- Buyer's Guide
5 Key Elements :: Designing the SLICKS Travel System
SLICKS gave us a little time and talked on their new travel system…
The first thing you need to know about us is: we’re Swiss. You may not think this is significant to the design of travel gear, but we think this may be the most influential aspect of our approach to making the Slicks Travel System.
Why? Because not only are we Swiss, we’re stereotypical Swiss: we’re mountaineers and skiers with a knack for engineering and modular design. We’re the cultural descendants of the people who introduced the world to Swiss Railway Clocks, Swiss Army Knives, and the CERN Large Hadron Collider.
What do these things have in common with the Slicks travel backpack? They were all designed to reflect and to simplify the multidimensional nature of life.
Deep, we know.
We set out to make a backpack that’s a true expression of our user’s lifestyle, which is itself multifaceted. That’s the number one rule in our design ethos: always keep the user in mind. The Slicks travel backpack is created not only to help you move seamlessly from work to play, but also to help you love the journey in between.
Here’s how we did it:
Keep the Look Sleek and Timeless
Most travel luggage aims to be one of two things: 1) a functional piece of travel gear, or 2) something that makes the user look good while they’re engaging in a particular type of use (work, sport, or travel). It’s rare to find travel gear, let alone a backpack, that does both at the same time.
“We set out to make a backpack that’s a true expression of our user’s lifestyle, which is itself multifaceted. That’s the number one rule in our design ethos: always keep the user in mind.”
With the all-new Slicks Travel System, we took up the challenge not only to design a modular, multifunctional travel backpack adaptable to user needs but also something that looks great in any setting, be it work, play or travel.
We achieved it by giving Slicks a timeless, minimalist, ‘soft shell’ luggage style. The first step was to create a structured external appearance that had the flexibility to match the multiple user environments. We think people will love the look and function of Slicks: it’s elegant and compact in appearance, and it transforms easily between a backpack and a messenger bag or a briefcase.
Achieving a timeless look can be a tricky objective, but the key is in the details (or, in the case of our minimalist approach, the lack of details on the exterior):
- The external branding is limited to a barely noticeable stripe on the bottom of the pack and the zipper pulls. The color options for the stripe are yellow for a sporty look or a charcoal/black for a more subtle, professional look.
- There are no external pockets, webbings, and hanging bits and bobs (in other words, no slop).
- Even when the pack is empty, the padded reinforcement on external surfaces maintains its shape. Like every design aspect of Slicks, reinforcing the external surfaces serves both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes: it’s easier to organize items, and it looks better than a deflated, shapeless sack of nothing. We want the bag always to look ready for you to pack it and go, even if it’s sitting empty in the closet, waiting for your next adventure.
Modular + Multifunctional = Swiss Design
When we first created the original Slicks back in 2011, it was to solve a common problem for business professionals: creating a way to carry all their work stuff while commuting and traveling, along with the option to conveniently carry a suit wrinkle-free in a backpack. But after our co-founders started using the prototype as an everyday pack or as a carry-on travel bag, we realized we needed to add more components to serve a broader spectrum of users.
“Achieving a timeless look can be a tricky objective, but the key is in the details (or, in the case of our minimalist approach, the lack of details on the exterior)…”
With the all-new Slicks travel system, our aim was to develop the Swiss Army Knife of travel backpacks (we told you being Swiss was significant to our design story!). So we came up with one bag (the Slicks backpack) with interchangeable inlays that adapt to the changing requirements of the user. We want to establish a new kind of travel gear – modular and adaptable by design. We genuinely want the user to see their Slicks bag as their home base while they travel through life.
We also wanted our users to have the option of buying the Slicks with different configurations of components, depending on their lifestyles. For example, while a frequent business traveler might need to have a way to keep their suits wrinkle-free, it’s doubtful someone who often travels for leisure or who works in a casual office would even pack a suit. That’s why we designed the new Slicks as a travel system with four configurations: the Slicks backpack itself (which can be transformed from backpack to messenger bag to briefcase), the SUIT, the TRIP, and the BIZ.
Who likes bulky external pockets? Nobody. To avoid the lumpy look of external pockets often found on travel backpacks, we’ve integrated interior pockets discreetly positioned behind hidden exterior zips. We wanted to maintain the sleekness of the exterior without compromising on organization and accessibility.
“…we designed the new Slicks as a travel system with four configurations: the Slicks backpack itself (which can be transformed from backpack to messenger bag to briefcase), the SUIT, the TRIP, and the BIZ.“
In the new Slicks travel system, the SUIT configuration (introduced in our original Slicks backpack design) features the backpack with a SUITCOVER inlay to keep your suit unwrinkled and dapper-looking.
The next configuration, the TRIP, features the TRIPCOVER portable wardrobe inlay, complete with a hanging wash bag for toiletries, a laundry bag, and a little something extra to keep shirts neatly folded and wrinkle-free: a shirt folder with a collar protector. We see the Shirtcover as a natural extension of the Suitcover.
Finally, the BIZ configuration is the Slicks backpack with all of the components (SUITCOVER and TRIPCOVER) included.
Integrated Product Design & Development
FLINK, the design house behind Slicks, has a deep history of integrated design and development, which means we don’t just stay at our desks and in our prototype studios. We make frequent trips to our manufacturers across Asia from our local branch office in Taiwan and actively project manage production, so we can identify any problems and collaborate to ensure product quality and reliability. Every seam, design, and overall build of Slicks is optimized through intensive cooperation with our long-term manufacturing partner.
