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Design Heads :: Kema Subsomboon (booq)

Design Heads :: Kema Subsomboon (booq)

by , October 8, 2014

booq creates a range of sleek, modern carry aimed at the creative professional. There’s a focus on functionality, organization and keeping tech secure and protected, with aesthetics that can grace the office or the local cafe with equal ease. As a Senior Product Designer for booq, Kema Subsomboon has his finger on the pulse of creativity and innovation within the brand and we were eager to discover more about his design inspirations and insights and how these shape booq’s line of carry…

booq Cobra Courier open

Are there any key insights that guide your stuff? What do you know that most others haven’t realized?

Designing bags requires a harmonious blend between human and functional elements. Having a deep understanding of how people use their bags and the importance of functionality ensures that we consistently create great products. It’s a learning process in which we discover more about ourselves and our audience. Over the past twelve years we have experienced all kinds of successes and failures. Utilizing this wealth of knowledge helps us improve our designs with every new project we tackle.

What are your main channels for your creative inspiration?

I like to pay attention to objects around me, regardless of what they are, and make note of interesting designs or materials. For example, I draw a lot of inspiration from the material combinations in luxury car interiors. Car seats are essentially bags tailored to fit foam inside. The interior design industry is another source for my inspiration. They utilize multiple colored materials to create different moods inside buildings, similar to picking fabrics and colors for a bag.

Where is your most creative space and why?

I enjoy working in a quiet place without distractions. Focus is key. For me that can be at my desk, at a park, the library, etc.

Kema Subsomboon

Any unusual places or circumstances where you got an idea for a new innovation in carry?

Ideas are constantly popping into my head. Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere. It’s a little bit of a Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. While working at booq I completely immerse myself into a bag-centric mindset. Wherever I go I unconsciously find myself looking at people’s bags and watching how they interact with them. There’s always room for improvements and the problem-solver in me never stops working.

Do you get a lot of ideas in the shower or the corner market foraging for organic dragon fruit?

I actually get a lot of ideas in the shower, but they are not all bag related.

Who do you look to in the bags world? Who does rad stuff (brands or designers)?

Côte&Ciel, cool stuff.

Are there any trends or things folk do in carry that drive you nuts?

Yeah, people who wear their shoulder pad upside down or when the pad ends up somewhere that is not where it’s supposed to be.

booq Cobra Courier

What materials do you most like to work with? Are there any new materials you’re experimenting with? Anything that will break the time-space continuum?

I love working with any kind of fabric. At booq we traditionally use lots of nylon because of its durable characteristics. However, recently we have deviated slightly by trying to incorporate more fashion-forward materials. Natural fibers have great appeal but finding a blend that doesn’t compromise durability can be very challenging. We’ve found such a balance in Bionic fabric which we use on a few of our new Cobra bags. The fabric incorporates an advanced technology utilizing a hybrid of recycled PET and cotton. Sustainable, durable, and aesthetically refreshing. We hope to find more projects to fold this fabric into soon.

There are high-performance, high-end fabrics from Switzerland that I would like to use eventually. They are considered the unicorns of fabric and don’t come cheap. Maybe one day we’ll find an appropriate project to test them out on.

What products are you most proud of?

We are proud of every bag we designed regardless of what our customer thinks. If I have to pick one bag it would be Cobra pack (CPK).

booq Cobra Pack

Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind them and their development?

The first generation CPK was great. All of us loved it and could barely find anything worth changing. But here’s the challenge: How do we make an already great bag even greater? After many discussions we decided to maintain the bag’s original integrity with minor adjustments for better results. We focused our efforts on reducing the weight while maintaining the overall protective functionality. We strategically modified, removed and replaced protective components and in the end we reduced the weight by about 20%. Aside from the weight, we simplified the bag and added genuine leather trims to enhance the experience of an ultra-premium laptop bag. CPK is definitely a unique, no-nonsense, highly-protective luxury backpack that we’re very proud of.

booq Cobra Pack

How do you test your product? What do you look for when testing? How many prototypes do you go through before release?

