Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Focus on Details

Focus on Details

When we hear architects and designers talk about details, we imagine all of the smaller components that were meticulously thought through in order to solve a problem and allow a building to function as designed, maintain a specific aesthetic, or differentiate itself from other buildings. Just like architecture, details for products are similar in the way that a designer will zoom into specific components of the product and figure out how it should be made in relation to the adjacent ones and holistically. Here’s what I learned this week by focusing on the details of my latest leather product, a weekend duffle bag.

1. There are Multiple Solutions, Choose Only One

While designing my leather weekend duffle bag, there were several design factors that were known and accepted as the ways to move forward. This included the idea that the entire product would be handmade from cutting to tooling and hand stitching. The other factors were the leather thickness, color, thread type, and two zippers – one for a side pocket and one for the larger top flap.

Moving into the design of the bag, my goal was to find the right dimensions to create an asymmetrical bag with beautiful proportions that would create a functional product that captures the attention of viewers. After reflecting on several weekend bags that I’ve used in the past, I decided on one simple duffle bag that is small enough to use as a carry on for flights, but large enough to hold all of my belongings.

Once the shapes were designed, I was faced with an aesthetic design decision that involved the hand stitching of the pieces. Would I hand stitch the edges together and leave it exposed? This would create a straight edge condition and the stitching would be a big part of the aesthetic. Another option was to stitch the seams and turn the bag inside out so that the edges were curved and smooth. This would hide the edges from view and allow the bag to take on an organic shape.

Like every fun design project, I had to make a choice that would influence the overall aesthetic of the bag. I decided to go with the second option of hiding the hand stitching.

2. Think About the Experience

Similar to designing architecture, designing and making a product requires a lot of careful thought about the end user of the item. For this leather duffle bag, I knew that I would be the end user of the bag, but I envisioned the potential customer and thought about the things that they would appreciate. The beauty of a well detailed project is that it’s not always something that people will know is unique to the project. They’ll experience, comment, and share it with their family and friends.

When making the leather duffle bag, I decided to focus on the design of the handles and the relationship between all of the components that come together to create the bag. For the handles, I cut a strip of leather, hand tooled the edges, folded it in half, and stitched the edges together to create a soft rounded edge. During the stitching process, I made sure that the curved edge was on the outside of the bag so that it would be the area of the handle that made contact with the curves of one’s fingers. The components of the bag were designed with a simple aesthetic in mind where the beautiful top grain leather contrasted by the black stitching and gunmetal zipper created an elegant product.

3. Forget About Time

This point is likely the most controversial one in this article because everyone knows that all design projects have a deadline that must be kept. Yes, this is true and I make sure that my projects meet their deadlines. However, when we’re working on important details for our project, we need to ensure that we have the adequate amount of time to fully work them out. Otherwise, the architecture project that enters construction will have errors and omissions that could’ve been resolved during the design phase of the project. We might also realize that something could’ve been better if we just detailed it a little differently.

The biggest moment when I had to forget about time with the leather duffle bag project was when I realized that one of the pieces for the side pocket was cut too short. This oversight was discovered after the side pocket was fully stitched together and ready to be combined with the main body of the duffle bag. As you can imagine, I was frustrated and I really wanted to just make that one piece fit. I went ahead and stitched the shorter piece onto the side pocket anyway and it looked terrible. It also wouldn’t have attached to the main body of the duffle bag anyway.

After debating the idea of cutting the piece out, re-cutting it, re-tooling it, and re-attaching it, I made the decision to forget about my urge to just finish the project and took a step back. I removed the piece, made one at the correct size, and stitched it all together.

4. Look From a Distance and Look Up Close

Details are about the way that they work with the adjacent pieces and also how they come together to create the overall project. Whether it’s a handrail that transitions and becomes the tread of a staircase or a repetitious façade component that creates a rhythmic aesthetic, the details should never be looked at myopically.

When designing the leather duffle bag, the way that every component would be stitched together and revealed or hidden were thought through during the design process. As I hand stitched each component together, I often took a step back and looked at it to make sure that it was coming out as expected. That’s the beauty of working through details until they’re fully resolved. It all comes together as expected.

5. Be Patient

Coming up with design details is just as hard as conceptualizing the overall design of the project. In fact, a majority of the projects that are determined to be great are the ones that considered some of the possible details of the project during the conceptual design stage. Some also developed the details prior to designing the overall project.

Developing details is all about problem solving and selecting the best creative solution that meets the needs of the project and requirements. Oftentimes, the process is tedious and feels like it’ll never end. However, it’s important to take the necessary time to thoroughly design the details.

While working on my leather duffle bag, I had to hand stitch the pieces together, which took over 3 days. There were times when I was done stitching a component onto the bag only to realize that it would be better if it were a little longer, wider, or reconstructed. Although my body didn’t want to go through with the additional time that it would take to pursue these alternatives, I went ahead and modified the components because I knew it would make the project better. The end result was worth it!


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