It took several years to develop the new Slicks travel system. Different initial concepts were tested and discarded before the final design.
“We make frequent trips to our manufacturers across Asia from our local branch office in Taiwan and actively project manage production, so we can identify any problems and collaborate to ensure product quality and reliability.”
Our main advantage is that the base Slicks backpack design and construction itself has been well tested on the market. It has undergone several rounds of mass production since the release of the original Slicks in 2012, giving us the ability to constantly improve the material quality, pack construction and reliability.
In the backpack industry, it’s normal to have 5% customer returns due to manufacturing defects. With the original Slicks, we managed to reduce our customer returns to less than 1%, given our close cooperation with the manufacturer.
Also, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from customers based on actual use over the years that we could incorporate into the latest version of the Slicks backpack design.
Here are some of the changes we’ve made:
- Replaced air-mesh shoulder straps with smooth elastic straps for increased comfort.
- Additional inside pocket for holding work documents.
- Improved high-quality zipper pulls.
- Enlarged laptop compartment.
- Improved reflective bands.
- Version with discreet black artwork (originally, Slicks was available only with a yellow stripe).
- Compliant with new IATA recommendations for carry-on luggage size.
Innovation Where Needed
In product design, the aim of innovation is to build a better mousetrap. In superior product design, the wisdom is also “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” FLINK’s approach is to combine both philosophies and create value through innovation.
Our history with innovative backpack design goes back to the very foundation of FLINK. While studying for his Industrial Design Masters in 2004, one of our co-founders, Remo, invented and patented a Flexible Link (hence the name FLINK) based backpack carrier system. This project won Remo 20,000 Swiss Francs in the prestigious Swiss National Design competition – money that he later used to start FLINK with Curdegn, his then flatmate.
“In product design, the aim of innovation is to build a better mousetrap. In superior product design, the wisdom is also “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” FLINK’s approach is to combine both philosophies and create value through innovation.”
While it was important for us to draw deeply from our experiences with our previous backpack designs such as the ERGON bikepacks and outdoor packs, it was equally important for the Slicks design team to create a travel backpack with features never seen before on the market.
The Tripcover is just one example: it’s the only travel wardrobe with a shirt folder, a detachable laundry bag, and dedicated space for a toiletries bag.
By the way, the Shirtcover was born out of Curdegn’s (CEO, FLINK) personal frustration with being lousy at folding shirts. We assumed he wasn’t alone in his exasperation, so we even printed illustrated directions on the nylon for the “shirt-folding challenged”.
Meticulous Attention to Detail
Not to make this a Swiss thing, but attention to detail is totally a Swiss thing. Each component of the Slicks Travel System, from the ultra-durable YKK zippers to the uber-reliable ITW-Nexus buckles; from the shirt-folder in the TRIPCOVER to the collapsible hanger on the SUITCOVER, was designed using FLINK’s core philosophy: Take the user into account with every detail.
While we kept the exterior of the bag deceptively simple, we made sure to include pockets galore on the interior. Geek moment: The Slicks bag is like a TARDIS. It appears compact on the outside and contains a universe of options on the inside.
One of the biggest problems users encounter when traveling with a backpack is that items tend to shift toward the bottom, or the user forgets which external pocket to find smaller items like a wallet or a phone.
“The Slicks bag is like a TARDIS. It appears compact on the outside and contains a universe of options on the inside.”
The last thing we wanted was for our user to be stuck in customs digging around for their passport, so we made sure the external main zipper opens to the safe internal valuable item pocket or internal components such as the Tripcover, which has easily accessible compartments dedicated to specific uses. And yes, there’s even a pocket for a Swiss Army Knife. (See what we did there?)
As avid travelers ourselves, we know how stressful travel can be, and removing the mundane inconveniences can transform a trip into a journey. With the Slicks Travel System, we’re striving to anticipate every problem a backpack user encounters on the road.
For example, the TRIPCOVER comes with:
- A waterproof laundry bag (no more “dirty laundry reek” the moment you unzip your backpack)
- A hanging toiletries bag (want to keep your contact lenses where you can find them? There’s a pocket for that.)
- Pockets for underwear, socks, and even a tie.
It’s a self-contained, holistic solution.
This level of internal organization is unprecedented for travel luggage – we’ve made the travel backpack equivalent to an IKEA modular wardrobe system that the user can set up according to their needs to organize their clothes. (Okay, so IKEA is Swedish, not Swiss.)
Unlike IKEA products, however, Slicks has been built to last (Because Swiss design > Swedish design on durability!). We’ve used only the highest-quality materials such as 600D PU-coated Nylon fabric with padded “softshell” reinforcements. One of the first components to break on a backpack is often the buckles, so we selected ITW-Nexus buckles, which have a stellar reputation in the industry for their durability.
“…we’ve made the travel backpack equivalent to an IKEA modular wardrobe system that the user can set up according to their needs to organize their clothes.“
Life can be cruel to well-loved backpacks; we want our users to know their Slicks can go anywhere and can take any level of beat-down and still remain standing.
We created the Slicks Travel System as a love-letter to the modern everyday backpack user. The message, which we’ve printed in various places on the bag, is simple: “Love Your Journey.”
Check out the SLICKS Kickstarter.