First we do shear, abrasion, and water-resistance testing on all of our fabrics. This helps us better understand what we’re working with, and how to use it effectively on a particular product. Second we wear our prototypes on a daily basis to test the functionality. Only after everyday use can we really get quality feedback and find areas to improve, which we may not have considered before. When all is said and done, we probably go through four to five prototypes, making sure the ergonomics, functionality and durability are up to booq’s standard before releasing it to the public.

Do you have any burning goals or desires for your career? Are there things you really want to achieve?

I’m still in the process of finding out what I want to achieve. Aren’t we all? I know it’s cliché, but I truly enjoy a journey and process more than actually reaching a destination. I’m afraid if I ever reach my goal I’d be too static and bored.

Do you have any favorite tips or habits for carrying better, either EDC or when traveling?

Carrying is an intimate topic. It’s specific to each person. Know what you are carrying and find the best fit for it and yourself. No other way around it.

booq Cobra Sling

You’ve been in the game for a bit of time now. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about design and secondly about the carry industry?

Designing bags is like designing everything else. Understanding human needs and addressing pain points are only half of the story. The other half is about understanding the fabric and construction so you can get the results you want.

One great tip about working with leather?

Leather is great material, but it is tough to work with. You need to take care of it and clean it, condition it, and appreciate it. You also need to know that it doesn’t come in square sheets.

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?

One of the perks of working for a bag company is that I can carry any booq bag I like depending on my mood. I really do like all of them, though. As I mentioned before, they are all my babies. I even carry the discontinued relics so they don’t feel left out.

Can we see a pocket dump?

Sure thing.

Kema Subsomboon

While you’ve got the camera out, would you mind taking a photo of your workspace, and perhaps identifying any tools or personal items that help you most in your creations? Specific drafting pencils or a lucky charm or an explanation of why your workspace is so tidy and ours is…something not describable using the terms of polite conversation?

Nothing special really. I draw with anything I can get my hands on. Blank paper and a pen are usually the best pairing for creativity. But if you want to get specific, I am currently using a rOtring drafting mechanical pencil with a 0.5mm HB lead. It’s constantly sharp, which is very satisfying.

booq Kema Subsomboon

Kema Subsomboon

What bags do you run with daily?

I prefer not to run with bags; it weighs me down, and it’s not safe. Oh, you mean what I usually carry on a daily basis? I prefer to use either a small camera bag or one from the myriad laptop bags in the office; it really depends on my mood and what I need to carry.

Are there any materials you used to like, but now find impractical for your creations?

Molded materials for bag panels – I think of it as a corner-cutting way to make bags look good. I learned to embrace how fabrics behave and utilize that knowledge during the design and development process. The end result has a more natural look, which I think works better as a booq bag.

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?

– The details a designer puts into a bag. Every part was consciously selected and belongs there for a reason.

– Durability, which is not always visible (zipper, fabric, components)

– Bag weight

– Protective features (i.e. water resistance, compartment padding, zombie-proof, etc.)

– Ergonomics – straps (angles, comfort), handles

– Warranty

– Terralinq (booq’s lost and found system)

booq Cobra brief

If you weren’t making carry products, what would you likely be doing for a profession? Or do you have another passion that your carry creations help you enjoy more fully?

Any job that involves developments, access to a lot of materials, and the ability to try new things.

What would you tell a younger version of yourself (say five years ago) taking into account the experience/wisdom that present-day you has acquired?

You are doing alright if your current work looks better than what you did in the past.

Kema Subsomboon

What’s next for Booq?

If I told you I’d have to kill you. Just kidding. What I can tell you is that we want to continue to learn about the people we design for and meet their needs in the most booq way possible. What they carry will continue to change, but rest assured that they will always need great bags to carry with them, and we’ll be there ready for them.

Is there anything you’d like to talk about that I’ve missed?

I would like to thank you, Carryology, for this opportunity. I can’t believe I’ll be on your site, I’m so excited. You guys do awesome stuff, seriously.

booq Cobra brief


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