

This fun exercise is only the beginning, though. Once our volunteers are used to the idea of sharing some general information about them in this way, they’re usually happy for use to take the next step of seeing what they actually carry. So, we begin by photographing the contents of their bags and ask questions about any special meaning attached to each items — something that may not apply to a mobile phone, for example, but there may be a personal story behind a key ring.

One recent volunteer to go through this process was ‘Grace’ and the clues we found in her bag enabled us to create a design profile to describe her lifestyle. First, we found a small MP3 player that she used on long journeys, but it wasn’t a particularly good model. It turned out that Grace wasn’t particularly concerned about sound quality (she also used the stock earphones), but was more interested in carrying something small and easy to carry to keep her entertained.

Next, we found that Grace also carried toiletries for freshening up throughout the day — something that is particularly important in her job as a public relations’ executive who often deals with other people. At first glance, these items may look like the ones you would find in anyone’s bag, but the combination carried by Grace paints a very particular design picture that may run counter to their immediate appearance or their own verbal description of their preferences.

This kind of information allows us get a much better understanding of people’s priorities when it comes to making purchase decisions for products — information that we could otherwise only guess. If you’re interested in trying this idea out for yourself, don’t limit yourself to your own bag — you can find photos of the contents of thousands of other bags on Flickr in the “What’s in your bag?” group. Take a look and make a few notes about the kind of person you think would carry each one — you’ll be surprised at how much insight you can discover.

– Luke Goh, Design Researcher, ASUS Design Center Singapore

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