- Buyer's Guide
Design Heads :: Interview with Evan Hong of Incase
Good design is often interpreted in many ways, but designer Evan Hong of Incase has relied on a core set of principles that have helped guide him through his career. Finding inspiration through collaboration, new experiences, and input from creative professionals, his desire to constantly create and innovate is strong. I picked his brain to see what the future holds for the designer and the design-driven brand Incase.
Are there any key insights that guide your stuff?
What are your main channels for your creative inspiration?
Car design always tugs at my heartstrings…classic Porsches with their fluid lines as well as the latest concepts which really push the boundaries of surface design. Another source of inspiration is modern furniture design, particularly the way the many different elements, be it wood, metal, plastic, or fabric are beautifully integrated and joined together. Gear designed for specific applications, such as military equipment, is always a great source as well. While these areas influence my designs, I also look to our network of creative professionals and their evolving needs to inspire new solutions for new problems.
How does the collaboration process work with the Incase design team?
It’s really fluid and not far from other creative processes: we start by identifying a need or problem, conduct the proper research, seek inspiration and kick off concepts. New ideas and inspirations are encouraged from all the team members and we work closely as a cohesive unit while leveraging insights from other brand ambassadors to help us hone in on the optimal solutions in form and materials.
Are there any trends or things people do in carry that drive you nuts?
Not really, but with the concept of good design in mind, I could do without any superfluous elements or embellishments on products that don’t have a true functional purpose.
What materials do you most like to work with? Are there any new materials you’re experimenting with?
We are always experimenting with new materials. Lately, we’ve been working on combining proprietary injection EVA components with some of our softgoods initiatives. I’m really excited about the potential of product and category evolution through this hybrid approach.
How do you test your product? What do you look for when testing? How many prototypes do you go through before release?
We are fortunate to work with a group of amazing ambassadors who provide us with feedback and insights during the testing and development stages that ultimately influence the end product. These ambassadors include world-class athletes, global travelers, creative professionals, producers, musicians and more. They are users with the highest demands and there’s no better group of test subjects than those who have the utmost need for performance-driven products. When testing our products we pay close attention to quality, durability, functionality, ergonomics and ease of use. As for how many prototypes before release, it really varies but the simple answer would be however many rounds it takes.
What products are you most proud of?
For me it would be the ICON Sleeve. It is an advanced hybrid hardgoods/softgoods solution to protect and carry your MacBook in a minimal way. It was something that had been brewing in my mind for a while and for it to come together like it did was extremely rewarding. I’m also really proud of our soon-to-be-released Reform Collection. We’ve been able to create a new platform that supports design and technology. It’s a great example of progression in innovation from the Tensaerlite technology used in the ICON Sleeve to larger cut and sew products.
Can you tell us more about the new Reform collection?
The Reform collection is comprised of five different carrying solutions: a laptop backpack, Action Camera Pack, 13″ Brief, 15″ Brief and Sling Pack. Reform is an evolutionary step in our design language. Our DNA is rooted in minimalism, and we were able to achieve the shape of our Reform bags with fewer panels than our other bags by wrapping around two major surfaces. For example: the top panel wraps to the sides, the bottom panel wraps up the sides, and the front panel wraps around to the sides in a dynamic manner. Even the materials are unique. We used Ecoya fabric that uses an eco-dyeing process that helps reduce CO2 emissions and uses less water. We’ve also incorporated OrthoLite foam, usually found in footwear, into the carry handles of the collection. And of course, Tensaerlite protection throughout the bags for added protection. So, we were able to remain true to Incase form but in a dynamic new way, the next generation.
How does this new collection show the evolution of design for the brand?
The Incase brand is always evolving but around the premise of good design. We don’t necessarily follow trends, we aim to set them. Constantly striving to achieve a timeless and universal language in everything we produce. Our customers wear our bags for years because they stand the test of time.
Do you have any favorite tips or habits for carrying better, either EDC or when traveling?
Like many of my colleagues, I’m always on the move, and with that, I have a need to travel with efficiency. Lighter products with great organization and functionality are essential. Our EO Travel collection really is the perfect carrying solution for those 2-5 day business trips. The collection was designed around short duration travelers in need of tech optimization. My go-to combination would be the EO Backpack and Roller. I can pack about a week’s worth of gear in those two forms. Slimming down to just the backpack for those 1-2 day trips.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about design and secondly about the carry industry?
I think the carry industry has been largely affected by the consumer electronics industry. People have such a wide range of carrying needs now and as technology evolves. I get to design products for the latest and greatest phones, tablets and laptops. It’s pretty exciting.
What carry product (of your own creation, or anyone else’s if you feel like being generous) do you enjoy the most? What makes it enjoyable?
I mentioned earlier how I use our EO Travel backpack and roller because they keep me organized, but I also get at least one compliment on them walking through the airport. The larger wheels on the travel roller glide across the floor so easily too. As for others, I like the design of Arc’teryx and Osprey hiking packs.
What bags do you run with daily?
I try to switch it up every other week, as we do user testing on new protos and whatnot, but my go-to would be the ICON Backpack because it keeps me so organized. It’s my mobile office/studio.
What kinds of hobbies do you pursue when you aren’t creating wonderful new carry products?
Been trying to get out of the city once a week for some hiking when I can; getting back into patterning/sewing as well.
Have you created any carry craft specifically for that hobby, or do you intend to in the future?
Because I go hiking, I’ve also been using GoPro cameras more. The Incase Action Camera Collection has a great Pro Pack to carry my GoPro and keep all the little accessories safe and organized.
Are there any materials you used to like, but now find impractical for your creations?
I used to like ceramics, injected metals and lightweight composites but these are impractical now because they don’t provide protection or mobility to our products.
What wouldn’t the layperson know is essential to a good carry product? We all tend to appreciate convenient pockets, for example, but is there anything that we wouldn’t notice about an excellent carry product off-hand but a master of carryology always would?
I think there are two things that are essential: the straps and the laptop compartment. Our straps are designed to not interfere with movement and to distribute the weight evenly, thus taking the pressure off your shoulders. It makes a huge difference when you’re carrying all your gear around for the day. And I think you can tell a lot about a brand by the way they design a laptop compartment. Incase first got the idea to line the laptop compartment with faux fur from guitar cases. And now it’s an industry standard.
We’ve talked a bit about the prosumer camera bags that Incase has created over the years. What’s the next step for this line? Can we expect a camera collection for professionals in the future (hopefully)?
Yes, it’s in progress and we are excited. We’ve listened to customer feedback on our current DSLR bag and applied it to the new one. We’re also integrating new materials and technologies to make it better.
I look forward to seeing that. Any advice for an aspiring designer?
Just thinking back to when I was younger, my advice would be to stick to your beliefs but be able to quickly adapt to change when necessary. Try to think ahead and anticipate for the unexpected. Don’t just come up with one idea, be prepared with several options. Continue to learn beyond just the design field, you never know where inspiration will come from. And the most important one might be to find a mentor.